WHEN we were kids, little toughies in the neighborhood, flowers symbolized everything boys were not. Flowers were a girl thing. We didn’t want to be seen near anything that resembled a petal or smelled sweet.

Once, my friends followed me to the backyard, worried if I was out to gather gumamelas, only to find out, to their relief, that I was sniffing lomboy leaves to check if they were dried enough for smoking. Flowers separated us from the girls and we were careful not disturb this delicate balance of nature.

That’s why we hated our mothers during the month of May. Summer was for swimming, bird hunting and our little gang wars. But our mothers wanted us to be in the church to offer flowers to the Blessed Virgin! A woman who remained virgin after giving birth was staggering in its incomprehensibility; “bad boy” kids marching to church with flowers in hand was too much.

How could mothers be so gender-insensitive? It’s strange that mothers didn’t speak of the gentleness of a flower. They were as tough and firm as the bamboo stick that left colored welts on our grade school butts at our slightest deviation from parental guidance.

So off to church the toughies went. To hide our embarrassment, we talked about how girls should be allowed to keep toy guns and slingshots. It’s about time girls had learned the art of warfare too, we told each other. Of course we didn’t mean it. We wanted girls to stick to their dolls and diaries. But we’d say anything just to feel comfortable with the flowers.

Our favorite was kalachuchi. Let me explain. We had to have a favorite, you know. If we had been forced to do this Flores-de-Mayo thing, we might as well get on with it and pick the flower that best symbolized Mary’s virginity. White was purity, we were taught in the catechism sessions that preceded the flower offering. Red was bravery, blue was peace, black was . . . but flowers were seldom black.

So ours was the white kalachuchi, not the one that had shades of violet, but the pure white one on whose petals we loved to etch, using toothpick, notes to the Lady: “To Mary, with love,” or notes to ourselves: “You’re bored!”

Despite the anti-girl mode that we automatically switched to whenever members of the female species were around, we couldn’t help but notice how pretty girls were inside the church. Must be the sun from the stained-glass windows, or the ribbons in their hair.

We marched with them towards the altar where the statue of the Virgin stood on a pedestal. As we swaggered cowboy-fashion to catch the girls’ attention, we wondered if we shouldn’t be giving them our kalachuchis instead. And for a fleeting second right there, we caught a glimpse of the meaning behind all this offering of flowers to a lady of great charm and beauty.