The Chieftest Mourner

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The Chieftest Mourner by Aida Rivera Ford
He was my uncle because he married my aunt (even if he had not come to her these past ten years), so when the papers brought the news of his death, I felt that some part of me had died, too.I was boarding then at a big girls' college in Manila and I remember quite vividly that a few other girls were gathered about the lobby of our school, looking very straight and proper since it was seven in the morning and the starch in our long-sleeved uniform had not yet given way. I tried to be brave while I read that my uncle had actually been "the last of a distinct school of Philippine poets." I was still being brave all the way down the lengthy eulogies, until I got to the line which said that he was "the sweetest lyre that ever throbbed with Malayan chords." Something caught at my throat and I let out one sob--the rest merely followed. When the girls hurried over to me to see what had happened, I could only point to the item on the front page with my uncle's picture taken when he was still handsome. Everybody suddenly spoke in a low voice and Ning, who worshipped me, said that I shouldn't be so unhappy because my uncle was now with the other great poets in heaven--at which I really howled in earnest because my uncle had not only deserted poor Aunt Sophia but had also been living with another woman these many years and, most horrible of all, he had probably died in her embrace!Perhaps I received an undue amount of commiseration for the death of the delinquent husband of my aunt, but it wasn't my fault because I never really lied about anything; only, nobody thought to ask me just how close an uncle he was. It wasn't my doing either when, some months after his demise, my poem entitled The Rose Was Not So Fair O Alma Mater was captioned "by the niece of the late beloved Filipino Poet." And that having been printed, I couldn't possibly refuse when I was asked to write on My Uncle--The Poetry of His Life. The article, as printed, covered only his boyhood and early manhood because our adviser cut out everything that happened after he was married. She said that the last half of his life was not exactly poetic, although I still maintain that in his vices, as in his poetry, he followed closely the pattern of the great poets he admired.My aunt used to relate that he was an extremely considerate man--when he was sober, and on those occasions he always tried to make up for his past sins. She said that he had never meant to marry, knowing the kind of husband he would make, but that her beauty drove him out of his right mind. My aunt always forgave him but one day she had more than she could bear, and when he was really drunk, she tied him to a chair with a strong rope to teach him a lesson. She never saw him drunk again, for as soon as he was able to, he walked out the door and never came back.I was very little at that time, but I remembered that shortly after he went away, my aunt put me in a car and sent me to his hotel with a letter from her. Uncle ushered me into his room very formally and while I looked all around the place, he prepared a special kind of lemonade for the two of us. I was sorry he poured it out into wee glasses because it was unlike any lemonade I had ever tasted. While I sipped solemnly at my glass, he inquired after my aunt. To my surprise, I found myself answering with alacrity. I was happy to report all details of my aunt's health, including the number of crabs she ate for lunch and the amazing fact that she was getting fatter and fatter without the benefit of Scott's Emulsion or Ovaltine at all. Uncle smiled his beautiful somber smile and drew some poems from his desk. He scribbled a dedication on them and instructed me to give them to my aunt. I made much show of putting the empty glass down but Uncle was dense to the hint. At the door, however, he told me that I could have some lemonade every time I came to visit him. Aunt Sophia was so pleased with the poems that she...
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