November 1, 2016
Today is All Saint’s Day. I always look forward to this day because aside from the fact that I get to visit my dead relatives’ graves, I also get to see the ones who are still alive. I seldom get to meet with them because of a lot of reasons, so this is the only probable time. The family’s long-time tradition was to meet each other up at our Lola’s grave (which is also the place where a cousin, two grandfathers, an aunt and an uncle are rested, all from my father’s side) that is guarded by two huge bamboo trees on both sides somewhere south of the Alang-Alang Cemetery. So, we usually sit under the shade and share lunch. If there was no food, we would all go to one Mrs. Pataňo’s canteen and rent a table for a small gathering. We would usually share some kilos of Lechon Baboy and share stories of the dead ones while drinking Tuba.
I said “was” because for two years now, this has stopped being a tradition. For two consecutive years of November 1s, we stopped digging this reunion thing. I am not sure when it all started, but we don’t wait up for each other anymore under the bamboo trees nor go to Mrs. Pataňo’s canteen to eat together. Now, all we did was go to the graves and light up our candles, stand for several minutes while whispering our own prayers and abruptly bid our goodbyes to the souls.
I saw some of my cousins, aunts and uncles today but we didn’t invite each other for lunch. Everyone was in a hurry to go somewhere else. I was a bit disappointed but I guess, being surprised would be the last thing that I need to be.
I hail from a huge and not so wealthy family. For all of my life, I never denied this reality to myself and to a lot of the people. My grandparents from both sides were farmers, until their deaths. Theirs were the generation that was taken away by World War II. Lola Maring often told us stories about the Japs and how they poisoned them by feeding them with Kurot (a type of root crop which was edible but needs to be meticulously prepared to wash away its fatal toxins) and how the red necks get drunk from drinking tuba and how they all hide from bullets and bombs when these people blasted each other away.
After the war, they plowed, watered and planted on lands which never became theirs. Sending the kids to school was the greatest challenge. Food was precious and prioritized especially with the growing family so the kids almost never went to college, not until they work their own asses off to send themselves to school. At that time, province life was unimaginable. Life was hard, money was rare.
Among my father’s 11 siblings, (2 of whom were stillborn while one uncle died because of ignorance and slightly from acute appendicitis at the age of 18 years) only one finished college and became a teacher. One of his brothers went abroad to find a greener pasture, one remained in the barrios to become a farmer while one is a fruit-vendor. His eldest sister (who died at the age of 70 something) married an uncle who worked in a ship, the teacher married a security personnel and the other one went to Cavite to create a family of her own. My father who was the youngest first fell in love with his music. He went all over the place playing the guitar and Ukulele with his band. He was supposed to become a veterinarian when he met my mother. He quit school during his third year in college and married Nanay. He then became a professional auto mechanic.
My biological mother was the second to the last one from a siblings of five. Between our parents, we (their children) are closer to Papa’s side than that of Nanay’s. So, there is only a diminutive things to say here about the whereabouts of her other three siblings. I’ve heard little rumors like that of their eldest sister dying from a heart attack back in 2014, and her older brother who has successful children. But never have I heard from the aunt who went to Australia and never came back even after the death of Lola Ising. I don’t know where the youngest went or whether he is still alive. We have this aunt though who got married but never had any children. I am not pretty sure if it was by choice or something else. When my parents separated, this aunt fought for our custody but it never worked out. After the ordeal, Nanay died from an illness (I was seven then) and instead of having us, she got Nanay’s part on their 60 hectare-ancestral lands and now farms it. I remember when we were kids, during summer, our aunt would usually send us boxes of sweet Lansones. But now, I have no idea whatever happened to the trees because no more boxes are coming in. Papa says she already sold the lands, which is quite disappointing because technically, it was ours. We could have been rich by now. *Haha. My old man also says that among us, I have my mother’s face and laugh. My mother died at the age of 32 from intense stubbornness and as typical with unhealthy people, a little of her illness.
My stepmother (the one who took care of us like her own children when my father married her after the death of Nanay) has the strangest story among all of them. According to her, she was adopted by her grandparents and took their last name because her mother (whom she called Ate) got pregnant while under the influence of Gayuma (love potion) by her late father. So obviously, the relationship didn’t work out when her mom woke up from the magical love affair, and she became an unwanted baby. So her Lola took her instead. She never met her father. She found out about the truth when she was I think 12 or 15, I’m not sure anymore. After the revelation, her mother took her in and sent her to college. She finished Commerce but never (even once) did she became an employee of any office. She was once offered to work in a bank, but then she already met Papa who by then was 33 and they had a month old baby and she can’t afford to be away from her daughter, even just the thought of leaving brought huge tears to her eyes. So, she remained to become a housewife to a man who has three children from a previous wife ever since she was 25 years old.
All of my three parents had their fair share of hardships and difficulties, as with my aunts and uncles from both side. Theirs was a life that was hard and where money was rare unless you go to Manila to look for a brighter future. Especially after they have decided to make their own families and create their own stories.
The more we know, the more we know that we do not know. These stories are just the tip of the ice berg. It’s nice though to hear stories from my parents as I have yet to tell and finish my own. I still have a long way to go, our stories will still become more colorful and longer as we go along this journey as a family, but I hope that the traditions will never cease. I long for that day when all of us will be in a single place, everyone, from my parents and siblings to my cousins and their parents and their great grandchildren. It would be nice to see and hear their own versions of these stories and their own anecdotes as well.
I hope next year, we will all wait up for each other again and eat our lunches all together under the bamboo trees where our roots lay as one and tell each other our own stories…