FIELDNOTES: The Day Our Children Become Ghouls and Witches
Tito Genova Valiente
THE sun was just right at the horizon, a stubborn yellow disc refusing to let go of the day. The trees around us were getting taller and the air was a wide mist as it crosses the field. Noel V. and I were driving towards Marupit in Camaligan. At the crossing of one of its main streets, we were stopped by a parade of little children. Several wore capes of red and black: Some were Avengers while the others were little devils with red curves for horns jutting out of their head. Two girls were not into the order of horror for the day; they were princesses from some far-off kingdoms. The faces of these children were supposed to be horrifying with red blood flowing from the sides of their tiny mouths, their eyes gouged or blackened to summon eternal memories of torture.
One girl in this phantom procession stood out: She was dressed as a nun but her face was terror personified. Beside her was her mom proud of her choice and seemingly possessed of an aesthetics different from the rest of the mothers.
The next day, I was in one of the malls in the city. I was waiting for Jun A., a friend from Grade School, home for the All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day. We can check the Catholic calendar to correct ourselves but there is no need. One does not need to distinguish the day for the Saints and the Souls. We are remembering the dead. This is the Feast of the Dead.
Jun A. was home for the Dead. Of course, he would not say that as I would not say that to him.
We were supposed to meet for coffee but bad traffic has reached this city of mine. I like to think that on the day of Saints and Souls, spirits are back on earth and they are causing the congestion out on the street. There are many more mundane reasons for the crowd but it is good to think of the universe in terms of saints and souls.
The small coffee shop noted for its chairs pressed close to each other was packed with coffee drinkers. These are people who can spend two hours mulling over Americano or Latte. When they notice you waiting for a table, they are bound to stay longer, as if to give up their seat is an immoral act.
I proceeded to the end of that area. As I was looking around, it felt I was at the corner of a main street. I was not in the mall; I was out there. If one needed to meet people from the past, one should go to a mall. This is the new plaza.
From the store at the streetcorner, a sound blared: Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round An Ole Oak Tree, purely instrumental and no vocal. Someone was trying a videoke sound. Tonight somebody in the memorial park would be singing a song about returning, of someone who was not sure his beloved or loved ones were still interested in him, or were anticipating his comeback. In the song, the man pleaded to make it easy for him. If she still loved him, please tie a yellow ribbon around the tree. When the man stepped out of the bus, there was not one but many ribbons tied around the many trees.
Strange song for Halloween, I quietly told myself. I can imagine our dead loved ones playing that song wondering if we still remember them. And so, instead of one candle, we light more candles; instead of one rose, we spread around the grave blooms that threaten to become gardens.
Strange also that I used that word, “Halloween.”
“Halloween” as a feast day is fairly new in country, and more so in the provincial cities in towns. Years ago, no one walked around the street with masks covering their faces. In the mall, I saw a young woman self-consciously looking around as she walked up the escalator. The young woman had flowers in her hair. She was a fairy looking pretty and helpless in a mall that had more ghouls and vampires than enchanted beings.
Jun A. and I finally met up. We proceeded to a Japanese restaurant. Jun A. noticed how everyone was speaking in Tagalog and Pilipino.
Jun A. and I really belong to those generations of Nagueños who feel uneasy when we hear Bikolanos speaking in Tagalog or Pilipino when they are in Bikol. Even the little witches and zombies in the restaurants were Tagalog-speaking.
It was time to go home. A cousin who lives nearby came to pick me up. Katie L. asked where I was heading. I told her I was picking up special flowers made by Dan A. On our way to Mayon, we passed by young men and women with masks on their faces. On the dark street, masked persons are scary prospects. They could rob you clean with their dark masks on.
Dan A. was busy packing up the flowers he arranged around a white vase. He had an instruction for us, to dip the wick of the candle in the wax of another lighted candle. He assured us the light from that white wax vase would gleam in subtle and subdued way.
I like that assurance of subtlety.
Remembering those who had gone ahead does not require masks and blood on our faces. The day in memorial parks does not require theme songs about yellow ribbons. Mothers – and Fathers – do not need to transform their children into gothic personas. The Devil, in fact, does not have a place in the Days of Saints and Souls.
What we do need are candles with their lights so subtle only the souls of those who have gone to places we can only imagine – in shared myths and faiths – can see. Even without the lights and the flowers and the dedications, our Beloved knows we love them, and they are in our hearts forever.
Those candles and those flowers and the verses we compose to announce to the others who visit the tombs and graves are for us. These days are for us and our anxieties whether our loved ones who passed on are still there to wait for us, when it is our turn to cross the great divide. And when that day or night or time comes, wouldn’t it be nice not to see ghouls or vampires along the way?