Life’s little twists

muertos
This year’s altar.

WHEN I MOVED to Mexico almost 16 years back, my mother was not pleased, to state it mildly. I moved anyway.

I visited her in Atlanta most every year until she died nine years later at the age of 90. Now she visits me.

Every November 1, she joins the Mexican relatives on the Night of the Dead altar my wife erects here in the Hacienda’s living room, and her being there means she comes to visit.

I wonder how she likes it.

In her physical life, she only came once. That was just a few months after I moved south. She flew down with my sister for a week. It was the only time she’d ever left the United States except for a vacation to Banff, Canada,  ages earlier.

My sister had never left the United States, and hasn’t since.

My mother now comes every year on this night. She rests there on the altar near my wife’s father, the doctor who died at just 61; her mother who died at 31; her two brothers who were shot to death in unrelated events; and an aunt.

I wonder what my mother thinks of her company, none of whom spoke English. But I guess that doesn’t matter anymore.

You never know where you’ll end up.

13 thoughts on “Life’s little twists”

  1. Made it to Mazatlan, eight days of riding. Been coming here now for nigh on 30 years. I am not dead. Maybe one day, but not now. Mapping a trip your way. We’ll see.

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    1. Bob: I’m glad to hear you made it all that way at your advanced age and that you are not dead. When you are dead, perhaps I’ll put a photo of you on our Muertos altar. Let me know when you are dead. Otherwise, no photo of you. Be a good idea to pick a photo, and mail it to me right now.

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  2. Great altar! There is just something about old photographs that is mesmerizing. I’m sure your mother is happy to be amongst your Mexican family, and probably wonders why she didn’t stay in Mexico when she had the chance.

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    1. Angeline: I don’t think my mother and Mexico would have been a good fit at all. My sister either, which reminds me of a good yarn I never weary of repeating:

      On arriving at the Guadalajara airport where I picked the two of them up, we were driving out to the highway in a taxi when my sister looked around and asked, in all seriousness, “Are most of the people here Mexican?”

      She now denies saying it, but I heard her with my own ears. It was a beautiful example of the provincialism of so many Americans.

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    1. Carole: I don’t know where the clock was hatched. It dates, if memory serves, from the 1880s, and it belonged to my paternal grandfather’s sister before it was passed down to me. It did not work when I got it, but since Mexicans can fix anything I took it to a repair shop in the state capital about a decade ago, and they made it run for a very reasonable price. It’s been ticking ever since.

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  3. Lovely muertos altar. Did La Guapa Señora do it all herself, or did you have a hand in it?

    Saludos

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we have no altar, but do have photos of my grandmother and her sister on my desk, two amazing ladies who are now long gone. QDP.

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    1. Kim: All the labor was done by her, but I sat on the sofa to lend moral support. I’m good at that. It only took her about an hour because 99 percent of the material was already in the living room. We have lots of such stuff.

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  4. We took a launch out to an island – not Janitzio but a smaller one – for Night of the Dead. The cemetery was reached after a long hike up a steep hill. We got there about 1:30 am. The children were ringing the church bells to summon the souls. The cemetery was decorated with marigolds and those tall white candles they sell on the street in Patzcuaro and many family members were arranging their petates so they could sleep by the gravesites. I took some pictures, but it wasn’t long before hordes of drunken young people – lots of Americans, surprisingly – showed up and the scene became more of a raucous party than a solemn event. It made a lot of us old people uncomfortable so we hiked back to the launch to wait for the trip back to the mainland. We didn’t get back until 4:30 am. I realize that tourism is good for the economy, but I felt like the drunken, Mardi Gras atmosphere was disrespectful of the local people and culture. 73 launches were on the lake that night, ferrying revelers to and from the islands.

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    1. Bonnie: Interesting. I knew that the primary and most popular island, Janitzio, had become perhaps the worst place to visit on the Night of the Dead for exactly those reasons you mention, but I was not aware that the problems extended to the other islands too. For years I have told anyone who asked — and even those who did not — that Janitzio is the place to avoid. I shall extend those warnings to include all islands in the future. My warnings, however, have almost always been ignored.

      We live within walking distance of our neighborhood cemetery, but we did not leave home that night. Didn’t last year either. Our cemetery is a crap shoot. The first time we visited, and the first cemetery I ever visited on the Night of the Dead, in 2003, it was really amazing, wonderful. I was stunned. The tourists were few and respectful. Other years, sadly, it has rained, making mud a big problem. One year, TV news crews from Mexico City showed up, and lots of the cemetery was lit up like midday with their camera lights. Absurd. Another year, the municipality, for some reason, installed a spotlight on a tall pole at the entrance, creating the same effect. But it vanished the next year. Some years have been like the first year, excellent.

      None, however, have been like what I have heard about Janitzio and now from you the other islands too. Pathetic.

      There are some other smaller villages in the area that, I believe, have yet to be invaded. I will leave them unnamed. We drove around the lake on Sunday and stopped at one of them to see the preparations. I was saddened to see the state government had installed a huge sign at the entrance devoted to nothing more than huckstering tourism. Nothing good will come of that.

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