| It Has Been A Rough Year |
I am adding this additional chapter to my introduction, because after I initially wrote the introduction, it was very difficult to come back to it and try to make sense of all that I have experienced through the various stages of my life and the trials that I have endured or overcome. I wish ...
| The Birth of Charles Leonard Wiggins |
The story has already been written for awhile on my blog "From the heart of Praise, Prayer and Perseverance. 0; Here is a link to that posting, Below are the pictures of the blessed event.
http://fromthehea rt-dotwigg.blogsp ot.com/2008/03/an other-2-prayer-re quest-answered.ht ml
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Emeniano 's Story > Chapters > One October Ends
| Date Range: 01/01/1980 To 12/31/1982 ||
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Our life wound down a rocky course like the river flowing under us. We sprung from a forgotten past, ebbed with the tides of hunger, tragedy and, death; still, it was the best of times…
When Mother got home earlier than usual, I knew she was on to something which scintillated with the scary seduction of my freshly sharpened knife.
“Son, get that thing back to its sheath...I need you to go down the marshland straightaway and tell Father to hurry home while I fetch your little sisters at Grandma’s…Where are the twins?”
“I don’t think that’d easy, Mama, rushing up Papa to stop whatever he is doing…nah-uh…That’d be like snatching an angry crab with one’s bare hands. Everybody knows how he waited long enough for this season.”
“I’ll go fetch him instead while you get your sisters…The twins, Manoy, where are they?”
“I suppose they’re by the bridge…I mean down the ravine. You see I was busy washing dishes when I heard them fussing over a patch of wild root crops growing down there.”
“Young man, I have no problems with the way you deal with your brothers and sisters but, heavens!… Far be it, son, you know I will die if something happens to any of you. How could you report so coldly to me like that?”
“I am very sorry, Mama. Would you want me to go with you now instead? I could stop later at Grandma’s on our way back.”
October heralded the start of the breeding season of the red crabs, which could go well until Christmastime.
Father, both a fisher and a star-reader, was one of its most avid chroniclers and messengers. A villager only had to take note of a couple of pasgong, those bamboo crab-traps, he had stocked inside an old fishnet and hung on the crotch of the dead wood behind the outhouse. Its disappearance, which happened once every year, meant that the rush for the red crabs was on.
His thoughts and actions at that time of year had all seemed to eerily bear the clocked precisions of the foamy scum eddying at the estuary at dusk, and the waves battering at the beaten face of the Weeping Widow at dawn.
Very early that one October morning before the sun had peeped through the cracks of our thatch walls, I felt Papa rousing on his bamboo cot. Mama stirred up on her sleeping spot.
“Don’t you think it’s rather a little early to be bounding up on the marshes with the crabs, Cording?”
“You know of course what it means to have missed out on the season of the red crabs, don’t you?”
I knew I had to prop up myself too. Mother would not let Papa go out alone at wee hours…After the horror at the estuary?
A couple of weeks ago, Nitoy, the youngest son of Guniang, Mother’s associate in coal-making, was found lifeless with his intestines and innards all beside the distended body, floating meters away from the part where the river had joined the sea.
We knew a monster was lurking around us now, silently calculating on its next attack behind the thick gray mist of the swamp, or stalking down on every unsuspecting wanderer at blind curves and bends.
We could feel its deadly eyes staring at us at the veiling of our village with the night’s black vest. Every shadow was suspect for instant serious scrutiny. Every birdcall, every wild animal growl was taken as the monster’s anguished and desperate craving for human flesh.
“Take San-san with you.”
“Don’t bother the young man, Marina. I won’t be long anyway. I’d only want to get the crab-traps all down on the mouth of every breeding burrow before anyone got them. Tell him to prepare though for our trek out to the Old Lady’s. We need new traps this time. You may go with us if you want. I reckon I saw a heap of coconut shells right below the Big Drop. They looked good for your coaling…you know, before the rain comes battering at us soon.”
Mother did not go back to sleep after Father left with a netful of crab-traps rattling in rhythmic click-clack on his sturdy back with his every hefty step.
Gathering her blanket around her, I saw her shadow teetering past the girls behind the canvas cloth that divided us, me and the twins, and them, father, mother and the girls.
She headed towards the altar.
On her knees before the gods with the glow of the rising sun behind her - mornings always felt blissfully worlds apart from the worries we felt outside our home. Whatever it was that scared us did not have control over our world within. Whatever it was that sent us scampering off for home whenever darkness would set in had no power beyond our door.
We felt safe. Mother was around.
The rays of the morning sun had gotten hotter as it inched higher in the horizon. I had a full day ahead. Aside from the chores around the house, I remembered I had agreed with the twins to go with them down the ravine. They had asked me to check out a patch of wild root crops growing in abundance there.
From the window, I saw the sea shiver in the wind then swell with seething intensity towards the direction of the old and battered Weeping Widow. A little later, before everybody was stepping on his own shadow, her weeping would be drowned by our unbridled shrieks and laughter. Crabbing on her drooping shoulders, we would soon be frolicking around her, as we took turns jumping off her back into the cold body of the ocean.
The Weeping Widow, a rock formation at the tip of the promontory, did not have to feel anything less as God’s creation. We needed her longer than her will to live; she could breathe, or live through our unconditional and boundless innocence.
Mother had gone to the wellspring under the giant banyan for a bath. Before lunchtime, if the small ones would not pester me for a little dipping-and-diving at the Weeping Widow, I would be taking them down there too for their morning bath.
The spring which father as a kid had helped dug out at the foot of the ancient tree was our village’s only source of fresh drinking water. He told me how he and his father, at times in fleets with other males in our village, would paddle their way along the coast on outriggers into the neighboring barrio to fetch water.
Once, Father and I had to make for a port in that village during a tempest; I tasted their water myself and I did not like it because it had a metallic and brinish tang to it.
The twins were stretching when I got back inside; the girls still asleep. The oil-lamp on the altar flickered gaily against the glow of the morning sun now breaking out in the horizon. I heard mother with her wooden sandals up the trail.
“Did you know that there had been a spotting of the monster at the swamp last night? In case your father and I are still out at the setting of the sun, I reckon, you would know very well what to do of course, San-san, yes?”
“Sure I do, Mother, I assure you. But, who could have seen it, I wonder…”
“Some kids from the other village who had secretly wandered off into our village’s swamp. They were, accordingly, checking out the burrows of the red crabs. But by heavens, I swear, they were out there to poach all of the red crabs inside the traps…And they could have well drowned in ecstasy for their finds when one of them saw it right there, for all I can see through my mind’s eyes now, in flesh and blood before the unsuspecting trespasser, with its big bloodshot eyes and hairy face and long sharp claws...I figure, nothing could have suited them better than the monster’s terrifying appearance. Susmaryosep, I couldn’t imagine the gumption of these rascals for breaking into territories beyond their own!”
“I figure they had a blast of an adventure!”
“I figure they were lucky Guniang’s dog rescued them in the nick of time…According to Guniang herself, just a wee while before all of the oil-lamps in the neighborhood had snuffed out, she and her dog were headed for the spring. The full moon was out but it was giving off an unusually hazy light and the air, deathly still.
“She swore she could have died with goose-bumps and all when her dog took a wrong turn. It just walked away and vanished into the dark. Now all bent for a sprint back home, she suddenly heard her dog barking and howling and growling with a faint cry of human panic somewhere in the direction of the swamp.
“She swore she had implored on all nameable saints she knew all her life just so she could steel herself against that scary something which had obviously crossed her dog.
“When she got there, with thistles and thorns and whatnots sticking to her hair and her shawl, she found her dog panting and huffing and trembling as if drained of a lifetime supply of energy; while the kids, three, four or she swore there could have been a dozen hidden in the dark, scurried away before she had time to ask for their names or, their whatabouts.”
“Is the dog still alive, Mother?”
“Very much so…Though it looked like the poor animal could use an instant energy-restorer or something…You know, some liniment or any of Manang Iyay’s concoctions…By the way, you could still catch Guniang down the wellspring giving a bath to that hero of a dog.”
I heard the rhythmic click-clacking of the crab-traps negotiating up the trail. Father was home.
Mother sprung to her feet. The twins clambered down the bamboo stair looking like a pair of tiny walking scarecrows wearing Papa’s used shirts. They took to the crab-traps Father had tossed to a corner.
My morning chores would normally start with the fixing of our sleeping stuff – stacking the pillows to a corner, one on top of the other, then folding the blankets and placing it on top of the first. Then I would roll up the buri-mat and stack it too beside the heap.
Mornings were not complete without the smell of pungent urine and stale saliva wadding about me after accomplishing that first round of domestic duties.
“I am badly disappointed by the initial turn-out of red-crabs this season…I caught three sickly ones...This is a bad start…”
“A bad start indeed…Did you know that some kids were out there last night checking out on your red crabs?… Have you been to the spring yet?”
“Not yet…What kids?!”
When Mother recounted the story about the bunch of crab-poachers and the monster, Father could only let out a wistful sigh.
He thought he knew it all along when he saw footprints caking up on the mud.
He showed his catch to mother. The twins buzzed instantly.
“You know better what to do with them, Marina…Keep them for the fatting and purging of course before thinking of cooking them up…I’d be damned… It’s San-san’s birthday next week, right?”
Mother looked at me furtively before checking on the little girls still asleep.
Already down the shoreline were clusters of fishmongers, mostly wives of our fishermen. In a short while, each one of them would take to the dusty trails with a winnowful of fish above their heads, mostly tulingan and malalangsi, while belting out those singsong ear-splitting sales pitches.
Funny, by the way, how our place was partitioned, not obligatorily I suppose, according to vocations and skills of family-heads and their respective home-keepers - we, lowlanders, were mostly fishers and salt-makers while those whose houses were tucked toward the uplands were either bird-hunters or farmers.
Some of the farmers who lived by the river leading to the mountain, and where stout-looking coconuts had bordered the banks, also supplied most of the coconut toddy and vinegar that flowed in intoxicating proportions to our village. The liquids were measured by “bowl” – a vessel crafted from a matured bamboo tube which when brimful was approximately two glasses.
Father was also a fisher’s son whose inheritance included among others, an outrigger which he rebuilt and repainted time and time again to make it more fish-friendly, I should say, because in those days, fishermen were very much into colors.
About a month before the season of the red-crabs, a word was out explaining that the reason for Manoy Ponso’s successive bountiful catches could have been his white-and-blue-striped outrigger.
Well, it did look like a giant silver-bellied blue tuna.
Aside from being partner in the coal-making enterprise with Manang Guniang, Mother was also a consummate tailor and a dressmaker.
She did not only cut pantaloons, shirts and skirts and dresses but sew them as well. That old Singer machine and the rhythmic patter of its treadle on our bamboo-lath flooring was the music that sent us to sleep especially on special occasions – death, christening, wedding, and fiesta.
By the way, the sewing machine was not Mother’s but was only let to her by Manang Sopya, a childless widow whose husband, Manoy Pilis, had died from a heart attack while doing a routine in the farm under the noon sun.
Weeks before the old farmer died, Father had consulted him for some information about building a house, our house, which was to stand on the bridge landing.
What I gathered from the conversation which was mostly drowned out by the murmur of the nearby river, it was going to be just a simple one-room house with a porch, a kitchen, and an outhouse.
The old man also reminded my father to offer something to the spirits before felling the old tugas.
On our way back from the trek to the Old Lady’s, Father motioned us to stop at the spot where he and the dead farmer had exchanged thoughts on carpentry. In fact, he called our attention to the stub of rock jutting at the wayside where he thought he saw the poor man took to himself while clutching on to his chest. Then he fell silent.
The stop was about most welcome because, in the first place, my back was aching bad from the weight of firewood on my back; in the second place, I was thinking up of ways to coax Mother to go down the Big Drop in case Father had changed his mind about the heap of coconut shells there. Above all, Big Drop meant a hell of a cool dip into its bluish water. And the splash of the awesome thick stream of water dropping onto the rock basin underneath was too much of a sight to pass on.
But it seemed that Mother had other things going through her head as she busied herself with the sacking of the coconut shells.
“Son, you have got to go to your grandfather’s house for the big clay-pot tomorrow.”
When we arrived home, it rained surprisingly. And it battered hard at the bamboo wall, the frond-roof, and the rusty galvanized iron quilt-door. Every gust sounded like the swish of a giant broom brushing madly past our house.
Mother was tucking us tight on each of our sleeping spots when suddenly we heard first a distinct scratching on the wall, then a panting outside our door.
“Is it the monster already, Manoy?”, one of the twins whispered to my ear.
Mother shushed us.
It seemed as if whatever it was that prowled outside was only waiting for the perfect time to carry out a brilliant plan.
Father was quick with his bolo but, miracle of miracles, it slipped off the sheath then fell right through a crack on the floor. I heard its metallic clanking on the rocks down the river below us.
Susmaryosep!…Inahan sa Kanunay’ng Panabang!
Off went our salvation. Mother was stunned.
Suddenly I caught the gleam of my freshly-sharpened hunting tool.
“On the wall, Papa…my knife!”
Mother huddled us together then ordered to pray with her.
The wind swooshed even more harshly; wailing lost loons and other dispeaced fowls had joined in the chilling cacophony.
The river below us now grumbled with the tumultuous rain.
Halfway through our prayer, I saw from a corner of my eye, a brute force breaking loose the door latch.
The creature had crashed into our home.
Father was sideswiped by its barbaric strength. Mother covered us with a sweeping embrace but, one of the twins had managed to break free from us and ran towards Father.
The creature was quick to the smell of young blood but Father was a lot keener.
Yes, I was damn sure Papa was too damn swell to ever give up on any one of us.
Soon enough, the frenzy with the red-crabs caught on which was good because the sea could be unyielding on stormy days. Coaling had to stop as well. Mother took to her sewing.
One muggy morning, the sun finally reared its glowing face.
Tagging one of the twins along a couple of hours later after breakfast, we were treading our way back home on a sun-baked cow-trail from Grandfather’s house with the big antique earthen pot on my shoulder.
“Are you sure you don’t need a hand with that, Manoy?” The twin confidently offered assistance.
We were resting on the shade of an old lumboy.
“I’m doing fine alright. Just you keep your eye on that bundle of lemongrass. Here, let me help you with those prickly amor seco spikes sticking on your shorts.”
“You know what, I really don’t get it. Why must Mother keep us at bay until your birthday, huh?”
“Keep your hands off the pot, will you, kiddo?” He was obviously exploring the possibility of sliding the lid of the cooking vessel into his head.
“I mean, I’m sure I could gorge up on the whole yummy stuff myself already…I’m leaving the red-crabs up for grabs to all of you, for all I care.”
He was referring to the smoked wild boar Mother had scrumptiously glazed with her special recipe for my red-letter day. The twin was right, I muttered to myself as I secretly took an imaginary helping of the delicious treat.
Finally he had succeeded with his pot inquest. Instantly he goofed around like a midget alien with a big, sooty faceless head.
Minutes into his clowning act, I saw him flailing with his arms which I brushed off as just part of the antics.
“Manoy! Help!” I sensed panic from within the cookware.
It took me a stone and a whack before I got him off the pot. He was perspiring profusely as he gasped for air. For the first time, I heard him swear like a grown-up crab-hunter.
“Now we have a reason to eat it exclusively without the crabs, don’t we?”
“I guess so, but first there’s Grandpa to worry about.”
“His powdered pot, you querulous brat.”
Then we both laughed like hell.
Our last stop was on the shade of a huge boulder by the trail. The little boy clambered clumsily to the top. Failing halfway up, he did some mock-boxing with its monstrous shadow.
“You think the creature might have gobbled us up had Father been a bit slow off the mark that night?”
Manoy/Manang = Big Brother/ Sister
Pasgong = Crab-traps crafted from mature bamboos
Tulingan = Member of tuna family
Malalangsi = Smoth belly sardinella
Susmaryosep! = Corruption of Jesus, Mary, Joseph
Inahan sa Kanunay’ng Panabang! = Mother of Perpetual Help
Lumboy = Black plum
Amor seco = Lovegrass