Saturday, December 09, 2006

Lights on

ON THE phone the other night, my mother asked me to describe how the streets looked.

With my thoughts mainly on supper, my sons’ assignments and my own paperwork (in that strict order), I rattled off about the new lamp-posts, gigantic parol and impressive island landscapes.

Well, how do they look? my mother pressed.

I found I had no details to share.

Even if we pass blazing streets on the way home, I realized I didn’t see the lights.

The boys’ Christmas fair practices and the shopping-swollen evening traffic have us now crawling out of the city long after the sun has set.

But it might just as well be some other disc hanging in the sky for all the notice I give the sun, moon or alien bubbleship.

I keep time with my scratch-faced Seiko, set half an hour advanced.

My mother’s question made me recall a comment I made while chatting with fellow teachers before our 7:30 A.M. classes. To a remark that Christmas seemed to take a long time coming this year, I added that I missed the cool air.

Its nip, along with my father’s coffee and first cigarette of the day, used to wake me at dawn. Our family’s ageless pepper-shaped Christmas lights (22, working; 2, busted) were usually blinking by then, without sound.

It’s odd how the young associate light with food this season.

Despite my father’s repeated caution, it was a burnt index finger and thumb that showed me how the red peppers running along our small manger were as hot to touch as these were fiery to look at.

Last night, when we passed clusters of light swaying from trees along Mandaue, Juan, 8, said they were like Lola Veling’s grapes.

After taking another look, I realized he was right: they truly looked like the swirls of light reflected by the crystal “ice-drops” in my grandmother’s tree, which once held scarlet balls that were like sour-sweet macopa to my eyes when I was my son’s age.

Seeing the street lights with the eyes of an eight-year-old made me realize how I nearly made a mistake of thinking that Christmas was never coming.

When Christmas came after anticipating the 13th-month pay, I found it to be quick and short. But the quiver of expectancy from watching lights flicker on, one by one, leaves inside a glow that’s as warm as a child’s hug.

With many of the streets decked out for international visitors, it is quite a spectacle now to drive to places in the evening. From the inside of a car, the city is entangled in streaming ribbons of fantasy.

But nothing beats walking home at day’s end and singling out, from the myriad ornaments shimmering in the neighborhood, a set of lights remembered well: the porch bulb, the fluttering tinsel star pasted in a rush for a class project, lights from familiar windows.

My wish is that each of us finds the beacons leading us home this Christmas. 0917-3226131

(Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 10, 2006 issue)

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