November 1 and 2 – All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day respectively, is the time of the year when families head off to the cemeteries to remember and visit their dearly departed. I’m planning to go back to my hometown tonight as I can imagine, as with all previous years, the roads are congested with cars queuing up at Loyola Cemetery and Manila Memorial Cemetery.
Whenever this long weekend commences, my thoughts go back to my childhood, when my lola and I, together with my siblings and cousins, would head off to the south to visit my lolo’s grave. It was our annual big family picnic of sorts – starting early to beat the traffic (there was a year when we spent five hours stuck along a 3 kilometer stretch so my cousins and I walked instead), packed food and drinks in tow. I remember for several years we would buy a basket full of balut, a Filipino street food that’s commonly misconstrued as something every tourist in the Philippines should try. In reality, balut is an acquired taste. It takes guts to eat it as well – I lost that when I saw the embryo of a ducking in it, I almost threw up. Anyway, I digress…
I associate these holidays with family and reunions. We would always bring with us candles and flowers for the dead, and after saying a prayer, we children would spend hours running around playing games next to the tombstones. I remember one time I competed with my cousins creating balls from the melted candle wax. During lull times we’d scare each other with imaginative stories. My older cousin and uncle would scare us about the dead getting up from the grave at midnight, which I would have a think about as we drove back home. For some years I dreaded relocating to the south as I thought the home owners in the subdivisions surrounding the cemeteries were unfortunate to have zombies walking around their houses at midnight.
With my lola gone, and relatives building their own lives, no one holds the annual family reunion at Manila Memorial anymore. Since I have moved to the south, I now have more time being able to visit my departed loved ones not just during these holidays. But going to my relatives’ graves nowadays is very different from when we did when I was a child. I guess that’s part of growing up, people growing apart as well.