When I was in grade school, one of my classmates was a Montaño. She lived right across the school and she still managed to be an hour late to class everyday. You’d think, that with her living (literally) a hop and skip away from our classroom, she’d be on time, but she could never do it. She was one of my closest friends back then, and I remember her most fondly for three things: one, she was always late, two, her skin was pale and flawless, and three, she had some form of Montaño Sardines for recess or lunch every. Single. Day.
Way back in the mid-2000’s, I went to a public elementary school in Dipolog City. Dipolog was a small town then, for all that they called it a “city.” The streets were loose, traffic was practically non-existent, and it was safe for a grade schooler to walk around the streets. People knew each other (sort of), and the most interesting things to happen for a kid were all inside school. There were no large malls in Dipolog then, or places for young kids like me to be enticed by. Dipolog was a sleepy town, and school was where all the cool kids were.
My elementary school days were mottled with adventures, but one of the things that every pupil looked forward to was recess. Recess was unmitigated access to the vast grounds, and food was sold in the canteen in abundance. Back then, recess was a sacred time, and its sanctity was to be respected, and my classmate Marie France was one of those who paid tribute to recess’ holiness— she brought snacks for holy sacrifice every day.
Almost every recess, Marie France would bring sandwiches, and not just any sandwich: she brought sandwiches with Montaño sardines as a filling. They were Montaño sardines sandwiches, and they were delicious. She brought them with her for often enough that she got sick of them and would give me (and anyone else interested) her share. Looking back on it now, I recognize that this was a pretty decent way of advertising the product. Marie France was a Montaño, and her family owned the business.
Montaño Sardines were a pillar in Dipolog City. Dipolog wouldn’t be Dipolog without Montaño Sardines. You know that song that goes “we built this city on rock and roll?” Replace “rock and roll” with “sardine bottles” and that’d be Dipolog City in a nutshell. Dipolog is called the “Sardine Capital of the Philippines,” and the Pasalubong Center (which was across my elementary school and which was where Marie France lived) was stocked with Montaño Sardines (which would explain Marie France’s generosity— she wasn’t exactly hurting for the stuff).
Now, decades later, an island and an ocean away from home, I see Montaño Sardines stacked on grocery shelves and I get a fond pang of nostalgia and a warm feeling of belongingness. And, deeper in my memories, I remember a pale-skinned Marie France, constantly late to class, reaching out with a napkin-covered sandwich at recess.