Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda… no Offend-a

Reposted from October 2018…

Now when it comes to talking about Dia de los Muertos… as a white, middle aged, blond haired, green eyed guera, I consider myself no entitled-ass expert over here or anything. But know this- while I am not Mexican by birth I married one, we’re raising three, AND I made alters for Dia de los Muertos before the movie Coco came out. To further prove my bit of street cred, I totally love all things to do with the Mexican culture. Also I’m taking Spanish lessons on Rosetta Stone. So like… Yo tengo sandwiches, ya dig?

Continue reading “Dia de los Muertos Ofrenda… no Offend-a”

Questions Unasked

In the refrain of my last few years: the world lost another good one recently. (I am not, in fact, talking about John McCain, mind you. This one’s a little closer to home.)

I am both doing well and extremely sad- it’ll hit at weird times. Watering the plants. Picking tomatoes. Randomly this sense of such loss while I wash dishes. I’m fine though, don’t worry. Grief is the price come due for loving others, I get that. And it makes me think of the others I’ve lost too- which hasn’t happened before; this dredging up of all of them together. I’ll think about how I didn’t ask my uncle enough questions. And then I’ll realize I didn’t ask ANY of them enough questions.

How did my grandmother pick her children’s names? Her oldest son is named David- did she know he was the 7th David with our last name in the family line? Was the family name thing important, or was it just Catholic names are a limited pool to chose from? How’d she get into watching basketball? How’d she raise so many kids in a 3 bedroom house? How’d she ever mentally survive burying two daughters? Was she always so funny?

My uncle- that’s the problem with becoming pen pals with him as a kid- perpetually it seems he appeared in the world fully formed as an adult- springing from Zeus’s head like Athena, I imagine. The thought never actually occurred to me that he was a teenager once- so I never asked him anything about it. What did he do? How’d he get into journalism? Or like… what was his favorite pet when he was a kid? Or did he have any? Or how’d he get into golf. Or did he know how vital it was to an awkward child living so far away from him- who grew up as not the golden child of the family- to have someone who spent time writing her and thought she was great? That said child internalized that and held on to it, and unconsciously used it on the path to successful personhood?  I tried to tell him a few times, but I never asked him if he knew.

My father-in-law. He was a Golden Gloves boxer- and yet I never asked him about it? Why’d he stop and when? Why did he love horses so much? How did he end up so different from his siblings- just because he was the only boy, or what? Why so afraid of the doctor? Why so kind and funny when life hadn’t been to him? How’d he find that sweet spot for so long of “taking no shit but causing no harm?”

Or my grandfather… who I sat with late at night once and watched parliament on C-Span.  I remember how we laughed at the insults and barbs and… was a shoe actually thrown? That doesn’t seem too British, so it may just be the brain playing tricks. But I LOVE Churchill and so did Grandpa… but we never talked about him. We missed that conversation by about 5 years because I came to really like Churchill after grandpa was already gone.  Or his brother… Grandpa had a picture of himself, my grandmother, and his brother on the wall in his TV room… but I never asked him about him. How did his brother die? Why my grandfather left home so young as a teenager… I’ll never know.

I range between “God damn it I never asked enough” and “You can’t ever know someone’s complete life so don’t beat yourself up over it.” Back and forth like ping pong. It’s just… the missed opportunity to know someone better weighs heavy. Or maybe it’s the three volume book about Churchill I’m reading. Minutia and details on someone I never met, and yet I’m over here with just a handful of scraps and facts about the people I actually did.

I don’t know. I do know I am lucky.

When we were in the hospital with our oldest we met a dad of one of the other kids on the floor. Con man obviously pretending to be devoutly Christian. Begged money from us to buy his kid a Christmas gift. We gave him $20. I remember thinking- it isn’t only good people who’s children are sick. It isn’t only good people who are here with their dying children over Christmas. But our child was getting better and so we give $20 to someone who’s child was not because what the hell else could you do?

And so, in a similar vein to what I realized about humanity in that hospital; it isn’t only good people who die. To change the saying a bit- the graveyards are full of replaceable men. But man, how lucky am I that all of mine were good ones? That all of mine are the actual irreplaceable men in those graveyards?

I try to be grateful for the time I had with all of them. It’s a conscious effort to stay on that side of it, and not wallow because they’re gone. But i HAD them, they were there. How lucky to have had so many that were so good.

But god damn it- like, what was their favorite color? I know that for literally none of them… you see what I’m saying?

 

Of Grave Importance

I was out on a construction site for work today next to the police station in Cibolo, TX… and there was an old cemetery across the street that looked beyond intriguing. I’ve discussed my love of old graveyards before here.

I wrote on that previous post about the peace of graveyards, and how time kinda removes the grief from death… but it wasn’t how I felt this morning. God, there were just so many children… parental loss and it’s screaming anguish was still so upfront in this graveyard.

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Nastasia born 1864, died 1867… “Gone to be an Angel” written on the bottom

The symbolism though… the lamb, the tree cut down too soon…

Or this one, that was excruciating to imagine those parents who lost their 2 and 3 year old daughters two days apart in 1890. What sickness was in the house… what grief those poor people endured. It still hung heavy in the air around this dual grave:

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Olga, just shy of 2 when she died on May 14th 1890, and Bertha, one day past 3 when she died on May 16th, 1890. Ow my fucking heart, History!

The ratio of children to adults was much too high for a normal (I use that phrase loosely), more enjoyable stroll around a graveyard. But there was still the normal interesting things that are what I like. (said the crazy person…)

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Buzzfeed style caption: Tree stump headstones are prevalent in graveyards from Victorian and Edwardian times. Find out why!

I always knew tree trunks were Woodsman of the World headstones… but turns out why there are so many of them is interesting. They were free with W.O.W. life insurance policies! And the Germans would be damned if they were going to pass up a sweet deal like that! Hence SO many tree stump headstones! A tall trunk is for adults, short logs are for children… not sure if the 2 cut logs the larger trunk is astride means they lost two children or just that they sprang for the more expensive policy package.

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She sells seashells down by the sea shore… FOR DEATH!

No one is REALLY sure why there are so many cemented in sea shell covered graves in the South… many of them far away from the ocean. Loose, non cemented in shells (often conch shells like the two closest to the headstone on the picture above) generally mean someone took a pilgrimage and brought it to the grave long after burial. (European symbolism there of a pilgrimage). Slaves often marked graves with shells because the ocean brought them to this place, and so the shells symbolized taking them to their final home. Perhaps these German immigrants used them for the same symbolism? My favorite theory (though I don’t think it’s right) is that shells were used s shingles on grave surfaces as a protective “roof”… so totally utilitarian. And while that DOES sound very 1800s German it doesn’t quite jive because the rest of the graves are so ornate. Shells have generalized Christian symbolism… we may just have to leave it at that and that it was just a Victorian fad.

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The Shrouded Urn… a great name for a mystery, now that I think of it

The urn was a symbol of death long after cremation went out of fashion, and the shroud symbolized variously: the last curtain between life and death, or protection, or that death has fallen over something. I’ve seen shrouded angels (fucking terrifying, lemme tell ya), shrouded fruit baskets, shrouded obelisks and urns… there were some pretty talented stone carvers back in the day. It’s one of my favorite things to look for in cemeteries, the shrouded statuary.

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Oh you!

And then there are the hands. The hand like that is SUPPOSED to be pointing up to heaven and God, but which always look like a shaking finger like “Oh you! You got me! Never saw that one coming, I didn’t!”

Next there are these, my VERY favorite things- enamel pictures from the 1800s. The glimpses of people… generally in the prime of their lives even if they lived to be old… which I LOVE. I HATE modern obituaries that only have the pictures from the very end of life… I love seeing people from another age, in their prime, looking out at the world like this! Now, as much as I love graveyards, I never wanted to be IN one before. Cremate me and cast me in the Frio River in Uvalde… but I’m tempted by the chance to be one of these for the next few centuries…

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Wilhelm Reimann

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Nestine Reimann. Only picture on a grave of a woman in the whole cemetery. Twenty bucks her middle name was Prudence. I bet you.

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Millennials are just the new Progressive Generation. (Do you have ANY idea how long it took me to research that joke? I was committed to it though.)

And inscriptions… There was one that read Asleep In Jesus from 1915 for a 25 year old dude. Which is just weird and I hope just the result of iffy English skills. Or this one:

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Germans are hardcore

It reads, or as damn close as Google Translate can get me, “The silent grave is unafraid of the Devil, because of faith in God and no fear of Judgement.” Well okay then.

I guess I love old cemeteries for the same reason as I like older neighborhoods and not the cookie cutter new developments. Variability! Individuality! Craftmanship! Interesting Things!

Here’s the thing, every once in a while I think like, huh. So THAT’S how I turned out, to be someone who likes old cemeteries. Who would have known when I was younger that I’d grow up to be that? Wonder if quilters or giant pumpkin growers or people who collect typewriters ever wonder the same thing?

Linking up with Samantha at Fake Fabulous HERE- check it out!

Major League Gun Control

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“Politicians… I go to you. I stick up for you. And you no help me now… I say fuck you Politicians. I do it myself.”

 

Here is to voting out EVERY goddamn worthless politician that fights harder to save embryos than our children. Who thinks outlawing the means of death for one will stop it but outlawing the other isn’t even worth trying.

Here is to ANYONE that can spend the infrastructure money to make our goddamn schools fortresses so I don’t have to glance sideways to just double check that a crazed gunman isn’t stalking up the elementary school steps where my 8 year old goes EVERY. FUCKING. TIME. I. DRIVE. BY. IT. Just you know, let’s at LEAST do that while we talk about fixing the problem itself.

Right to bear arms was instituted when we had muzzle loading guns- so go back to that. Everyone can have a muzzle loader. AR fucking 15s… not so mother fucking much.

And I am SORRY- we have pussy hat marches… and yet this keeps happening in our country?! Our marches should be bigger for this issue. What would those hats look like? Can you crochet a head wound?

My government doesn’t protect my children. They don’t protect your children. They. Don’t. Protect. Children.

What stone can I throw, what effort can I make, what horn can I blow…I guess lets recall that the walls of Jericho were felled by a horn (In that made up story) so maybe, if we blow the horn often enough and harder…

And so I say fuck you Jobu. I do it myself.

Loss Gloss Boss

Sigh.

So- I’m just going to put this out there to the universe that maybe if it could stop with the making-people-I-love-drop-dead shit that’d be great. What am I comfortable with putting on the page? Or can even verbalize? I guess that loss and grieving is ubiquitous and is just the payment we give for loving others? Sure. Why not.

I had a Dutch teacher (she used to bike 15 miles to class with one of her pet rats in a carrier and then teach the class in sweaty bike shorts. The rat would sit on her desk. College is weird.) who didn’t really ever feel a need to stay on the Dutch topic at hand and would often digress into Buddhist thinking/teaching she was mulling around. One Tuesday morning (Ma’am, it’s too damn early for this crap.) she was talking about how we should see the loss of a baby as equally tragic as a 90 year old who was one day away from death. That all life is weighted equally. And yeah… that’s a big nope. Nope, nope, nope, ye ol’ rat loving professor. In Dutch? Rat liefhebbende proffessor. (How did I only make a B in this class? It’s 60% English and conjugated like Yoda… sheesh)

But life potential, happiness conglomerated, and the opportunity of having experienced much outta a long lifetime- it DOES come into play. And the death too- not too painful, and not too sudden… It’s a complex formula that never quite gets us to a “good death” but it makes the loss easier if you know your grandmother lived life to the fullest. If she was 89. And had the opportunity to laugh hysterically with all the other wives of their RV traveling/gambling group at a male stripper in Vegas doing a basketball player routine that one time back in the 80s. And then tell her granddaughter about it all those years later. And many other, inappropriate and hysterical stories. No shrinking violet- life is too short to waste it being meek- I think that’s the main lesson I learned from her.

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Pfft. How great could she have been if she hadn’t taught her teenaged granddaughter to draw on a pair of eyebrows already?

She was a good one, that lady. I will miss her.

She was tiny but she was mighty.

And may my own toddler follow in her namesake’s footsteps with that same mirth flickering in her eyes all of her live long days.

Amen.