I met up with Elvia and her four daughters at the cemetery today. She was late so I waited in front for an hour, arms full of flowers – you know me by now, trying to video people coming in with flowers, buckets, shovels, eating a bag of home made potato chips with salsa and lime, trying not to grease up the lens of my camera, wiping my dirty hands on my white blouse. Boy are those potato chips good, I usually don’t let myself eat those, but I coudn’t help myself.
There were hundreds, if not thousands of people inside. Gravesites were covered with flowers, candles and food. Little boys were running around with plastic buckets, offering their services to get water for the flowers. Mariachis, Norteno bands and street musicians were playing. I’ll never tire of watching a group of mariachis in their white embroidered suits, carrying trumpets, guitars and violins, sing to an elderly couple who have crawled over the iron fence which surrounds the grave, to place flowers, light candles, and sit down holding hands, while they enjoy the music with their loved one.
But that isn’t the point of this post. About seven months ago, my neighbor Petra lost her daughter Maricela to complications with lupus and on the ninth day of her novenas, Elvia’s husband, was murdered by a seventeen year old boy who wanted money for beer. It was and is a terrible tragedy for Elvia’s family. Elvia has a son and four daughters, ages four to seventeen. Today, was the first dia de los muertos for them. For a while we just stood around looking at each other, waiting for someone to bring a ladder to reach Jesus’ crypt which was at the top level. While we are waiting, Elvia tries to hold back tears as she notices that someone had come earlier in the day, leaving flowers and a can of Modelo beer. She is pretty sure it was her brother Fila.
Karin decides it is not worth waiting for the ladder and climbs the crypt asking for flowers. The older girls and I break off flower tops and hand them to her while Elvia holds her in place. Little Lupita stands by finishing off my bag of potato chips. Imagine having to decorate a gravesite this way. If it weren’t so sad, it would be comical. It takes us about fifteen minutes to get it just right, with Elvia putting on the finishing touch – the can of Modelo right up front in the center.
There is a deep resigned grief, a few minutes of reflection, hugs and kisses around and agreement about how nice it looks followed by an agreement that he will like that Modelo, which makes us all laugh even though it is hard not to cry a on a day like this.
Go here to view the slideshow of this week’s dia de los muertos celebration