Yes, day two. Which means it’s the second of November.
When I was a kid growing up in South America, we would observe this date –also known as the Day of The Faithful Departed or All Souls’ Day— by going to the cemetery and cleaning my grandfather’s tombstone off any weeds or debris and by polishing the brass vase and by leaving fresh flowers and, when all was nice and straightened and polished, by praying a requiem rosary or two.
Sometimes we would trek over to my cousin’s grave and pay our respects. She died a couple of days after turning 15, in a heinous car accident– a fact that as a kid I took for granted with little emotion, but that as I’ve gotten older strikes me as more and more tragic and senseless.
Kids, always buckle up.
My favorite part of the day, however, was to go buy the flowers to place in my grandfather’s grave — almost invariably chrysanthemums with baby’s breath mixed in– and running around the cemetery playing silly games. There was a bush that had a flower resembling that of impatiens but which had these great pods that when pushed in just the right way would spill seeds and turn into something that looked vaguely like green caterpillars. Many such bushes were vandalized on November seconds during my childhood.
It was a low-key day, and whenever I smell chrysanthemums I remember running through the graves, playing tag and "making caterpillars".
Since my childhood November seconds were so relatively uneventful –and since they mostly happened before my brain decided to pull a freaky Forrest Gump and render me a slave to remembering dates wherever I go
— I was completely nonplussed when people assumed that I celebrated the Day of the Dead the way they celebrate it in Mexico.
And when a few people would think I was being coy and/or stuck up for not wanting to tell them exactly what to do and expect on a Day of the Dead celebration, something I have only come to know (God help us) through Wikipedia, I started resenting it altogether.
Let’s get one thing clear: Mexico is not all of Latin America and certainly not Spain.
Mexico, because of its ethnic mix and strong native traditions, does things quite differently from other places where Spanish is also spoken. As a matter of fact, thanks to the living tradition of the indigenous peoples and their oral tradition, many words in Mexican Spanish are as foreign to another Spanish speaker as they are to someone who speaks another language altogether. But if it weren’t for this wonderful mix of tongues and influences, we wouldn’t have one of the most beautiful words now in every language: chocolate, a Spanish version of the Nahuatl xocolatl, and one of the most important things in the world –during these days of treats and tricks, and forevermore.
However different the celebrations may be, and their origins, there is one thing that unifies us all who at least pause to ponder about this day: whatever your religious beliefs, it is always good to remember those who have gone before us. Maybe not all who have died, but certainly those who meant much in your life and whose presence you miss.
So today I remember my grandfather, who would take me to soccer games; my step-father who would take me to task for being a bum; my grandmothers –all three of them– for ranging from the completely detached and uncaring through the loving to the overly loving and smothering; and I remember my first kitty ever, who was determined to move into our house even though she already had a posh home and a brother she was doggedly (or cattily?) leaving behind.
And lastly, I remember those who have lost their lives in a war that is as long as it is divisive. Every time I see your faces and read your small biographies in the paper and I wonder whose lives your death has made painful and empty, I feel an angry pit in my stomach and I want to do something. But all that ends up happening is that I fold the paper quietly and put it in the recycling bin.
Thank you all for having lived.