Friday, November 21, 2008

AN ELEGY FROM 4 YEARS AGO

Dear comrades and friends:

In behalf of my family, we thank you for sharing with us our grief in the passing of our mother. She died of colon cancer last October 3. We buried her last Friday noon in Almaguer’s hilltop cemetery, finally reunited with my father, my younger sister, and her parents.

During her 5-day wake, I was able to get a better understanding of what my mother was in her lifetime. We were overwhelmed by the deluge of people who came to pay their last respects. I was drowned by anecdotes about her which kept sleep away.

My mother was a missionary teacher. We have to attend 4 different elementary schools and 2 different high schools (for each of us and my siblings) because of her and my father's postings who was a credentialed literature evangelist. She spent a year as a domestic helper in Singapore so we can have better lives. When she came back, she taught at a public school in Bayombong. One of her treasures is a certificate commending her dedication to her profession beyond the call of duty.

My mother was an organizer. She helped establish Senior Citizen Chapters and Neighborhood Associations in our province and as far as Isabela. I learned that the official song of Nueva Vizcaya's Senior Citizens was introduced and taught by her --- "Never Grow Old". It was the keynote song during the necrological service for her.

My mother was a musician. She sang in weddings, funerals and birthdays. She taught us to play the guitar, the banduria and octavina, the harp and organ. I remember when she would try writing down the notes of the songs she will teach to her pupils the next day. The task will take away most of her night.

My mother was a devout Adventist. Everything she left to prayers: when we were sick, had no money, or my father not coming home the other night. And God seems to be always listening to her because most of the time, her prayers were answered. Last Sunday while we were waiting for her body to arrive from the funeral parlor, my cousins and uncles took out a bottle of Gilbey's gin. When the body arrived, the bottle suddenly broke up without anybody touching it. That decided that there will be no drinking during the wake. My mother abhors alcohol.

Even when we were already in college, we would always call to my mother whenever we got sick. Her palms seemed to radiate magic that would soothe away the pain and fever. She was a classic Ilocano: kuripot and hardy. After her burial, we found a mountain of relics she kept in a bodega at the back of our house. "Addan tu pakausaran na", she said. She seemed to be always out of money for we cannot even beg a centavo from her for a piece of kendi lemon. But that magic pitaka of hers would always produce money when it was really needed. All of us were sent to college and she did not leave any debts. Contributions from her various organizational affiliations almost paid all of her burial expense.

I took up after my mother. I grew up in classrooms and that might be the reason for my becoming a teacher. I’m sure I inherited her passion for organizing. Music went to my younger brother and religion to my younger sister.

I was also able to meet my relatives during my mother's wake. It was only during deaths that we come together to renew ties. I came to know my Apong Burik who brought his family from Ilocos Norte to settle in Almaguer. The youngest was my mother's father. I was also asked to light the atong to inform passer-byes that there is death in our house. I listened to the dung-aws and heard of my mother's story. Perhaps she wanted it to be that way. I was her prodigal son and she always wanted me to go back home.

Last Wednesday, we found an album of old pictures she collated and captioned before her death. It is the story of our family. She never told us about it but I’m sure she knew we would find it. I’m also sure that she wanted me to keep it so I can tell our story to the future generations to come.

I did my dung-aw but did not cry much during the wake and burial. My mother hated gloomy gatherings. I’m sure she was welcomed by her creator with a "Well done, my child" greeting. She lived a full and meaningful life. I just hope that us his children can live up to what she was. Uray kagudwa laeng.

Abet
October 2004

Monday, November 10, 2008

BEAT THE STORM, SON...

(NOTE: The following short story appeared in the January-February 1991 issue of the CLSU Collegian. It was the first ever published work of a trying hard fictionist who went by the name of Kimat T. Amianan. The accompanying illustration above was by [now Dr.] Angelito Saliganan.)

He stood transfixed --- hypnotized by the vast green and golden patches of ripening palay, the leaves shivering with every gust of the cool northern breeze creating an emerald sea with waves rippling systematically. Morning dews tenaciously cling to the sheaths, to the intricately woven spider webs, fiercely resisting the radiating heat of the sun, sparkling and dazzling like priceless diamonds.

A colossal figure, he stands five feet and eight inches of solid bone and muscle. The squared jaw and prominent nose added an aura of mystery to his unfathomable expression, the sunken eyes fixed steadily forward. His rich tan complexion contrasted strikingly with a mass of thinning gray hair. He has the looks of a sage and probably, he is.

I call him Amang Lakay. It was more of a name than a reverence for when I was unraveling the mysteries of life, I failed to understand its true context. It’s more of a habit and I got used to it. In fact, I grew up with it.

It was during my sixth year in grade school, I was twelve years old then, when I attempted to probe deeper into that expressionless mask he wore. With childish fervor, I invaded him with questions, some logical, some of plain interest, and other things with stupidity or innocence. He would narrate a tale or two plucked from the history of his rich and colorful life. It may be about his brother Agapito who helped him harvest guavas one summer afternoon… an ordinary story except that his brother was dead three years earlier. Or his experience as the leader of a group of guerillas during the war, exchanging lethal bullets, ambushing the enemy and everything to give the invaders hard life and the worst accommodation they’d ever had.

Nostalgia and emotion overcomes me whenever I reminisce those wonderful evenings we had, together with some cousins, huddled in a dark room illuminated by a solitary lamp, totally absorbed as Amang Lakay took us to another world in a different time.

He brought us to pre-war Philippines --- on what it was long before our fathers were born; of the forest covered mountains, deer hunts, battles, politics, the bizarre world of the supernatural --- of kapres, tikbalangs and aswangs; of elfins, fairies and gremlins. He told us what it was when life was life and man was man.

That was ninen years ago. He was seventy-one then. We were an odd pair --- dusk and dawn. He having spent the best years of his life, while I was still trying to understand what it was. He was rich with experience, brimming with knowledge. I was just beginning to feel what it was like to live, to appreciate and understand the complicated process of life.

It was he who taught me the value of diligence and discipline. “The sweetest reward for a good work is the work itself,” he used to say. He was my first teacher --- teaching me a deeper perception of the world, how to live on what you have, how to be human. It took years but I became the man he wanted me to be.

He had great plans for me. “You’re going to be a good soldier son,” he said one sleepy afternoon. We had just finished eating our lunch of broiled dalag with sliced tomatoes and bagoong, pinakbet the way Inang Baket cooked it, a bunch of yellow bananas. “The art of arms is for real men, for those who feel at ease in the face of danger and peril, for those who feel they are man enough to meet every challenge, for those who know how to apply their principles.”

I can never forget that wrinkled face when, during the crux of my life, he visited me in prison. I cannot endure to stare into his pained expression. He looked so gloomy, so disappointed, so discouraged.

Suddenly, he looked older. He is no longer the strong and determined man I leaned upon whenever I needed support. He is no longer the sage who have an answer to every query. Tears trickled in my cheeks not in self pity but for the man I caused so much pain. He spoke slowly, releasing a charge that pierced the innermost shell of my life.

“I taught you how to become a man. I taught him how to vanquish a foe. But I also taught you how to conquer yourself.”

There was no reproach. What persisted was the mutual feeling we had for both.

And he left, leaving me with his parting words. “Beat the storm, son…” I did.

He died four days before my twentieth birthday. He was eighty. On his death bed, Inang Baket casually asked him, “Are you leaving?” He nodded weakly, flashed a faint smile, and was gone.

When we placed his coffin to its final resting place, I didn’t shed a tear. He hates it. I tried hard to conceal my emotions. I wanted to please him even if he was gone.

He should have been proud of me. Not only that I conquered myself, I also beat the storm. It was for him that I wrote this story, as a tribute to a man who taught me to love life and live with it.

Amang Lakay, eighty years old. War veteran, a hardy pioneer, teacher, adviser, father and friend. He was also my grandfather.