An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

13 November 2009

Time capsule

My family recently decided to move the remains of our faithful departed from one of our old family plots to a new location. The old family plot in Naga City is over thirty years old, and the cemetery it is in had been a parochial cemetery for about sixty years. This old Naga plot is different from the Moll mausoleum (see the old photo below) in the town of Tigaon, which was built almost eighty years ago by our ancestors.

My father’s father -- Heriberto Moll -- and my younger brother who died as a baby in 1978 were the ones buried in the old Naga plot until recently. They were not buried in the Moll mausoleum in Tigaon because, at the time, Tigaon was more than an hour’s drive away from Naga, and the roads were very bad. Bita -- my father’s mother -- was living in Naga then and wanted her husband to be near her. My parents were also living in Naga at the time, and decided to have my baby brother buried in the same Naga plot, beside my grandfather.

Perhaps they were uncomfortable to bury the little baby in a mausoleum, which, to a grieving young mother, must have seemed like an edifice honoring Death itself. There it stood, stoic and cold and brooding across the decades, unquestioningly admitting into its dark innards whoever Moll was most recently departed. And although there were a few Moll niños buried in the mausoleum in Tigaon, they died way before the seventies, so somehow they did not seem like babies to my mother.

And so the Naga plot has been there for over three decades, and every year for one night, the sons and daughters and grandchildren of Heriberto Moll -- me included -- would gather round the marbled space and talk about everyday things. When midnight would strike, we would all pack up, drive to our own homes, and go to bed, because on the next day there would be school and work and errands and housework and gardening and friends and life. The buried would stay buried. And for the rest of the year the family plot would be overgrown with weeds, flooded with mud and frequented by scavengers.

These cemeteries where our plots had been were built with no particular plan in mind, so over time people would bury their dead in whatever much space they could find: they would place graves on top of existing graves until there were five or eight stories of graves over one plot, and they would even place graves in the middle of lanes and passageways, so people had to step over them each time. As old cemeteries go, they looked medieval, they felt medieval. The only thing that would date them as modern is the changing fashion -- and music -- of the people who would visit these cemeteries once a year.

And so the family purchased a plot in a newer, cleaner, more modern cemetery in Naga, one that was privately owned and was created for the business of housing the dead. The plots were larger, the ground layout was more orderly, and there would be ample parking space. Everybody nodded, yes, it was a good decision. Yes, we have to change with needs of the times. Yes, we will move on now.

But then there was the business of the exhumation. The two graves in the old Naga plot were opened and the decaying coffins torn apart and the remains gathered. The gravedigger first found two tiny white socks, and then he found a tiny knitted cap, the kind that all mothers make their babies wear. He could not find any unbroken bones. Because the baby was too young when he died -- only a few months old -- the bones were still too fragile that they either broke or disintegrated. He carefully opened up the cap and showed the pieces of baby skull inside, broken into small pieces, but still perfectly in place inside the little knitted cap. He scraped up the rest of the soil he found inside the cement grave and put them all in the new container. He did not even want to wash the remains anymore, fearing that he would lose more tiny bones. Had he lived, my brother would have been over thirty now.

At the burial of the remains in the new family plot, Bita was in front, and she cried and had to sit down. My mother did not cry, and stayed standing at the back. But they were both in the same place. They were back in the old family plot, looking down at the freshly dug earth that would envelop their loved ones for over three decades.

[Image credits: 1, 2]


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