When Your Own Ancestral Home Was On Fire

While watching the raging wildfire that razed many homes in California last November on TV news, I was horrified by the helplessness of the fire victims whose personal possessions had vanished in thin air. I had to change channels because I felt  a sense of loss.  I could not take it.

Then one mid-morning on Nov. 12, I was jolted by a phone call from my sister Mila from  Fresno, CA that our second ancestral home in GSIS Village, Quezon City was on fire at 2 a.m. (Philippine time). Upon learning about this dreaded news, my first reaction was outrage. It was like a bad dream — a nightmare.A sinking feeling and self-pity had overcome me. Then another sibling, Ramon from Canada confirmed it. That evening, another sister Thelma from Fresno called after her duty at a nursing home and we both burst into sobs like we suffered death in the family.

In the aftermath for three weeks, I woke up every now and then in unholy hours  of the night and cried like a child. Crying and grieving perhaps are part of our humanity. Then while alone or driving by myself, I gazed nonchalantly beyond the horizon and asked myself, ‘why us.’?I thought I would lose my marbles. My brother, Amor, hisdaughter Cherry and her husband Nick  were left unscathed and  survived and  was able to escape only with their clothes on sans their keys. I’m glad my brother’s car was parked on the street and his son-in-law’s SUV was at a shop for routine services.

This episode had lingering effects on me in that I could not sleep  and it weakened my body as a result.  I even sought counseling from our Filipino parish pastor, Rev. Fr. John Cordero of the Holy Family Church of Artesia — to seek answers, spiritual guidance, life’s wisdom on how to deal with this misfortune. And be consoled me. In the process, I was comforted by a verse in the Bible in Job 1:21, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The irony was that the source offire had originated from our immediate neighbor as evidenced by a CCTV footage installed by my brother on our border postin early 2018. According to witnesses’accounts, four carpenters  of our neighbor had finished their drinking bout after midnight and did not douse water on the embers from where they cooked their barbecues and food. The sparks flew on some lumber stacked against their wallbordering our home and the fire had spread into our house. Our neighbor’s house was being upgraded into three-storey but was spared.

I was full of anguish because I was the first sibling who first occupied this home with dad in 1968during my early college years in Manila. My other younger siblings were still in Mangatarem inPangasinan province with mom until they were uprooted one by one from our first ancestral or boyhood home. Our province was a three-hours drive from Metro Manila, the capital of the Philippines.  This bungalow home, a 420 sq. meter was acquired by my dad being a Philippine government bureaucrat, an affordable housing track under the presidency of the late Diosdado Macapagal. Through the years, we made improvements and upgrades from four bedrooms to fiveand from one  bathroom to two. It was not fancy but we were comfortable.

This home was welcoming to both relatives and friends alike. Cousins from both mom and dad side stayed in this house during their college years. Dad’s clients, and family friends stayed here temporarily. It had lots of memories butour family photosand  memorabilia are now gone. We’ll also miss the enlarged photos of my four nieces who all graduated from college with varying degrees hanged in our living room. However, I was told that my brother’s washing machine, water reservoir, steel cabinet, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and our Rambutan tree fronting our home were saved.

In hindsight, we won’t see anymore the college diplomas of my dad and mom with their togas and robes hanged on the wall facing our dining room. I won’t see anymore the Bar license certificate issued by the Philippine Supreme Court when dad passed the bar in 1951.My mom was elementary school teacher. My parents were simple and humble who just instilled in us the value of education and work ethics and how to mingle with all kinds of people irrespective of their stations in life.Both were the first to graduate fromcollege from their respective families.

I consoled myself that perhaps, there’s a bigger and better plan for us by our Creator  out of this man-made disaster. Some relatives and friends had either called, e-mailed and made their words  of solace  known to us on Facebook with hopes of silver lining — moving forward.

A personal enjoyment that I cherish to lighten my yoke is savor my orchids and succulents which are arrayed in my greenhouse. This is my refuge when things go awry.  I’m also pleased that my fruit trees like  horse radish, papaya, oranges, lemon and persimmon bear fruits in abundance. My avocado is just blossoming.

I’m also comforted by my grand nephews and grand nieces although they all reside in Canada. They provide sheer joys, relief from anxiety and laughter like no other.

We just count our blessings. My family had an enjoyable tour to exotic tourist destination in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar for 20 days in August-September and learned rich historical insights from these countries.

I’m still very thankful that our Lord has given me the gravitas and energy to practice my trade as freelance writer, notary public, tax practitioner and business consultant – for the last eight years after retirement.

Be well yourselves. Please include us in your prayers so we can surmount whatever challenges that await us.  – [email protected]