TILL DEATH DO US PART
There were no newsletters in Paete when I was growing up and "bando" (municipal announcement) was done only once a week. So people relied much on the church bells for news.
News was anything from telling the time of day - the start of a Mass, the end of a procession, an infant being baptized, a couple getting married - to a fire going on. Or that someone had just died.
I never learned how to "read" church bells. I merely relied on old people to tell me what a particular configuration of sounds was saying. It was noon, time for lunch. It was 6 o'clock in the evening, time for prayers. A fire somewhere, let's go and see!
What amazed me was how people were able to tell just by listening to the bells, not only that someone had died, but also whether it was male or female, and how old was the deceased. When the "babala" was pealed, people stopped whatever they were doing and went out to ask who it was that had just died.
Paete people never liked funerals but they could not be avoided. So in my time people attended wakes, solicituously asked about the circumstances of the death, and contributed toward funeral expenses. They made arrangements for the Requiem Mass, donated flowers and candles, chanted the "Pasyon," helped dig the grave, organized nine-day novenas for the repose of the soul, and comforted the bereaved.
They also renewed relations and acquaintances during the wake: " Are relatives from out of town coming home? How have they been doing? Have their families increased in size?" In the long run, funerals did make an opportunity for the community to forge closer bonds.
I had not been home to Paete for many, many years when my father, Vicente Cagahastian, died in 1989. Thinking that by then nobody would recognize me, I was quite prepared to mourn and pray in private and to sit down only with family.
To my surprise, people I hadn't seen for ages came for the viewing. There was Amang Ramon Cadayona (father of the present mayor), a friend of my father, who openly wept. So did Inang Maring "Boac" Jimena ("Ba-i, si Kang Inte, a - baleng-bale!" she cried). And my mother's cousins, Amang Conrado and Amang Ramon Angeles.
My father's "toto" Amang Etring Navarro, my father's cousin Amang Huning Kagahastian, my Inang Kumpil Presing, my brother Diego's Amang Binyag Juan Fabriga, Inang Juana Albunag, Amang Goring Cadayona, Amang Santos Rivera, my kumpadre Kang Crispin Balandra, and other neighbors also came.
A group of retired schoolteachers, among whom were the "Miss Quesadas" of my youth (Miss Lourdes and Miss Milencia Q) and others I could not now recall, came to pray for nine days. My mother's aunt, Dada Nita Cajipe, arranged for the funeral Mass. My closest school friends, Angelita Acuram and Rosie Saniano I saw for the first time since the 1950s.
Barkadas Ana Madrinan and Mary Baldemor came and whisked me away for some girl-talk. And Nel Africano and Oyong Calabig actually sat with me for one entire night of the vigil, to express condolences and catch up on what had happened from when we were classmates in the grades.
The love and comforting care that came our way at Ama's funeral were overwhelming. And my own homecoming finally brought back to me the Paete I thought I had lost.
In my middle age I gazed at familiar albeit aging faces, took in new ones, and asked after those who were not there. I heard old soothing sounds and voices in the quaint salitang-Paete that I knew as a child. I remembered the scent of freshly carved wood, heard the church bells ring, and felt the cool breeze coming in from the lake.
Upstairs, my mother silently wept.
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