Day of the Dead, Part 2

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Brother Carlos’ grave sits as clean as we could get it, flowered and ready for another year.

YESTERDAY WE did what we always do on November 2. We tossed supplies into a big bucket — bleach, incense, lighter, broom, dustpan, trash bag, candles, plant clippers, etc. — and we headed to the downtown cemetery.

Due to the graves’ being shoulder to shoulder, the traditional Day of the Dead overnight vigils are not held in that cemetery. There simply is not enough room, so families go the next day to clean the tombs and leave flowers.

Outside the cemetery gates, you’ll find vendors selling flowers at inflated prices and painted coffee cans to fill with water and use as vases. You also hire boys, young men and even girls to help scrub the headstones while family members stand nearby and observe.

This year we encountered something quite disturbing. Two tombs to the left, bodies had been removed. In so doing, a metal fence that had surrounded those graves had been tossed willy-nilly atop the abutting grave and the following one, which was ours, brother Carlos who died at age 26 over 30 years ago.

We had not yet hired the helpers to scrub our grave, so my child bride headed out to find two young men, not kids. We needed someone strong enough to move the fencing, and that is what happened. Two young men with dyed blond hair muscled it back atop the empty graves.

I neglected to snap photos until after the fence had been manhandled back to where it came from. Here is where it came from:

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It’s quite tacky to empty a grave and toss its fence atop the neighbors’ resting places.

Those empty holes go down about 10 feet, so having the fence around them is a good idea, especially if folks are stumbling about in the dead of night.

I remember who had been buried there before, a narco family. One of the homemade markers had an automatic rifle hand-painted on it. You don’t do that if you’re honest, church-going people. I wonder where they were moved to.

Today we continue our Day of the Dead duties. We’ll drive about 40 minutes southwest to the cemetery in the small town where my child bride spent her earliest years. Buried there are her mother and father.

Mother died at age 31 giving birth to her fifth and final child. Father died many years later at 61 of a heart attack. We’ll tidy up their stones, leave flowers, and go have lunch. Maybe some enchiladas.

Embracing mortality

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LONG BEFORE I even thought of moving to Mexico I was a fan of the Day of the Dead tradition.

A Catrina stood on my bathroom counter in Houston.

But that fascination played no role in my choice of a place to live. It was pure happenstance that I landed in one of Mexico’s major hot spots for the Day of the Dead.

Even more good luck has found me living within walking distance of a generally excellent cemetery to visit on the Big Night. Being within walking distance is important because the traffic here on this day is a nightmare.

So, after doing some chores in the morning, we had the Honda in the carport by noon, and did not drive outside again.

Around 5 we took a walk to the neighborhood plaza for the heck of it, and we sat on a steel bench. I shot the photo above of the man toting flowers to the nearby cemetery.

I then pointed the camera in the other direction. As you can see, we had the plaza to ourselves because all of our neighbors were decorating graves in the cemetery.

plaza

We’ve visited that cemetery most years on the night in question, and the experience has been variable. Sometimes it rains, making a muck of things.

Some years, TV news crews have showed up with bright lights. One year, the municipality installed a huge spotlight on a high pole at the entrance, spoiling the atmosphere.

That’s gone now.

But when it’s just right, it’s spectacular, a very moving and incredibly beautiful experience.

Last night was one of those nights.

We headed out just after 7 because night had fallen. We walked the two blocks to the plaza, which we crossed diagonally. We continued two more blocks.

We crossed over the highway via a pedestrian walkway and looked down at the bumper-to-bumper traffic of clueless visitors heading elsewhere. Just a short walk farther was our huge neighborhood burial ground.

I did not take a photo because thousands of other people have already done it for me. Here is one.

As always, my child bride had built an altar in our living room. I photographed that later with my Fujifilm camera with no flash and with the living room lights off.

We have lots of deceased on my wife’s side due to the large family and unexpected deaths. Her mother died at 31. Two brothers were murdered in unrelated incidents.

(Note to my daughter: Your paternal grandmother and great-grandparents rest among the altar crowd. It’s a pity you’ve never come to visit. You’d love it.)

altar

The other direction

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Pirates buried here?

THE BEST-LAID plans often fly awry. Our plan yesterday of doing lunch on the shore of a nearby, high-mountain, lake was thwarted by a huge traffic jam caused, it appeared, by the balloon festival downtown.

So we went in the other direction.

We ended up in a restaurant just past a village with the cute name of Tzintzuntzan where we had fish and chicken and mole and guacamole and sopa Tarasca.

Instead of returning directly home after dining, we continued all the way around our local high-mountain lake, a jaunt of just under an hour, depending.

This route is a rural two-laner with spectacular views of mountains and lake. One passes wandering burros and indigenous women toting this, that and the other.

During the ride, I snapped the above photo of a cemetery gate. The photo might have been better had I not forgotten that I’d put the camera on video mode earlier.

It was on video mode because just as we were leaving for lunch, it started pouring rain. I stood on the veranda and used the video of my Canon camera for the first time.

The rain ended quickly, and we had a great afternoon. At times, the other direction is the best route.

It’s a good Rule of Life.

Cemetery visit

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Somebody’s tomb with bouquets of old marigolds.

MY WIFE WAS born at home and delivered by her father who was a physician. The town was Uruapan where they lived briefly before relocating to the nearby village of Taretan.

It’s a town that’s on nobody’s tourist trail.

It was Taretan where another child was born, a girl, then another, a boy, and that ended Mama. Dead at 31.

Mama is buried at the cemetery in Taretan and so is Father who died many years later at age 61 — still too young.

Normally, on the day following the Day of the Dead, we drive to Taretan to tidy up the tombs. That would have been a week back, but we didn’t make it due to a renovation project ongoing at the Hacienda. More on that in a week or two.

So we went yesterday. The cemetery was deserted, which is how I like a cemetery. There was Mama and, some distance away, there was Father. They are not buried side by side.

We never knew the reason for the separation. Of course, Father remarried, so maybe the new wife separated them in death, or maybe it was this reason that we discovered yesterday:

The inscription on the grave adjoining Father’s is totally illegible to the casual observer. My wife decided to figure it out and, with much effort, did so. It’s one of Father’s brothers who was shot dead at the age of 18 in the 1930s.

We doubt anyone in the family who is currently alive is aware of that, and it partly explains why Father is buried in the adjoining plot instead of next to Mama. It was another brother who decided to bury Father in that particular spot.

Moving another plot to the left, there is a well-tended tomb on which the inscription is quite clear. My wife recognizes the name of an old friend of her father’s.

The inscription says that he was murdered by “an enemy of the people.” One wonders about the details in that case.

It was the 1950s.

Following the cemetery visit, we drove to the plaza where there is an ice cream parlor. She got coconut and I picked strawberry. We sat on a sidewalk table and watched people pass by.

Sort of a Mexican Mayberry but with darker tones.

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A bonus tomb that looks like a Civil War Ironclad.