Death at Christmas: A Guinarona Story

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Their last picture together: Mr. and Mrs. Eleuterio Maray, Sr.

It’s now 44 years since Papa died on December 24, 1970 at 1 p.m. to be exact. And it was a traumatic and horrible Christmas for us.

Guinarona then had just become a newly minted parish, and we organized a youth choir to assist in the series of dawn masses, culminating in the Midnight Christmas Mass of December 24. Which I was just imagining about because I was ensconced at Mama Petra’s, grieving and fidgeting about in her hut with three lamparas. For obvious reasons, I could not tarry by myself at our huge house near the Guinarona river. I was by myself, the rest of the family was in Tacloban City as we had a house there–my siblings and I were students there.

Although it was overcast that December day, I was drying palay in several bariw reed mats for milling and eventual transport to Tacloban. Our youngest, Eleuterio Junior, it was, who frantically broke the news: that Papa had just died while in coma at the Bethany Hospital. I became frantic too, bordering on floating and being in hysterics. Posthaste I carried myself to Tacloban on a Seven Brothers bus, and when I reached our house in the interior of Burgos Street, our neighbor Mana Lita was very solicitous and commiserating, saying that Papa’s body was now in the morgue at Funeraria Gomez, and that my mother wanted me to go back straightaway to clean our Guinarona house for Papa’s “coming home.” I could not see Papa’s body and just waited it out in Guinarona. When I was through scrubbing the floors and cleaning house in general, I spent the night–which was an eternity–at Mama Petra’s and uncle Dado’s, along Aragon Street.

The whole night I was staring at the light of the lamparas, thinking about Papa, about my rebellious transgressions, about how absurd and grotesque the Christmas I was having. And how was the Guinarona Parish Choir’s Misa de Aguinaldo without my butt? Papa made his presence felt by the wafts of his Molint smell. I think that was his way of saying goodbye to me.

Papa was not perfect. He could be as mean as having to deal you his dreaded lamba or leather belt. Fondly I remember him bringing me, a four year-old cherub, to the school grounds to watch how the Cabarlisa Ambulant Cinema put up their thing. And I don’t remember him ever flogging me, which he did to the rest of my siblings.

Papa was active in local politics. He was a first councilor of Dagami and was an acting mayor one time. Even then, as today’s politicians, Papa and his ilk were not beyond blandishments. They would woo voters with cash, rice, sardines, clothing and carabao meat.

The wake for Papa was a bit rambunctious. There was Licerio Martinada leading the parlor games. The ever faithful Jovito Almerino. Papa’s cousin, Paciano Remalante. Papa’s friends in politics. Ditto his compadres and comadres, all of whom are now gone as well.

Indeed, death is just a transfer to another room, another dimension. Everybody is going for that transfer and will meet again his ancestors, his friends.

A death at Christmas is no exception. Like my Papa’s.

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