Sunday, November 7, 2010

Candle Balls and the Ghost of the Good Things

There were really no Halloween traditions in the Philippines, “the” Halloween, none that I could remember of. No trick-or-treats; no candies doled out, like money given in Christmas carols. We don’t dress like creatures of the night: vampires, mummies, witches, ghosts, and what have you. There were no parties assembled at schools and offices, all dancing to the holiday anthem: Thriller by the king of pop, Michael Jackson.
Our Filipino way of commemorating is different. We go to overcrowded cemeteries with our family. Pray—rosary, novena, or a silent litany kept in our hearts—at the tomb of our departed loved ones. Maybe, attend a mass solely dedicated for the souls of the dead. If the year have been generous enough, some even left food at the tomb, although I don’t really know how it would be digested by the very person it was served to.
For most people our way, the Filipino way, if it would be described in one word, would be spelled B-O-R-I-N-G. The luster of the western festivities seem so appealing from children to socialites; the latter sees the occasion as a perfect excuse to get drunk and snooze the rest of the weekend. However, I find our local commemoration possessing a certain indiscernible solemnity (amidst of chaos often associated in the cemeteries); It emanates a tradition, poetic even, after years of repetition. But most of all, it reminds me of my childhood venerated, and missed.
Every 1st or 2nd of November, two families, my cousins’ and ours’ packed for the trip to the graveyard. I would have sworn it was for three days worth of provisions, although we will not sleep nor be gone for more than a day—that is how big our families were! But I guess we were born contortionists because we all fitted inside our Toyota L300 van. Imagine two big families, 15 people fitted in one vehicle. My dad and mom, my aunt and uncle, my grand mother, my great grandmother, my two cousins then, my sisters and I, as well as other houshold members all jostling of whatever space we were given.
Now, having that many adults isn’t an assurance that the trip would be reinforced by adult restrictions and reprimands, in short devoid of fun. In fact, the trip to the graveyard is a treasure chest of excitement, mischief, and adventure.
The children would always sneak pass from the eyes of the adults to roam the cemetery. We run around and explored the place. A renowned pride was observed whenever we placed our foot on uncharted regions, given that we don’t get lost less it would be teasing afterwards. But getting lost allows us to discover the eerie crypts, and extravagant mausoleums in which we either concluded as haunted or beautiful. We were cartographers of the graveyard.
The adults once hearing our not too scary stories join in the group. Their narration of what seems to be a bequeathed legends, in spite of hearing it a multitude of times— especially when they want us to sleep but can’t—displays a mesmeric effect of horror and amazement for us that our eyes widened, our ears sharply audient, and imaginations reeling the scenes.
At dusk, as the darkness spread all across the skies, we clung close to one another because the blackness of the night seems to veil something sinister lurking, ready to pounce anytime. The doubts that we have of the tales of the grown-ups suddenly were dispelled; those characters were more real than carved pumpkins, vampires, and zombies. We visit two cemeteries each emanate their own urban legends that we kept reminded of.
We visit Loyola Memorial Park in Sucat first, where my grandfather is buried. Then, Libingan ng mga Bayani which is the resting place of our great grandfather, Lola Ba, his wife, always recounted war stories and how they survived the atrocities of the Japanese regime; If there were stories to topple the ghoulish excerpts this is it. We regard our Lolo Salvador as a proud banner of our heroic ancestry. Come to think of it, it is not only her that told us this kind of stories, because once the prayers were finished every adult told their own ancestral past, or those that they could be proud of.
These stories, the cryptic tales, and the experiences have been enduring memories for me. The camaraderie between two families. The stories that was shared with the suspension of judgment. The trips together. The warm ebullient air when we all meet. The laughter with my cousins. These memories haunt me whenever November comes. These are ghosts of the good things.
Now, these events like caskets that were buried six feet under hint that these will never come to pass again. They were buried by a far heavier soil, and devoured, consumed by an unrelenting worm: family feuds between mothers; the younglings caught in these silent wars, who never knew the jocund days; marital conflicts between my uncle and aunt; freeloading of my desolate uncle who somewhat surrendered his fate to drinking, haplessness, and derision; the selling of the L300 van; the selling of ancestral houses in Pacita that led us farther away from each other; financial crisis; the death of my two grandmothers: Lola Ba, and Lola Zon, who in my opinion never saw the light of day because of these crisis—I just wish and hope they died smiling and now is singing with the angels in heaven.
But as Jesus reanimated the dead, Lazarus I too hoped that these memories wouldn’t be buried forever, that there would be a time that we would again visit the cemeteries together, and maybe assume the role of a storyteller, scaring the wits out of our nephews.
As for now, perhaps the only remnants of these memories, like the tombstones with names and messages engraved, are the candle balls that we collected during those times. And like tombstones’ sole duty, it tells me, both in ghastly horror and playful mirth, “do not forget!”