If you don't know me by now ...

Shiny eyed greetings from the other side.

There are a lot of important holidays in this house. Birthdays (of the living and the dead) celebrate the individual. Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrate togetherness and plenitude. Halloween and New Year's are my favorite, though. They are both topsy-turvy days, Saturnalian. And they both celebrate transitions, shadows, the edges of things.

Halloween/Day of the Dead/Samhain. It is the day when the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest, they say. Or maybe it is the day when the impending darkness of winter really begins to settle onto us. If we were more agrarian it would be the time of year when the bounty of the harvest and the barrenness of the fields stand in sobering contrast.

Detail of our altar this year, with photo of Meinhardt Raabe, the Munchkin coroner (RIP).

I think we've been celebrating the Day of the Dead in earnest for 9 years. Always a festival I liked the idea of, it became relevant when I had my own dead to commemorate. When death felt so much like a part of my life. Calvin was stillborn in March. The towers fell in September. In October is was important to leave offerings. Each year since we have decorated the mantel, festooning it with flowers, candles, cut paper, and an ever growing collection of skulls and skeletons. (Our first Day of the Dead figurine was given to us as a wedding present.)

We put our altar up on the mantel Saturday night and will leave it up until Tuesday. It bears traditional offerings like almonds, oranges, salt, candy, and water. I wish we had marigolds, which are the traditional flower to include. (Every year at this time, I promise myself that I will grow some next year. Maybe next year I really will. Last night I was at my friend AK's house for a party and she had some out on the table. I think I neglected to praise her.) Instead, I have yellow mums and dark blood red carnations ... if you squint at them the right way maybe they will merge into marigolds. 

Some years we've made sugar skulls. Once our friend Donna brought pan de muerto. This year we are so busy we are lucky we even got the thing up at all.

Calvin and our old cats always have a special place on the mantel. I hope other family members in the beyond know that they are welcome to drop by for a KitKat bar, too. We also include remembrances of people who have died in the past year, people close to us or close to people close to us - a friend's mother, my mother's friend. We give a lot of space to writers and performers and artists and other public figures. I don't think this is part of the Mexican tradition, and honestly sometimes I wonder if these people need an extra dish of almonds. Are we making too much of celebrity? But the ones we include are people whose work has touched us, who have helped shaped our world. Putting them on the mantel for these three days is as much a way of acknowledging the selves they have helped us to become. Tradition says their spirits are close to us now, but really a small part of their spirits are in us always.

This year Louise Bourgeois is featured prominently, along with Howard Zinn, J.D. Salinger and of course, Harvey Pekar. (Robert B. Parker is another writer who died this year, whose books meant a lot to me at one point in time, but I don't have any copies on hand. I remember him here.) Also, Lena Horne, Teddy Pendergrass, Solomon Burke, Alex Chilton, and Ari Up. Dorothy Height, Miep Gies, and Robert Byrd (how's that for a trio?). Dennis Hopper and Tony Curtis and Lynn Redgrave (who I got to see on stage once). Benoit Mandelbrot, Art Clokey, Arthur Penn, and Alaina Reed Hall (she was on Sesame Street when I was small.) My apologies to anyone I have neglected. RIP.

I hope their spirits will stop by for some salt and water, maybe a nibble of pomegranate.

Sing it, Teddy ...


  1. Lovely writing, Toni. As usual.

  2. Oh, I wish I would have read this earlier. We've got marigolds and didn't realize they were traditional for the remembrance. I would have brought some. I'll try to remember next year!
    (This is Tina R. - my account will post as Textile tArts!)

  3. We give marigolds to our statue of Ganesha. We grew them in the garden. I could have given you some that night. They were still in bloom then. xo


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