Artist Jerusalino “Jerry” V. Araos passed away on December 23. He was 68.
I learned from my news feed that Jerry Araos passed away today. He is not a friend or a person close to me but I have one vivid memory of him: I was in college and I was organizing a tree planting activity. Jerry was landscaping a derelict section of the UP Fine Arts campus in Diliman. Dean Tina Colayco tipped that he could sell me some seedlings. Prior to seeing him, people warned me that he was a difficult person and that his temperament could spurn people. But since I was going to haggle for the price of the seeds, negotiating with him was inevitable. Beneath his mix of bored and acidic personality though, I saw a person who was willing to engage young people. Jerry was sagacious and I figured that we could get along even if just for an afternoon’s conversation. It was drizzling anyway so I stayed in the workshop where he was working. He talked about his book entitled “The Garden Of Two Dragons Fucking.” I laughed at the mention of the title. He said, “I’m serious.” I haven’t read it but he went on with his story. I asked him about his Bonsai. And corrected me, “Bansoy not Bonsai.” He said what he’s doing is Filipino and he would gladly decorate colleges in UP for free if he were allowed. He also talked about the Manuela tree and the Aurora tree, named after the famous Malacanang couple. The Aurora tree was among the first planted on campus and it was named after Dona Aurora because she planted them herself. I’m not sure whether he discovered it or coined the name for it long after. When the conversation came to my agenda. He asked about my budget. “Magkano ba?” a little irritated of the fact that I seem to be cutting him in his dreamy stream-of-consciousness monologue. “Mga 6,000 po,” I said, a little shy. “Ang cheap mo naman! nagbutal ka pa… gawin mo nang 10,000!” At that time, I really only had 2,000 pesos in my pocket. He said, it was going to be more presentable in the photos if we planted young trees and not seeds. I agreed. Maybe I wanted the photos to look good, maybe I wanted to plant more trees, or maybe I was just carried away by the man’s passion for horticulture that it somehow transferred. Anyway… to cut the long story short, after a few days I came back with the amount. I didn’t know how appealing it was but people would actually give money so they could name the trees. The dean, the faculty, the student council, the sorority girls, my gang. They all took photos with the trees while pretending to shovel soil on it, when in fact they only spilled some and let the gardeners do the rest. I looked for Jerry but he wasn’t there for the photos. He finished the landscaping and was probably on to his next green project. In his life, he may have impacted on as many or more people as the number of trees he has grown. He also left us extra trees so I could plant them elsewhere in UP. I wasn’t able to thank him for this. Years passed but we never saw each other again. Once in a while when I pass by the campus and get a glimpse of the trees, growing taller and leafier, I recall Jerry and that conversation. The color of that meeting and the smell of rain, how memories of meeting some good people are planted and then just grow even without tending.