Summers in San Jose would be spent playing tong-its, joy rides on the back of the pick-up and trips to the waterfalls and the beach. It wouldn’t be complete though without the midnight trip to the cemetery. I clearly remember the first time we attempted to brave the resting grounds of the dead. Tim, Shane, Wapo and I walked the short distance from Tito Hadji’s house to the campo santo. Both boys had their champola sticks – just in case we met dogs along the way – and the girls were armed with flashlights. I can clearly imagine us sticking tightly together, as we marched towards the stone archway of the cemetery. Not even a minute inside the walls, we heard movement on the right inside the family compound. Both boys ran out, leaving me and Shane to defend ourselves against the ghosts of our lolos and lolas. It was actually a goat or a dog though. I forget.
Shane and I made our quick hellos and goodbyes to our beloved family, sending our prayers up in the fastest way possible and joined the boys outside on the street.
Another summer, we all loaded into a car and decided to do something a little more daring. We drove to the campo santo of the next town, Goa. This cemetery is much bigger than San Jose – so much bigger that you can bring your car in. And that’s what we did. Once inside the cemetery, Wapo shut off the engine and the lights. We were surrounded by darkness and the dead of Goa. These spirits were not used to the midnight visits of the crazy Obias-Monasterio-Patrocinio kids. In San Jose we consoled ourselves with the idea that our lolos and lolas were laughing at us from above, but in Goa there was no such consolation. The dead most probably did not find it cute.
One of my bright cousins decided to open the windows. Another cousin decided to throw the car keys out the window.
And that was the start of the end.
What seemed to be the longest 15 minutes of my life was spent in that car, in the middle of the cemetery of Goa. I don’t remember which brave soul went out to look for the car keys, but someone did. And eventually we got home safe and sound.
But my God, that was dumb.
That was the last of my midnight cemetery trips. I now only go to the cemetery in day light and for the “all-nighter” on November 1.
Last night was no different. First we paid our respects and said our prayers in the cemetery of Lagonoy. Lee’s assignment has always been to put a candle (and to pray the rosary. Hah!) for each Monserate lapida that he finds. So at around 4.30 that afternoon, he and Pao started making the rounds. Fiestang Gadan is what it is – a fiesta. So if you bring candles and flowers for the dead, you have food and drinks for the living. Yay for binanban and Coca-cola! The happy picnic-vibe with all the candles amongst the dead never seemed strange to me. But I can imagine how weirded out other cultures would be.
After mass, we would transfer to the San Jose cemetery where Lolo Tatay and the rest of the Obias/Monasterio/Torres/Patrocinio crew are laid to rest. Candles all over the place, Christmas lights and Halloween lanterns (if we can’t trick-or-treat in Manila, we bring the trick-or-treatin’ to SJ) around the mausoleums. More food, more kwentuhan and more photo opportunities with cousins you see once a year.
Strangely, the thought of ghosts hardly enter my mind during the Fiestang Gadan. The fear that sends shivers up my spine when we have our midnight trips is not felt at all.
Perhaps it is because we don’t come to disturb, but to remember.