(Editors’ note: The Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on Oct. 26, 2014.)
Two things that I fear most – no, not death or taxes – are ghosts and snakes, the effect of traumatic episodes in my growing up years.
First, the snakes. One Saturday, while on my way to my uncle Busa’s house where us Carantes cousins usually gathered for fun and food on weekends, I chanced upon a bunch of neighborhood kids throwing stones at a snake that had slithered from the grass to the middle of the road to warm itself from the early morning December cold, just as the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds.
Badly wounded, the snake could only move its head from side to side, trying to evade the missiles being hurled by a seemingly angry group of rowdy kids.
The mindless 10-year-old boy that I was then, I got hold of a rock and dropped it on the poor snake, killing it instantly. As we circled the dead reptile yelling and whooping it up like we had just scored a major victory, an elderly native passing by picked up the remains of the snake with a stick, gently sliding it in a nearby garbage drum.
“You did a terrible thing,” he scolded us, “that snake was a female snake, so be careful if her mate will later seek you out and exact his revenge.”
At home later that night, I couldn’t sleep a wink, thinking that maybe the mate will drop from the ceiling, or crawl from a hole in the floor and sink its fangs on my neck.
I have never gotten over the old man’s warning. Even if there is this urgent need to relieve myself while on the road, I will not stop and take a leak in the open field, fearing that a snake would sneak out from behind a patch of grass and lunge at me with its venomous bite.
I am told, however, that snakes with two legs are the deadliest of all. A mere flick of the tongue will surely spell doom for a targeted victim, losing money and other valuables.
As for ghosts, I have never really seen one in my lifetime you know, white ladies, or spirits floating on air.
The nearest that I came into “contact with a ghost” was when my dad died. One evening during his wake, I went to his garden in the dead of night, and talking to him like he was alive. I asked for a sign if truly there is life after death. Suddenly the air turned freezing cold, and there was no mistaking the sweet smell of flowers that followed. I ran back to the house as fast as I could, and to this day, I am not certain if I merely imagined the incident, or it actually happened.
But my fear of ghosts came about when my mother’s best friend, a schoolteacher at the Lucban Elementary School like her, died from a mysterious sickness that caused her to faint at work, and after regaining consciousness, was advised by her superiors to go home and rest. The next day, news reached the school that she collapsed while doing household chores, and died at the hospital where members of her family had rushed her earlier.
“For sure, she will come and visit me,” my mom said, “if only to say goodbye.” As she was saying this, the smell of burning candle swept our living room, and my mom and the maid, including my visiting cousin, manang Mary, scampered in different directions, leaving 11-year-old me all alone, trembling and crying.
It turned out that my dad, a clumsy guy like his eldest son, while grilling “dongis” in our “dirty” kitchen, accidentally knocked down a lighted candle into the fire. Everyone had a good laugh afterwards upon learning what happened, but the incident scarred me for life, and the smell of burning candle, especially in the dark, would resurrect my fears of old.
When one of our maids died in a vehicular accident, there was a day I uncannily sensed that someone was either sweeping the floor or pressing clothes, and when I nervously told my mom about it, she said the maid was just paying back with service a P20 debt that she owed my mom, money that she used going to their home province to visit her folks when the accident happened.
My mom passed away at age 84, and I eagerly wanted her to come and see me for one last hug before crossing the great divide, but she was aware of my fear of ghosts, and only visits me in a dream every so often.
In the case of my late sister, Marichu, she would come and visit me in the form of a butterfly, even in faraway Lepanto, like when her son Paul got into a little trouble with the law, pleading with her manong to take care of the problem soonest.
While my departed brother Doc would make his presence felt by blowing away the cards with a gust of wind each time friends and I played tong-its, his favorite pastime, next to the brew.
As for my in-laws, each time they come to visit, my Minda would just talk to them like they were still of this world. The conversation however, would be one-sided, although at times response came with a fragrance or sign peculiar to her folks when still alive.
So on All Saints Day, we shall again trek to the cemetery to visit all our dearly departed, my mom and dad, my siblings, my in-laws, nephews and nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles, all of whom once walked the face of the earth okay and jolly, for as long as there was meat on the table, bottles of beer and coke, under it, later pass away the rest of the day playing cards or swapping funny stories.
We shall also pray for departed friends, colleagues, and others who were kind to us in their lifetime. One day, hopefully much, much later and not sooner, we shall be joining loved ones in a better and happier place.