Sunday, June 03, 2007

best place next to home

For the past twenty years of my existence, I have spent most of my Holy Weeks in Barili, the hometown of my father located at the southern part of Cebu. Save for that particular week during the year, my grandmother’s house is relatively quiet. But as Holy Tuesday steps in, people start pouring into the house, lugging baggages, appliances, little kids, and beautiful memories behind. My grandmother’s house would seem to glow from all the noise and bustle inside it – the sound of hammers fixing the wooden figures of the family caro, the music and the voices coming from the rented karaoke machine, the crying and screaming of little kids, the laughter of binatas and the dalagas talking about the latest happenings in their lives, the conversations of the mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles on how the kids have grown, and so on and so forth. It is no longer the lonely house it was during most of the days of the year. For the next few days, it becomes our home.

Tradition has it that every Holy Week, all the eleven sons and daughters of my lola Guadalupe Alquizola-Yap gather in her house not only to observe the Holy Week but also to participate in a family-held custom – to decorate, arrange, and parade the family caro every Holy Wednesday. In a way, we are obliged to be there since it’s a family thing. But then, as the saying “the more, the merrier” goes, all the preparations we undertake can hardly be called tasks since we enjoy working together and catching up on each other in between. Amid all the fuss of arranging the flowers and dressing up the life-sized figures of Jesus the Nazarene, Simon, the Centurion, and the rest, we manage to pop in a little chitchat. Our efforts, after all, are not in vain. We are rewarded by delicious meals prepared by the mothers at home. And it’s no ordinary meal. In honor of the occasion, it’s almost like a feast.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays seem to roll by quickly with the busy schedule. But as Thursday morning peeps in, everyone can sit back, relax, and savor the rest of the week. I know Holy Week should be a time for reflection and prayer but it seems to be the only perfect excuse for everyone to leave their jobs and classes behind. We only meet once a year as a big family so we don’t let it pass without having some fun. This is where the karaoke showdown, the movie marathon, and the small trips to scenic spots come in. The week is usually concluded with a day or a day and a night at the beach, complete with the inuman sessions, night swimming, and eating.

On a personal note, here are the things that I really love most about staying in Barili for the Holy Week: (1) I like the feel of being united as a big family, despite the generation differences. Today, there are about three generations of our family gathering in my lola’s house and our family just keeps on growing! (2) I especially like meal times, even if we have to go by batches since the dining table can definitely not accommodate all of us in one sitting. I like meal times because aside from my obvious affection for food, meal times are usually accompanied by small jokes thrown at each other at the dining table. (3) Bedtimes are sometimes a headache. The house has only five rooms. Imagine trying to fit in eleven sons and daughters plus the children and the grandchildren in one house. Some end up sleeping on mats spread out on the floor. Just last Holy Week, the five of the older girl-cousins – that’s me, Japril, Pauline, Ella, and Julie Ann – had to make do with one bed. Three of us had to sleep sideways so we won’t all fall out of the bed. Hahaha! That’s actually a fun part of it. Since we girls are inseparable during those days, we push the limits harder. Even the smallest nook of the house can become a haven as long as we’re together and we can talk about our love lives and sing together. (4) Do you know that since time immemorial, (okay, that was just an overstatement) we girl-cousins take a bath together? I’m not really sure if it saves time and water. But we love it anyway. (5) Lastly, I love being with my cousins. I’m lucky that I have cousins who have (more or less) the same age as mine. I see how we have grown from awkward kids to mature adolescents. I can now recollect fond memories of my childhood in that house and I can see the difference between then and now. For instance, back then we really love riding the trisikad at night to get some fresh air and to tour around the town proper. Now, we do it because we want to be on the lookout for cute guys. Before, we play with our toys and we even cringe at the mere thought of us having boyfriends. But today, guess the main topic of our conversations? Mostly about the things we eewed and ughed before – boys plus relationship and dating. We really have grown up.

As I write this article, a wave of nostalgia hits me as I realize that as we grow up, our priorities change. For those who have finished college like me, our work becomes our priority. Some of my cousins cannot make it to the Holy Week gatherings because they work as seamen abroad. And with the looming crisis facing our country, some members of our family plan to leave the country for good. I hope that one day, I wouldn’t have to miss the gathering for other things in this life. But just in case I do, I still would like to go back to that house once in a while – Holy Week or not. It is, after all, the best place next to home.

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