My uncle died last weekend. He was my mother’s brother and lived in Sacramento. It wasn’t unexpected, he had been sick. My mom had seen him when she had visited here last and by visited, I mean, stayed in my house for almost six months which is an appropriate length of time for a Chamorro mother to visit her daughter. She’s flying into Seattle this weekend with my other uncle and then immediately flying to Sacramento where she will be there for the funeral and join her other siblings for this sad occasion.
But for a time there were questions as to whether my brother George and I would attend and if we would, would we drive with our mom to Sacramento and would we make this twelve-hour drive with our young children. Then the real question would be, would my funeral be included because I would likely die trapped with my children for twelve hours. Twelve hours! In a Chevy Suburban with a fold-down TV screen that would probably play only what my mom wanted to watch, namely all the seasons of Three’s Company and when she inevitably laughs at Jack Tripper’s antics so intensely, she’ll shriek and hit/slap me. She cannot watch any movie without expressing how she feels about it or narrating the basic themes as if I do not know that this Lifetime movie features exactly what she is yelling about, “MURDER! MURDER!”
So because no one wanted to make the interminable drive, my brother and I are not going. I’m sad about not being there to see my family, or to be present for all the Chamorro traditions that are involved when someone dies, much like when my aunt died and TJ and I flew to Boise. The business of death runs so strongly in my culture, almost leaving no room for immediate mourning when there is a Catholic rosary to be prepared. On Saipan, it is so swiftly managed. Immediately, there are tables and tents rented. Food is ordered or donated. The family and friends gather at the home for nine days of prayer, then there’s the funeral and nine more days of nightly rosaries where usually a woman chosen by the family called the techa (tet-sah) leads the prayers in Chamorro. It is long and costly process, but traditions like these anchor me to what I remember growing up and what I lack here in the states, especially when I watch videos like this hilarious one. Though might be only funny to Chamorros? I’m not sure how translational the humor is, but here it is.
This also brings up how much, how very much, I miss Saipan and how much of a cultural deficit I’m experiencing. I miss it. I miss it often during the year when it is cold except for two days in the summer, or when my midwestern husband asks if the legend of Chief Taga has anything to do with the Filipino dialect Tagalog which he also called, “Taga.” And if you’re wondering, no, the legendary Chief Taga is not like Tagalog BECAUSE ONE IS NOT LIKE THE OTHER! Seattle is part of my adult make-up, but only builds upon the layers created on that beautiful island. And here in this metropolitan city where it is 58 degrees on a July morning and I always make poor clothing choices, I’m very much in need of trip home.
I started looking into flight prices and the price of one round-trip ticket is around $1,600.00, not including taxes or fees or the toll of having an almost two-year-old on my lap for almost 28 hours. Even at that price, $1,600.00 is more feasible than four people at full fare and not even including all the gifts we will buy and schlep with us or someone who will show up at the airport and ask us to send a cooler of fish (This is the chamorro method of shipment).
Tentatively, there will be the 10 hour flight to Japan, plus a four hour layover then another four hour flight to Guam then ANOTHER four hour layover then a one hour flight to Saipan and then I will collapse into my family’s arms because I all my energy would have been siphoned from my body, leaving me a shriveled hull of a woman who can only weep about what her child has taken from her, answer: EVERYTHING.
I want to go back to Saipan and I have enough time to save and sell blood/plasma and whatever part of my soul I haven’t sold yet. In the meantime, my mom will be here soon enough and there will mall walking and talking about how I should cut my hair. So just like back at home only this time I will be paying for my JC Penney’s bill.