This is one of my most favorite times of the year, a time of remembering in a way that Memorial Day isn’t, of wondering about the veil between this world and the other, a time to be grateful for the people who made me who I am. A time of memories.
Candles are like memories: they beckon us deeper.
I always remember my friend Kate at this time of year. She’s still alive, by the way. She and I drove out into a dark night one November first in Mexico with little knowledge of where we were going other than we had a map. We always had a map. And bananas. Usually we had bananas and water because we could have ended up anywhere and sometimes we did.
On November first, we ended up in a little pueblo outside Mexico City where the community celebrates the Days of the Dead in the old ways which meant we walked through a block-long aisle of booths set up along each side of the road which sold food and sugar skulls with names across the forehead and tacos to eat and tamales and sugar something elses and flowers and lacy paper cut-out scenes of skeletons and tables and families and food. Food always takes a prominent place in Mexico. As do families.
And when we walked into the cemetery, it was suddenly quiet. Families gathered around flower-petal-decorated graves, tall candles burned, children played some game or another, a small boy sprawled across the top of one grave, asleep, his head in a grandmother’s lap. On the drive back to Mexico City, we took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up driving miles and unmarked miles along a road running through what we took to be constructed sewage drying pools although whether they were or not on a starlighted night with no road signs is anyone’s guess. It became one of our trips into anywhere. I remember Kate adventures at other times of the year, but I especially remember her at this time of year.
I remember my mother and my two fathers, my grandmothers and grandfathers. Both my mother and my mother’s mother were writers. I’m grateful I grew up around books, even out in the wilds of farmland Kansas, and I always remember a treasured book of my grandmother’s poetry. I remember my grandmother on the Sunderland side, too. My hands look like her hands except she’d lost the tips of two middle fingers to an axe one winter when she was a girl. So I have her hands and I’m an expert at accidents even if I haven’t lost any of my fingers yet. She’s the one that made bread and sugar cookies and biscuits. I’m a good cook because of her.
Books and foods. Now there’s a family history for you. Because of my fathers and grandfathers, I know how to fix things, how to plant and tend the land.
I’m not one for dressing up at Halloween, maybe because I’ve spent too many years in the theatre to get much of a charge out of pretending to be someone or something else. I always think of my theatre days at this time of year and mostly the times I played in melodrama for some reason. Maybe it’s the presence of villans. But I like giving out treats to the children who come to the door. Even the tall kids who don’t bother dressing up. They just want candy. Food. Something to remember the night. Funny, isn’t it, how we want to remember the night as if a candle light pulled us deeper into the darkness.
These are my saints, my souls, my history, my life. And I will light a candle for all of them this weekend.