The Mats September 6, 2012Reader-based InterpretationGroup members:1. Abapo, Ricardo, Jr. C.2. Kim, Shinsil3. Morales, Stephanie Mae A.4. Saa, Johanne Jules The HomecomingThe Mats, written by Francisco Arcellana, is a short story about a man -depicted as a very loving and thoughtful father/husband- who still seemed tobe not able to move on from the unfortunate departure of his three children.In this particular story, the depiction of the family is about a typical big Filipinofamily with family members leading out roles in a very typical Filipinotraditionalist lifestyle, that is; father/husband as the breadwinner andwife/mother as housewife and children being loving, obedient andsubmissive. The Mats depicts also a very Filipino value - a deep sense of closefamily ties and bonding.The basic plot of the story is about the most memorable homecoming of thebreadwinner of the family, the father, who came home from his periodicinspections which were celebrated every time these happened. But duringthis particular inspection to the South, he “met a marvellous mat weaver – areal artist” according to him. He wrote a letter about this event to his familythat said “I shall have a surprise for you. I asked him to weave a sleeping-matfor every one of the family. He is using many different colors and for each matthe dominant color is that of our respective birthstones. I am sure that thechildren will be very pleased. I know you will be. I can hardly wait to showthem to you" and when the letter arrived home, his family was so giddy andexcited about the event and of the homecoming. They kept on talking aboutit and they read the letter again and again when they could.
“Mats” played a big role in their own “family culture”. “They had such a matin the house, one they seldom used, a mat older than any one of them. Thismat had been given to Nana Emilia, the wife/mother, by her mother whenshe and Mr. Angeles, the husband/father, were married, and it had been withthem ever since. It had served on the wedding night, and had not since beenused except on special occasions. It was a very beautiful mat, not reallymeant to be ordinarily used. It had green leaf borders, and a lot of giganticred roses woven into it. Nana Emilia always kept that mat in her trunk. Whenany one of the family was taken ill, the mat was brought out and the patientslept on it, had it all to himself.”For us, that particular and special mat was an emblem, a symbol oftranquillity, good health and a refuge from being sick. It was a symbol ofhealing; a symbol of beauty and elegance because of its intricate designand embroideries. We can imagine how lovely and beautiful the mat waswith the golden woven name of the husband and wife.But because of the rarity of its usage and where it’s almost usually used, as asleeping mat of a sick family member, it also became “associated with illnessin the family, even serious illness”. Taking out those mats because of thosehappenings made this like a ritual.Although it symbolizes good health and a refuge of being sick, for us, it alsokind of depicts a symbol of suppressed sorrow and agony as some of thechildren who took refuge on that particular mat died and were not fortunateenough to be “rejuvenated by the healing powers” of the mat.Anyway, so when the night came, the father arrived and was with his familyagain. Depicted in the story was that every homecoming was celebrated sowe believe that during this time, there’s a huge dinner for the family. We cansee them really happy for the foundation of the family has come back. Wecan imagine the many stories being shared at the moment, the joyouslaughters shared upon the family table. The “pasalubongs” or “souvenirs”being put aside, fruits and whatnot.
Despite the momentous occasion and hundreds of random offset topicsbeing brought upon, all of them thought of the wonderful mats brought bythe father, Mr. Angeles.We can really imagine, basing on their background of being super mat-lovers, the excitement they had of seeing and receiving their respective mats.Just like one of our groupmates, who shared the similar feelings containedabout every homecoming of his soldier father, he shared or told us the feelingof super excitement of receiving the things promised that are said to haveacquired a tremendous price of beauty and sentimental value. He said itreally felt super exciting to finally see and receive the promised things that hisfather told them. It was a different kind of excitement compared to normalfeelings of excitement, because this kind of excitement, our groupmate said,was built upon months and months of waiting, just like in the story althoughwe think it was just for days, but still the similarity of the situation is there.So anyway going back, when the time came to distribute the promised everwonderful mats woven by a “real artist” as how the father described him, wecan imagine everybody were so elated and cannot wait for their respectiveglorious mats. We can even imagine the children and even his wifeaffectionately teasing him to finally distribute the mats.“Finally, after a long time over his cigar, Mr. Angeles rose from his seat at thehead of the table and crossed the room to the corner where his luggage hadbeen piled. From the heap he disengaged a ponderous bundle. “Taking itunder one arm, he walked to the middle of the room where the light wasbrightest. He dropped the bundle and, bending over and balancing himselfon his toes, he strained at the cord that bound it. It was strong, it would notbreak, it would not give way. He tried working at the knots. His fingers wereclumsy, they had begun shaking.”Maybe because of their affectionate persistence, we thought the father wasnervous and was shaking because of the pressure they put on him. We foundit cute and funny.
Anyway, the bundle was loose and the mats were ready to be distributed.The father gave everybody their respective mats with their respective nameson it, each has their own unique and intricate designs that symbolize whatthey do and what defined them like a lyre for Marcelina, the eldest child, whowas a music student, like one of our groupmates; Jose, the second child, hadsymbol of Aesculapius as a symbol for his being a medical student. The wifegot a mat woven in the middle was her name and beside it are wovenflowers –the cadena-de-amor – which we thought are symbols of his love tohis wife. Cadena-de-amor symbolizes chastity and purity so we thoughtmaybe that was why he thought to decorate his wife’s mat like that. Thehusband/father got himself an austere, meaning simple, mat but of purpleand gold, which we think these colors symbolize superiority and/or royalty asfathers are metaphorically referred to as “king of the castle”.When everybody got their respective mats, all of them bursted into completehappiness and gratitude. We can imagine the big smiles they were wearingnow at the time, but during the happiest time of the night Nana Emilia, thewife, noticed there are mats that were left unopened yet. She wondered andexclaimed that “there are some more mats”. What our group thought wasthat because of her inquisitiveness, it ignited the tension of the story. Becauseof this the mood began to change.The father, Mr. Angeles, replied “Yes, Emilia, there are three more mats tounfold. The others who aren’t here…” The moment we began to read theselines, we felt goosebumps inside us. We can see and imagine that everybodyjust froze and began to feel really tensed because everybody knows whattheir father meant. We can see the extreme sudden change of Mr. Angeles’face from being really happy to being an empty, dull and straight face. Wecan picture out too Nana Emilia sweating like a river because of theawkwardness and nerve-wracking situation they were experiencing at themoment. She couldn’t speak at all. All of the children became automaticstatues and mannequins only that they breathe of nervousness.
Mr. Angeles slowly unfolded the mats, and the mats were empty, no symbolsor whatsoever but just plainly names of the unfortunate offsprings he dearlyloved and couldn’t let go yet. Everybody knew the name “but somehow thename, the letters spelling the name, seemed strange to them.”As we were discussing this particular situation now of the story between thegroup,we kind of felt too as if we were there at the moment feeling the heavypressured and tensed environment that was set around them. Then suddenlysilence was broken and Nana Emilia “found her voice” and said “You know,Jaime, you didn’t have to”, her voice hurt and surely frightened. Mr. Angelesreplied, “Do you think I’d forgotten? Do you think I had forgotten them? Doyou think I could forget them?”He then shouted the names of the children, who already passed away, anddedicated them the mats he bought for them.During our group discussion we agreed this was the most intimate situationever in the story. We can hear them crying and soggy because of the tearsuncontrollably flowing from their eyes especially from Nana Emilia and theirchildren pleading their father to stop. Nana Emilia even asked him to stop butMr. Angeles, as what we imagine and feel, even became more angry andsaid “Is it fair to forget them? Would it be just to disregard them?” “His voicehad risen shrill, almost hysterical; it was also stern and sad, and somehowvindictive. Mr. Angeles had spoken almost as if he were a stranger. Also, hehad spoken as if from a deep, grudgingly-silent, long-bewildered sorrow.”The words exploded in silence.As what the story said and what we can imagine, all of their faces were gluedto the face of their father no matter how much they wanted to look awayfrom him, what we can see is how tragic that night was and how the moodchanged from extremely happy to extremely scary and tensed. “There was aterrible hush.” Indeed, it was the most memorable homecoming they everhad.