Holidays, like travel, are often thought of as family or group events. When we think of holidays we see a noisy group of people talking all at once while waiting for the call to the table then only afterwards breaking up into desultory groups lounging on the couch, lazily playing dominoes or rocking in the porch swing outside watching twilight come to call it a day.
When we think about people who spend the holidays alone we’re immediately moved to pity. They’re all alone; no one wants them. How piteous, how sad!
I woke up this morning to an empty house, and the day ahead glowed with quiet joy. I felt as if I stood on an old, wooden floor in a long, narrow corridor lit ahead by an open window. No sound disturbed the golden silence. I stood as if alone in the world and everything was suffused with peacefulness, with that rare contentment of someone with nowhere to go.
The sense of quiet joy was tied to the idea of a holiday. Stores closed, no shopping to do, no business to attend to, the day was indeed holy, of an uninterrupted wholeness.
The feeling comes from when I was a young boy long before my teens. On summer vacation and the summer holidays, cousins congregated at my grandmother’s house at La Granja. Mats and mosquito nets occupied every available space in the living room. I loved being the first one to wake. I would softly lift up the mosquito netting and tiptoe out of the forest of sleeping cousins to the bathroom where I would quietly change out of my pajamas. Sneaking past the few grownups in the kitchen I would go out the back door to wander in the gardens looking at what’s new with every shrub and flowering tree that Tatay Cente so skillfully grew. The ground was often wet from overnight rain but the sky would be blazoning with the rising sun, the air still cool which is why I love being outdoors early in the morning.
Later I might go back indoors and sit with Norma or Delfina who was preparing coffee by roasting then grinding beans with some dried corn in a hand grinder, ladling water from the banga on the bangerahan, then dipping an old sock filled with the grounds in a tin caserola. The sweet aroma of coffee soon filled the spacious kitchen and if Norma was feeling extra kind that morning I would have own cup heavily diluted with evaporated Carnation milk.
Out by the rice granary the menfolk from the family-owned farms had already slaughtered the goat. It hang from the ceiling while Gara or Tatay Decoy skinned then cut the carcass to pieces, separating the entrails that they washed by the moss-encrusted well until they shone white like pursed silk.
Back in the kitchen my grandmother and aunt would have emerged from their bedrooms to supervise the cooking of fiesta foods. We would have fresh corn for creamy corn soup (sopas) and the Filipino version of paella, arroz Valenciana with chicken, pork, prawns, Chinese sausage and new-harvest, short-grain rice, and, of course, the pièce de résistance, steaming caldrons of goat meat in a rich tomato-and-chickpea sauce, caldereta, the recipe for which was a guarded family secret.
Among those adults busy preparing the special dishes they prepared just that one day in the year, I was invisible. The other cousins would have wakened up, eaten breakfast of puto or bibingka with hot native chocolate or tahu, freshly brewed, hot ginger ale. The boy cousins would organize ball games in the vacant lot across the street. The girl cousins played with dolls and the secret games that only girls knew in Lola’s bedroom.
I alone wandered about the kitchen and house, no one paying attention to this strange boy who didn’t join any group thus learning early the queer pleasures of being alone on a holiday.