Today marks Día de Los Muertos, the traditional Mesoamerican “Day of the Dead.”
For those unfamiliar with the cultural background and symbology, it may seem a macabre celebration of death, complete with skeleton costumes and make-up as well as sugar skull candies (calaveras). The truth is much more joyous in that it celebrates the one day each year the Gates of Heaven open to allow those who who have died to return to visit with family and friends. Families erect ofrendas, or memorial altars, displaying pictures fo the deceased, their favorite foods and beverages, and marigolds, believed to guide the spirits from Heaven back to their home with their scent.
Last year, I wrote the following but did not post it at the time. Today, I share these thoughts from last year, along with this year’s “update” added to the end.
Day of the Dead thoughts — 2018
Thinking of Day of the Dead as I drove down from the hills overlooking the buildings and roads in the valley below, I smiled, thinking of spending time today with Granny, Mom, Dad, Gran Massey, my grandfathers, both known and unknown…yes, I like that idea.
What do you want to do today, Granny? I suspect she would appear to me first as I always knew her, hunched over her cane. But then i imagine her tossing it aside and standing up with a big grin and both arms thrown open wide for a hug. Oh, to see Granny walk!
Dad’s looking young and spry, moving about with effortless ease again, not struggling to catch his breath after 5 unassisted steps due to his physical deteroration brought on by smoking. He’s probably launching that huge, unfinished radio-controlled model airplane we had up in our attic since the 60s, watching it swoop it down low over our heads, grinning and laughing.
Mom surrounds herself with her family, her sisters and her brother, her mom and pop, her beloved husband, and — perhaps most importantly, at least for now, her youngest son, the litle brother I never knew, Brian Craig, who died at two days old. For today, my little brother, Brian Craig, remains forever young and unspoiled in the most real sense there is.
I can hardly recognize Gran Massey as a young mother, other than her pancakes, an endless stack of oddly shaped marvelous flapjacks. I won’t say they were better than anybody else’s but I will say they were unlike anybody else’s. But for me, simply getting pancakes in the morning — without asking, as I once marveled to a cousin — was wonderful enough. She’s singing an old hymn as he cooks, and laughs as she brings us all breakfast.
Granddad Massey suddenly walks and talks just fine, unslowed by the years or his diabetes, his spirit rising and soaring.
The grandfather I never knew, Clarence Buller, smiles and waves. He doesn’t want to intrude and hangs back with his second wife and their young daughter who died at age 6. She and Brian Craig and Jessie have a plenty great game going on, a game where everybody wins and laughs and laughs and laughs.
I see so many others, uncles & aunts — Marion & Willie together again, Aunt Jo and her beloved husband, Bill. As I think of these people, my heart swells with joy. I have built no ofrendo, I have no sugar skulls, but in my heart, I am living the Day of the Dead with my family and friends. Soon, they will fade away again — they, too, have other “things to do” and “places to be.” But, they, too, revel in this annual opportunity to return and visit us here. Take the time to enjoy them.
Day of the Dead thoughts — 2019
First, it’s friends I see here. Hey there, Robert — love how your Suzanne got my Sara up & dancing. Good to see you again, Greg, but let’s be more careful this time around, okay? Mike & Duane drop by, smiling and joking, advance guard from the Thistle House for Run-Amucks. Hank grins as we walk through my little town, pointing out and remarking on the architectural oddities. Jim introduces me to the tree people of his drawings and they demurely blush with color. A loud voice behind me shouts, “Bruiser!” and Victor is here laughing, ready to rip off my shirt again a la Keith Moon. There’s Dewey and Debby joining him over there by the sign-in table.
Of course, there’s Mom, looks like she’s grading papers but no, there’s no more grades here. Hi, Dad, been wanting to ask you about that semi-tropical swamp down in Palmetto State Park. Granny’s here too, carrying her cane mostly so I could recognize her before she morphs into the 19-yeaar-old she says she still felt like at 70. Granddad silently nods, but I see a slight smile as he notices pieces of his memoirs coming out on this blog. Gran Massey laughs softly and sings an old hymn as she shuffles into her kitchen to make pancakes and bacon for everyone. Gwen smiles broadly as she comes over for a hug. Behind her Aunt Marion and Uncle Willie lift a glass and the share Hook ‘Em Horns sign. Jessie comes dancing out, that radiant smile melting away the years, the tears and death itself. I see and somehow recognize my brother Brian Craig, no long stuck at 2 days old and dead, but instead the little brother who tagged along behind me this whole time.
Everyone is smiling. Everyone speaks without words and shifts through their ages effortlessly, settling in wherever, whenever I need them to. There are so many loved ones and old friends coming forward I simply stand there as they approach me, reassuring me and welcoming my presence. They seem unperturbed at the illogical nature of the scene, as if I am still a child caught in a child’s level of understanding. I think they take on the visage I knew them by simply to help me see them without focusing on all the fantastic changes they have undergone.
How can I be sad today? How is this macabre? Día de Los Muertos is a joyous occasion, an annual birth-through-death-day. I’ll admit it took me several years to make the perceptual shift, but now that I have, I can spend all day enjoying again the people I have “lost” to death. They will never be truly lost to me, and I welcome their earthly presence with altars, icons, gifts, and the sharing of my memories.
So, go ahead, Jimi Gunn, tell me those stories you promised. Let me hear that splendid laugh again, Joanie. All you other old friends and family, dance on over to this side for the celebration — you make my day.