My ‘semi-pagan’ parents


Today is the 1st of November, All Saints’ Day.

People in the Philippines remember their dead relatives on this day instead of the more appropriate day, tomorrow, the 2nd of November, All Souls’ Day. But no one is dictating people from this island what’s proper or not. They’ll do what please them and follow the traditions they’ve acquired from their parents, and hope to pass this on to their children.

My parents left our house early this morning to go to the cemetery where my uncle, grandfather, and great grandmother were buried. According to my mother, they cleaned the area and paid somebody to repaint their gravestones. A fact she said in a rather ironic tone to emphasize the money they could have saved had I waken up earlier and gone with them to the cemetery. I pretended not to care, and mentioned sarcastically the importance of having at least eight hours of sleep each day.


Good thing they transferred the bodies to this private cemetery several years ago from the municipal graveyard. If not, then aside from cleaning the grave, they would also have to find the grave and sort them from other identical graves, or worse would have to make do with somebody else’s grave to light candles for as most graves disappear for no reason.

This afternoon, my father asked me to grate coconuts he would use for the different delicacies made from sticky rice for the evening. This is the first time I spent November 1st with my family after six years. The different practices they were doing struck me as something curious; this after a long time of just doing them without asking why I was doing them.


Earlier this evening, my mother started putting small portions of the delicacies my father cooked on small plates, then took her seldom-used glasses and poured beer, Coke, and water inside. My youngest sister plucked four branches of red santan from my mother’s ornamental flower garden, and together with the food, placed them on top of the old sewing machine.

I was even more shocked when my father left few cigarette sticks beside the plates of ‘pagkaon sang patay (food for the dead)’, as he referred to them. He added that the souls of our dead relatives will visit us this evening to partake the food we offered them. I could not believe my father unknowingly conspired with my mother. But he seemed not to care that I reacted quite vehemently.

She then complained that I did not want to join her for the prayer and related with nostalgia how I used to accompany her during prayers for the dead when I was younger.

I said ‘no’ and continued writing.

After her prayers, she returned to the living room and continued watching TV. “Ma, can I eat those (pointing to the food on top of the sewing machine) after midnight?”

“No,” she gravely replied.

Lessons on resource mobilization

power of giving

I was a witness to my parent’s power to mobilize resources at the quickest possible time, with efficiency that could even rival that of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

We were in the middle of a very late breakfast when my parents proved to me again something that I am all too aware even before – my parent’s almost magical, if not occult-like, power to cause spontaneous generation of anything.

Our family has no concept of brunch; we breakfast at around 10 am during Saturdays and Sundays and move our lunch time to 2:30 in the afternoon. On our table are the usual poor man’s breakfast – fried fish, laswa (an Ilonggo dish made from a smorgasbord of vegetable from our backyard garden), and steaming rice. This is something I have been complaining about ever since I arrived home three weeks ago.

We heard a vehicle pulling over in front of our gate. A group of women got off a small pick up truck led by the youngest sister of my mother who is active in a Protestant religious group called Kingdom that is based in Davao City. There were 13 of them. She asked if they could have their lunch in our house. My mother being the ever hospitable did not hesitate to say yes.

I asked her how come. One moment were having a very simple breakfast of fish and sticky vegetable soup on Tupperware dishes, and in a matter of 15 minutes, she uncovered her expensive-looking china which I am sure she got at a bargain. She then asked my father to cook six chupas of rice, which translates to roughly 2 ½ kilos, and lo and behold, he’s using a really big pot that looks like the ones used by witches, which I do not know we have, until he started cooking rice.

My mother then removed a slab of frozen pork from the freezer and started thawing it in running water. After a minute, she changed her mind and took a 500-peso bill from her purse, gave it to my father and instructed him to buy roasted chickens in the plaza corner. It was too fast, and before I could comprehend what was occurring before me, my aunt and her team started devouring what we served them.


From this I learned important lessons about resource mobilization:

1. In a tightly knit society where people living next door know what you will have for dinner, it is a rule of thumb to live modestly and if possible blend in to keep them from concocting ugly stories whose subject is your steamy private life set in a French-like atmosphere of a film noir. People in rural areas are very post-modern without them being aware of it.

2. Expensive-looking china are not for every-day use. You’ll never know when a horde of religious women, who gets easily impressed by them, comes visiting your place.

3. Big pots are of extreme importance, and like the expensive-looking china, should be kept hidden as to avoid triggering your extremely nosy neighbors from inventing stories that can start modern-day witch hunt.

4. Set breakfast time, especially during weekends, at a normally accepted time; between seven to nine o’clock in the morning is the safest. This is to avoid being caught unaware by eventualities such as unexpected guests who always make it a point to schedule their visits at awkward moments and you’re in your ugliest housedress, giving you no time to mobilize needed resources.

5. In case you decide that you do not to bother yourself with these mundane tasks on a weekend, lock you gate and pretend you’re away enjoying your two days on a deserted island alone. This time, you can take advantage of your neighbors who will make stories, colorful ones, without you having to hint anything. From an escapade with an imaginary paramour, a dead body you want to dispose of in a coral atoll, to as grand as you contemplating to purchase an entire island.