Me, Mike and Manny circa 1966

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Souls Day

for Uncle Boy

In Macabebe on the road to the cemetery with Uncle Boy, 2001

Daisy and I walk through the Macabebe cemetery, weaving between the neat rows of stone caskets.  They are all lined up like soldiers in the military, high above the ground.  The sun is with us, hot and unforgiving.  Daisy carries an umbrella to shield the two of us.  She is telling me about the last time she saw our Uncle Boy alive.  How she worried about him living alone.  How he never really had a calling.  He was a free spirit, running about the town, helping people here and there.  Always moving.  Then one day, he disappeared and it took the town a moment to notice.  She is telling me the neighbors found him dead, in the middle of a meal, the soup half eaten, the spoon and fork tossed to the floor.  She is crying now, holding up that umbrella as if the rain is pouring down on us.  “He was different you know.”  Iba. 

I know.  When my lola came to the United States in the 1970’s and brought her two youngest children, twenty-somethings Auntie Baby and Uncle Boy, they lived in New York.  My auntie found her way around the city.  My grandmother too.  But Uncle Boy was trapped between the buildings, caged in the tiny Elmhurst apartment.  He was not made for the American dream.  That dream would never serve him.  He was sent back here to the province where my father grew up with his nine siblings, where the Japanese soldiers intruded on their town during WWII and took over the elementary school across from their house.  Years later he lived alone in the house after my great aunt Lola Charing passed away.  Who knows what he did for a living.  But here, he was free to come and go.  Here, everyone knew him. 

Every time I returned, he’d bring me around, usually during rainy season.  He’d take me in a boat, looking for the graves of my grandparents.  Their spirits seemed to float along the flooded streets, never sitting still with the rest of the dead.  He’d talk to me with a wide smile.  He’d ask about every single one of my brothers, sisters and cousins.  He had a gold tooth.  He had two missing front teeth.  He always wore over-sized tee-shirts and long shorts.  Flip-flops.  He seemed more like a proud older brother than an uncle.  The youngest of the uncles and aunts, he was ultimately the caretaker of this cemetery.

Daisy tells me his birthday is on all souls day and every November first, he’d walk to every grave in the cemetery and light a candle.  He never wanted anyone to think they were forgotten. 

The rows of tombs like teeth, line up as far as we can see.  No trees except for one.  And when we get to that tree we find our uncle’s grave lying perpendicular to the others.  Just like in life, he’s a little out of sync.  Iba.  And here my cousin weeps at the thought of him, wonders what will happen now that he is gone.  Who will light the candles, Ate?

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