Día de los Muertos

It’s Día de los Muertos. November 2nd is Day of the Dead in Mexico and all points south.

Yesterday, Pam, Debbie and I went to the cemetery in Bahía de Kino because we’d heard children were honored on the 1st. Few were there other than three children taking turns sweeping off a tomb. But as we wandered through we noticed that children’s tombs were already decorated with streamers and balloons, either pink or blue.

Balloons, slightly deflated, the morning after. On November 2nd, I saw the young mother sitting there at the grave of her dead daughter.

Debbie and I went back today, a little after noon. The road in front of the cemetery entrance was closed off with plastic yellow tape, sort of like tape used to enclose a crime scene. We found a shady pace to park, ducked under the yellow, and approached the cemetery.

Directly across from the entrance venders’ booths had sprung up. Food, water, candies. And of course, the most important, flowers.

Two main kinds of flowers are used on Day of the Dead, and in general, for remembrance throughout the year: marigolds and gladiolas.

The flower vender had a booth maybe twenty-five feet long, spilling with color: the golden-yellow and orange of marigolds – margaritas – and the rainbow colors of gladiolas – gladiolos. They’d been set up yesterday, too, but there were far fewer today.

We entered the cemetery and it was filled more with life than with death. Children played on tombs while the elders sat on them. Entire families sat in white plastic chairs placed in a U shape along the sides and base of the tombs.

Shade structures had sprung up, some large enough to accommodate thirty or more people. Poorer folks gathered simply, sitting on the ground, on a blanket, or perched on concrete blocks. Some of the dead were honored with music spilling from boom boxes.

I’d expected to smell the flowers as hundreds and hundreds of them were in this block-square cemetery. Or if not flowers, food. However, the overall smell was of fresh cement.
Families were constructing tombs or adding on to ones that had been started in previous years. One man was tiling the arch that sat at the head of the tomb. A few concrete slabs were being painted. Families who had just arrived were busy sweeping, and women with buckets were at every spigot to gather water to wash down the tombs.

Flowers decorated many of the gravesites, of course. Some already held candles, though they wouldn’t be lit until nightfall. Others had little bowls of jam. A few had cookies. And of course, it wouldn’t really begin until tonight.

A simple grave.

We returned at dusk, walking toward the cemetery just behind a woman and her daughter. They had their heads together, whispering. Finally the little girl turned around and asked us who we were going to visit. I kept trying to explain that we were going, in general. Then she began asking if we knew Phoenix. Suddenly I realized she wasn’t saying Phoenix, but Felix. I said no, we didn’t know him.

The woman looked somewhat irritated with us. She explained that Felix was her husband and that he’d been dead only four months. Eventually, we all began to walk on. I asked if we could meet Felix, and clearly that is what the entire conversation had been leading to. She was delighted to introduce us to her husband.

We followed the woman and girl to the graveside. It had been topped with a cement slab, as many are. The slab was covered in blue tile, and it was lovely. Flowers and a wreath sat at the head, along with Felix’s birth and death information.

Felix’s grave, lovingly decorated.

We stood awhile, asking about her husband, and it actually turned out we did know the man slightly. He’d been a fish and vegetable peddler who often came through Islandia to sell. She said he was a good man, a good husband and father. Here’s where my translation went awry, though. He either got drunk, fell into the sea and drown, or a drunk pushed him into the sea and he drown. Either way, four months ago he drown, and this was their first Día de los Muertos.

After a time, we slowly circled our way around the cemetery, greeting people when appropriate. Everyone was smiling. No tears, no sadness. Abundant joy.

As we left, we wandered back to Felix’s grave, but his wife and child weren’t around. We said our goodbyes to the fish and vegetable peddler and quietly left.

The morning after – a forgotten broom.

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