Dia de los Muertos

Today is All Saint’s Day. All Hallow’s Day, which comes after Hallowe’en.

Today is the Day of the dead, a mexican Holiday. My friend loves the day of the dead, she and I are going to go to a celebration this afternoon, a dia de los muertos party.

“This is pretty much my favorite holiday!” she told me.

I had been reading websites she’d sent me and asking questions about this whole celebration. I am still taking it on faith somewhat, that this is a joyful occasion. I tend to prefer joyful occasions to sad ones.

After her little outburst, I paused. Her favorite holiday?

“Do you know anyone close to you that has died?”

“No, not really,” she answered.

“I have,” I said. “I actually know a lot of people that have died.”

So yesterday, in preparation for the celebration today, I tried to remember everyone.

How many is a lot? I asked another guy I know if he knew anyone that had died. He was from Ireland; I thought maybe he’d had some friends die in the troubles.

He told me this story:

it’s kind of funny, you know? My teacher, in the equivalent of what would be high school talked to us about this. He stopped us, and told us that statistically speaking one of us would be dead before we reached 30.

And you know, it was only a year later, that my classmate Sean was in America and he was caught in a fire and killed. So what the teacher said came true, almost right away. It’s kind of amazing like that.

That was his story. Statistically speaking, we tend to drop off. I wonder if his teacher wanted them to be more careful?

THe day of the dead is supposed to be a day where you remember and tell stories about the ones who have passed on.

THere are so many, but maybe I can try.

My first brush with death is something that happened when I could concievably be so young that I don’t remember it. And in fact I don’t. But I do remember the effects of it.

I was three years old, maybe four. My parents had loaned our car, I don’t know why, but they had loaned our yellow VW bug to a family that lived up the street. They got in a car accident. The mother and the oldest son died. THe car was totalled.

I remember little Heather, the youngest daughter, who was a year younger than me. I remember my mother bringing her over to play with me a lot. And I remember my mom telling me to be nice to her.

But what I remember most is the new car we got out of it. The father of this family bought us a huge station wagon, the kind that’s made to look like the sides are made out of wood.

I clearly remember the arrival of this car, and my amazement that someone would give us a car for a present. Later, thinking about it, I put the pieces together.

I remember when the grandmother of that family died, several years later. I remember I was maybe ten, and they were describing the kind of cancer she died from. It made me think of stalactites on her insides, that grew until she was completely filled and had to die.

We had left to move to California for a little period of time, and then moved back to Alaska. During the California stay, I made friends with this great girl, she was a little older than me, but we were very silly and had lots of fun. Back in alaska I wanted to find her, have her address and write to her.

I found out she had died, but in this bright-flame-soon-put-out kind of way. It had a huge impact on the community, saved her sister from some awful dysfunctional relationship, etc.

That made me feel very serious inside for a while.

Grandma Mary died in there somewhere. I remember my father getting the phone call. That was it. That one was very mysterious. I like Grandma Mary. She was really nice and gave good presents, like fun board games. But we were far away and didn’t see her very much. But she was dad’s step-mother, since his mother had died when he was five. Mary had come into his life when he was 11 or 12, and I really don’t know his feelings about her. I think the animosity was towards his dad.

But that one was remarkable only for it’s lack of impact.

Who’s next? let’s see…THere was the baby that died at birth, my friend’s mother had this little baby. The family was so sad and devastated. They seemed like nice people. The mom was pretty nice. My friend was a little weird. As I later figured out, the mother had been a prostitute, and the daughter, the oldest had been involved. Don’t get me wrong, the daughter was well under 10 years old when this was happening. She had some trouble adjusting to the new life in church that the family became involved in.

Us girls, ages 12-15 or so, had a little trouble knowing what to do with Tara’s stories of her mother sending in the men to her room to “do what they wanted”. None of us were allowed to kiss the boys we liked, and Tara’s stories seemed incredible.

The poor little child, the baby dead at birth seemed to weigh Tara’s mom down with immense and almost unbearable grief. THe family had three or four children at the time, and i watched her with amazement.

I remember asking Tara, after the funeral with the very small coffin, “Are you sad?” I didn’t know what I felt. I was wondering what she felt.

But the most popular girl in our pathetic little group turned on me with a veangeance. “WHAT KIND OF STUPID QUESTION IS THAT? Her sister is DEAD, what do you think she feels? OF COURSE, she’s sad.”

I tried to defend myself, “Well, she didn’t have very much time to get to know the baby.”

That did not fly at all. I just kept my mouth shut the rest of the funeral.

Then there was that other time, that the church held a funeral for someone that only came Christmas and Easter. There is a saying about faithful churchgoers: “At the church whenever the doors were open.”

Boy oh boy, that was us. The doors were open, and even though it was a funeral for someone we didn’t know we were there. It was a most interesting experience, everyone sayign nice things about this woman. I don’t know how she died.

There were a lot of people. Maybe the pastor asked people to show up and pad out the seats, I dont know. But there were a lot of people that knew the poor woman too. It turned out that the ladies who taught me ice skating very briefly, for the short period of time we could afford it.

“Did you know her?” they asked me. They had been talkign to one another and beign very somber and sad.

“Not really, I’m just here because it’s my church.” This seemed an incredibly inadequate excuse for my presence. “But from listening to the service, I really wish i had known her, ” I fumbled.