When I was small, my cousins and I would get together to spend All Saints' Day weekend at Lola’s house where I lived. It was perfect when Nov. 1 fell on a Monday because that gave us four days together scaring each other with help from our playmates, Ben and Elena, whose father Victor was once a cook at my Lolo’s house. He was killed with my grandfather, father, and uncle at the end of World War II. That was our link. We had lost our fathers during the war.
We played in my nipa hut or bahay kubo. During the day we would pretend to be families who made mud pies and cooked or luto-lutuan with leaves, flowers, and aratiles fruit from our neighbor’s tree boiled in small clay pots or palayok-palayukan.
Soon we would be getting cleaned up for dinner. Then we would go upstairs to what is now called the family room. Then, it was just a room that had four doors to bedrooms opening into it. One All Saints’ Day weekend Lola’s tocador or dressing table was repainted and left in that room to dry. We crowded in front of it making the worst faces at the mirror trying to scare each other half to death.
It was the weekend for ghosts and ghost stories. On the eve of All Saints’ Day, Ben, the oldest among us, found a tall pole in the washing area, put a skeleton mask on it, and covered it with a long black hood. We shrieked! Ben said it was part of the custom called mangangaluluwa or “faking souls,” when people in the provinces would go out dressed like that pretending to be souls and stealing things like chickens they would eat.
We didn’t know if it was true but we believed him. It gave us something to be scared about and we loved being terrified when we were small. We didn’t have Halloween. We had masks bought from the sari-sari store. They were made of old newspaper mashed in glue and painted with enamel. You still saw the newspaper on the side that fit your face. We loved them because we adored the magical and the horrific. Also we never went to the cemetery because our men were killed during the war. They were taken from home, shot, and never returned. We had no tombs to visit.
Today is Halloween. It’s also my parents’ wedding anniversary. If I could, I’d like to take charge of the church decor.
Then, sadly, we grew up. Life took each of us on our own trip to learn many lessons, the least among them how to celebrate holidays if you have children. For Christmas stockings, gifts, and food. For Easter painted eggs and stories about the Easter Bunny. At first, my children made Halloween cards for me just like they did on Valentine’s Day. Then Halloween finally took: carved orange pumpkins, candy, and costumes. Everybody went trick or treating, as Halloween became more and more elaborate.
When we lived in the US you couldn’t forget the candy for the children, who knocked screaming, “Trick or treat!” Like Thanksgiving, Halloween was an ethnic occasion for them. They absolutely had to celebrate it.
Now, at places like Ayala Alabang and Forbes Park, you see scary figures sprawled or hanging from trees on front lawns. “Good grief!” I sigh. “So glad I turned into a grandmother before I had to do that!” Where does one get ideas for bloodcurdling Halloween tableaux? Another side of me, the side that remembers the little child who loved ghost stories and skeleton masks, asks: did you have to wait until I turned grandmother to scare people like that? Where were you when I was small and loved scary things?
Now I have grown really old. My children are in their 50s, my youngest grandchildren are in college. Now I have tombs to visit and bring flowers to, but I don’t do it on All Saints’ Day or All Souls Day. I do it the Saturday before because that’s when I have a driver. Also, I don’t really see the point of visiting tombs when I talk to them every day from wherever I am because I genuinely love them. As I grow older I remember each and every one of them, the lessons they taught, the laughter they brought. These lessons grow more profound as I grow older and begin to really understand from my heart.
Today is Halloween. It’s also my parents’ wedding anniversary. If I could, I’d like to take charge of the church decor. I would spray spiderwebs, add little rubber spiders to bloody flowers that line the aisle. My parents would be so horrified when they walked to and from the altar. Maybe they’d have a good laugh! Or maybe they’d rush to the nearest drugstore for birth control pills. Maybe they wouldn’t want a child as naughty as me.