Tag: death

Death, a constant presence

THE OLDER you get, the closer to death you are and the more death you witness in one way or another.

In my years here on this Mexican mountaintop, plenty of people I’ve known have died.

The brother-in-law, of course. He killed himself unintentionally with a small-caliber pistol that he aimed too close to his heart.

Long ago, there was an old fellow named Charlie who drove around town in a rattletrap Volkswagen Bug the color of a bluebird. Every time he saw me, he asked: Are you still here?

And I always was.

Once Charlie was having lunch at a sidewalk table outside a restaurant on the main plaza when a car pulled up and thugs got out. They walked by Charlie, went into the restaurant, grabbed a man, tossed him into the car trunk and drove off.

They were rivals from narco gangs. This all happened right next to Charlie who didn’t bat an eye. He later said he thought the guys in the car were cops. But they were not. Charlie is gone now, a natural demise. He’s not here.

But I still am.

There was another fellow. He was quite fond of my child bride, and he often would sit with us Saturday afternoons during the weekly pastry sales that my wife did then and still does now.

He was a nervous man, gay, quite smart, about 50 years old, but very nice. We enjoyed his company. He was a Cárdenas, a descendent of Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas. One day we heard he died under questionable circumstances.

Then there was the wonderful Al Kinnison. I loved that guy. He was almost like a father to me. When he died here in 2005 at the age of 79, I wrote a tribute to him. And I miss him still. His wife, Jean, preceded him into the unknown a year or two before.

Almost two years ago, a nephew died at age 31 of cancer. We had driven him almost weekly for a year to the state capital for chemo treatments, to no avail. He left a wife named Alma (soul) and two small children.

Last May, a second brother-in-law died. A heart attack in his early 50s. He was a younger sibling of my wife. No one had a clue about his health issue, so his death came out of the blue.

And very recently, two more. One was an old man we knew fairly well. The other was a young boy we knew far less well but who had impressed us mightily the last few years.

Almost every Saturday, before heading downtown for our pastry sale, we eat lunch at a very humble, roasted-chicken eatery on the highway near the Hacienda. The family business started about three years ago in exceedingly low-rent surroundings. A small dark room with a couple of metal tables and chairs.

A father, mother, two children and a granny who made the tortillas by hand.

The father roasted the chickens on wooden stakes stuck vertically into glowing coals which were spread directly on the ground outside. He also cooked chorizo and ribs in the same way. He is a very serious young man whom I’ve seen smile just once.

His wife is far more outgoing, a young, happy woman who looks in her late 30s. The husband is about the same age. The children were a daughter about 7 and a son, 16.

They toil seven days a week.

The food they sell is excellent, and the business grew. Last spring they moved a few doors in the other direction to a larger, less gloomy location, but the roof consists of log beams and a plastic cover. That’s what keeps the rain at bay.

My wife and I always noticed the boy. He was tall, good-looking, clean-cut, polite, attentive to the needs of both customers and his parents. He seemed like a great kid, the sort of son anyone would be proud of, and they were proud of him.

He did home deliveries on a small Honda motorcycle. He was killed on that bike two weeks ago. This is what tragedies are made of. We learned of that last Saturday.

Last week, Michael Warshauer died. He and his wife, Susie, came to our house not long after they moved to the mountaintop in 2005. Mike was a superlative cook, and I had mentioned that I missed Vietnamese pho soup, which I often ate in Houston.

Mike and Susie visited, and Mike made pho. It was good. Not quite what the Vietnamese served in Houston due to the lack of some ingredients hereabouts, but it was a stellar effort. The inimitable Jennifer Rose has written an excellent tribute to Mike, which you can see here.

She did it far better than I could have.

R.I.P., Mike, and to all of the others I mentioned or, as it’s written in Spanish, Q.E.P.D.

Perhaps I won’t be far behind you. Have pho prepared, please. Fixings shouldn’t be an issue up there. And I’ve heard good things about your chocolate eclairs. That too would be appreciated. I adore eclairs.

Thanks in advance.

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.

Day of the Dead

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Our humble altar yesterday afternoon.

THIS IS THE Day of the Dead, and last night was the preceding evening.

My child bride usually builds an altar in the living room. There are too many who died too young in her family, and there was a new addition to that sad list this year. A kid brother died last May of a heart attack at the age of 55.

My mountaintop town is famous throughout Mexico for its Day of the Dead festivities and activities. There are spectacular graveyard scenes in the area. One is within walking distance of our home. Some years we walk over there on the Big Night, and some years we don’t. Last night we did not.

We stayed home, eating salads and watching Netflix.

The traffic is always dreadful. Were our cemetery not within walking distance, we’d never see the event. The most publicized cemetery here is on an island in the lake. You can only get there by boat, and hordes of people visit.

A far superior option is to visit one of the many other cemeteries that surround the lake, places where you’re not shoulder to shoulder with tourists traipsing through the tombstones, candles and marigolds.

It’s full of loveliness and spirit.

Life for the living will start returning to normal tomorrow. By Monday the mobs of tourists will be gone, the massive market on the plaza will pull up stakes, and we’ll return to our customary tranquility hereabouts. That’s how I like it.

Dead or alive.

Behold the storm

HERE’S A GREAT documentary about Mexico in the early 20th century, particularly the Revolution and its aftermath down into the 1960s.

It’s almost two hours long. I watched it over a span of days, 15 minutes to half an hour at a time. It’s worth the effort.

I bring this to you as a public service. Free of charge.