As a child growing up in Almaguer, undas for Abet is that part of the year when roasting tupig pervades the air and every house has a kankanin to give. He envied his cousins who would go to the municipal cemetery on a mountain slope in the ili to clean and paint the tombs of those who passed away. He would always tag along.
Abet’s family have their share of deaths but they seem not be so much enamored in that undas thing. Perhaps it was the Sabadista in them. When he was older, he and his brother Eric would search for the almost forgotten tomb of their younger sister who died when they were practically babies and paint it with what’s left of the white latex they were given (and paid for) for somebody else’s nitso. They would badger Precy to pay Manong Rolly for the lettering work --- the name of the dead plus the date of birth and death at one peso per letter/number with an ornamental cross drawing (there is a bunch of flowers sometimes) and the usual R.I.P. initials as bonuses.
They tried looking for Lola Senang’s middle class tomb too but there was somebody else inside. The nitso has been sold and they don’t know where the bones were moved. Then Lolo Porong’s pauper grave but they can’t remember where he’s been buried; the markings on the wooden crosses sticking from the sticky red earth in disorganized tilts have faded with time and forgetfulness.
In Mapandan, Abet once escaped from the Saturday church service to collect molten wax to sell and hawk candles in the cemetery near the Sabadista complex where they lived. “Kandel! Kandel! Kandel!” he was shouting dressed in his church finery when Precy found him. He got a good whipping for that.
Much later, he would be a regular at Manong Ireneo’s splendid army tomb with his cousins and Samahang Dilim cohorts Ruben and Junie (6 foot tall and talented basketeer Manong Ireneo died in an ambush in Patikul, Jolo at the age of 19). But really, he was drawn there more by the military emblems that attract the attention of the ballasitangs and babbalasangs.
In 2004, Precy died of colon cancer. A vault was built on top of Kid Buntal’s tomb in Almaguer’s own cemetery (Amang Lakay was the first to be buried there). There she was interred along with the remains of her daughter from the ili’s cemetery. The nitso was covered with a tile finish. There will be no annual paint jobs. And the names and dates with a very Sabadista “See You in the Resurrection Morning” epitaph were carved in a granite slab. Manong Rolly have migrated to the States.
This year’s undas is the second in a row that Abet missed after the death of his parents. He was in Japan the last time. This year, he is busy preparing for a trip to Benin. He ain’t forgetting though. He always drops by during every trip to the North. But he misses the tupig terribly. Pansit has become the undas staple.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Eric at Amang Lakay’s tomb; the top portion would be later occupied by Uncle Kidlat. (2) Inang Baket’s tomb before the great flood of 2005. (3) Manong Ireneo's military tomb in the ili. (4-5) Cousins Balong (left) and Anong (right) atop their grandparents and tita’s tomb. (6) Ghosts in a playful mood at the terrace of our house in Bacal 2 on the night of Halloween 2005 (from left): Tita Em-em, Bulan, Balong, Bokyo, Tita Tess, Nana (partially hidden).