Monday, November 5, 2007

Día de los Muertos

Last Friday night the graveyard was the place to be. The Panteón Municipal on the highway north of La Peñita is now filled with fresh ofrendas, wreaths of flowers both fresh and plastic, relics of a night spent remembering the nearest and dearest dearly departed.

For myself, I was at a party. (Larry came, too, but only for a few minutes. He’d spent five hours in the dentist’s chair that day, but that’s another story.) Even there, there was an altar for a departed member of the community. I never met Bob Howell, as he was ailing and in seclusion when we arrived last year, but he was known for his good works and for bringing out good works in those around him. The altar with the bright pink cutouts behind it was set up in the entrance room to the newly opened Xaltemba Gallery and Restaurant. It had photos, notes from friends, things representing what Bob liked most (evidently good cigars and good tequila) – and the ubiquitous candles, sugar skulls and marigolds.

There was also a loaf of the dome-shaped sugar-dusted pan de muerto. They were selling that bread everywhere prior to the holiday. Sam’s Club, Walmart, every bakery and corner grocery. Evidently no Day of the Dead altar is complete without it, including the much more modest altar built on an old adobe oven around the corner and down the street from us.

Friday afternoon I talked to Rosario, the old woman who was setting up the ofrenda. For a long time I’ve wondered about the outdoor oven under the huge huanacaxtle tree. It turns out that her husband used to bake bread there, as well as camotes – sweet potatoes. He sold them to people who passed by. But he was killed just a few years ago while walking down the highway between La Peñita and Guayabitos. I asked her permission to take this photo later that night. It was dark on my way home from the party. No moon. But I saw the candles glowing in the dark.. There were his hat, his huaraches, and a few personal items the family had saved. Rosario, her daughter and granddaughter seemed to be enjoying themselves remembering and reminiscing.

To be honest the idea of this holiday used to really creep me out. Not so much anymore. I still have both my parents, but Larry’s parents are no longer on the scene. They were not just inlaws to me. They were great friends. I think about my mother-in-law Chloe every time I use a particular teapot or see the books we shared on my library shelves. I think about Hank every time I see his hat still on our coat rack or when I peel a hardboiled egg. He loved hardboiled eggs. I can see how setting aside a day to celebrate and remember together who Hank and Chloe were and acknowledge their continuing influence in our lives would be a joyful occasion – not creepy at all.

And as Chloe said to the lady at the Neptune Society when she heard how Hank's body would be sent to the crematorium in Santa Ana in a panel truck along with five others: “Well, Hank always did like company.”

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