Pa-Pe-Mel-Ro-Ti: A childhood of creative play

Printed bags and figurines, calendars and paperweights, brown paper notebooks and statement magnets… there’s always something interesting in that quaint store with the tongue twister name!

The brainchild of a brood of five, Papemelroti (a name which comes from the first syllables of the Alejandro kids’ names—Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert and Tina) is a treasure trove of gift and novelty items that are sure to spruce up any room—they do, after all, lend that rustic, country look every Papemelroti store is known for.

But have you ever wondered what creative juice fueled the unique products of this popular Filipino gift shop? In 1976, when the store first opened its doors in Ali Mall, the youngest of the brood, Tina, was only 7 years old!

Creative juice may be hereditary
It’s interesting to note that even before their store opened, the Alejandro kids already had their share of gift-making activities. Before Papemelroti was established, the family owned a small gift shop along Tomas Morato called Korben (named after Corit and Benny Alejandro—the heart and head of the home, respectively).

Meldy recalls that their mother would make one doll at a time and display it by the window. “Di nila alam,” she shares with a laugh, “na yun na yun—wala nang ibang doll na naka-stock!”

The crafts and items sold in their store were all handmade—no two items looked alike. And because the kids grew up watching their mom and dad make the things at home (mom Corit made toys out of scrap material and dad Benny the furniture), it was only natural that the kids got their hands dirty making their own playthings as well.

“Our mom used to make for us food out of felt—felt pancit, felt eggs,” shares Peggy. “That was our kind of plaything; nasanay kami na kapag kailangan mo ng toy, gumawa ka ng toy!”

Crafting their own toys, Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, and Robert (Tina shares that she missed out on a lot of the fun because, being the youngest, she was born only in 1969—two years after Korben opened for business) made their own dollhouse using a box, scissors, paste and print material.

“I remember the catalogues Daddy would give us,” says Patsy. “These were American catalogues that were really thick. We’d cut out things from it and place it on the boxes that would be our dollhouse.”

When it comes to amusement, there are no rules!
With an abundance of materials to play with (“Mom is the type to keep the things people usually throw away,” Patsy shares), the kids simply let their creative juices flow. Tracing models from magazines, Peggy made paper dolls while Meldy and Patsy worked on the clothes.

It was not only paper dolls and dollhouses that occupied the four siblings’ afternoons. They came together for family programs using a few vinyl records, a turntable and some dance steps. “Nagagalit palagi yung director,” laughs Peggy, referring to Patsy’s verve in directing, which clashed with the rest of the cast’s happy-go-lucky attitude.

Together, too, they hovered over a typewriter and punched out the famous family newsletter—complete with advertisements—that circulated the household with a readership of six.

Showing this writer a photocopy of one of their newsletters, Tina points out the amusing headlines such as “Your children might have cataracts watching too much TV!” and there, on the second page, is one of Robert’s first illustrations: “I was just 4 years old!” he says, amused.

The walls and the ceilings weren’t spared either, as Robert attests, “I drew on the walls, which wasn’t what we were supposed to do,”—after all, his siblings had taken the precaution of covering the walls with manila paper—“and, we would wet some bathroom tissue and toss it up to the ceiling—it gets stuck there and we forget about it. Nandoon lang. It’s actually more fun than PSP.”

Child’s play
True enough, this kind of play can keep kids entertained and challenged far longer than any handheld video game device in the market. The Alejandro siblings, growing up in the ‘70s, had so many opportunities to tease their creativity and test their imagination.

In their second floor apartment in Tomas Morato (the first floor of the building was allotted for the Korben store), the kids transformed a little nook into a clubhouse using some chairs and a table. “You had to go under the table or chair to enter it,” says Robert. The clubhouse idea came from a favorite cartoon show on TV that the siblings followed—The Funny Company, a children’s show involving child characters who have extraordinary qualities.

There was also a miniature farm project—something Robert remembers more vividly than his sisters do. “Peggy would make a miniature farm in the soil. Do you remember that? You would make a fence. Peggy is the best at arts—so whatever she does, I’ll try to do!” says Robert.

Laughing, Patsy pipes in, “’Yan ang naaalala nya—yung farm—kasi [di sya kasali] sa paper dolls!”

Imagination just keeps growing—first, it was defiling the walls and ceilings… then making dollhouses and paper dolls… then using a typewriter and a turntable… then inventing the Funny Company clubhouse and miniature farms…what came next?

From headless men to Chinese businessmen, pregnant black cats to Raggedy Anns, the whole family took a turn at the art of disguise. “Before Halloween was popular in the Philippines, kami lang ang nagha-halloween,” says Peggy.

But they didn’t stop with costumes. The kids’ fascination for anything horrific inspired the two eldest girls to make a horror house for Meldy and Robert to scream in. “Hindi pa kami pumapasok, iiyak na kami,” shares Robert.

And Meldy justifies, “Kasi papasok ka di ba? Tapos may flashlight—head lang yata ng doll ang makikita mo, naka-suspend… ‘Waaah!’”

The layout of their apartment (“Pahaba…master’s bedroom muna tapos kuwarto namin, tapos kitchen” says Patsy) allowed them to create a maze (“A mess!” laughs Peggy) of their room, which made the horror house seem so large.

“Or maybe it was just very big because we were very small?” asks Robert, and everybody laughs. When you’re a kid, everything really is big—especially possibilities!

Putting the creative spark to work
Asked whether they remember pitching in the chores at home, the Alejandro siblings shake their head simultaneously, no, although Robert volunteers that he remembers shining shoes for a centavo a pair.

So where did they spend their extra energy and creative juices (because surely there was so much of it going around)? In making the products at Korben (and later Papemelroti), of course!

Since Korben started in 1967, the siblings—Patsy, then 11, Peggy, 9, Meldy, 6, Robert, 4, (and Tina, still in the Maker’s imagination)—have had their hands full handcrafting the gift items. Of course, each had a task suited to his or her age—“Si Robert,” says Patsy, “he was in charge of covering the figurines with dark color—a stain. But he was still so small, so every time he’s doing it, pati sya, black na rin!”

So when Papemelroti opened, it was no surprise that the five siblings already had so much experience behind them! “With Papemelroti, we were making our own products na,” says Peggy.

“We could actually earn money through the business,” adds Patsy. “We would paint, for example, then we’d get paid.” It was the family business that taught the young artists to be responsible and to appreciate work.

Still thriving
Now, 32 years after that first Papemelroti store, the Alejandro children still are creative—just last Christmas, they were collecting some discarded Yakult bottles, ingredients for an unusual tree.

With three of them married and parents to their own kids (Patsy has one, Peggy, one, and Meldy, two), raising a new generation amidst a culture of high tech gadgets has become a bit of a challenge indeed.

But keeping their childhood in mind, Peggy recommends, “Toys should always have that element of imagination.”

To which Meldy adds, “Yes, you have to provide a venue for them—give them paper and scissors!”

Think it’s too humble a start? Then you haven’t met the people behind Papemelroti.



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