¡Felices días de los Muertos!
Today and tomorrow we celebrate the Days of the Dead, the traditional Latin American holiday to remember and celebrate the spirits of Nuestros Queridos Muertos - our Dearly Departed. Although I do not come from a Latino family, I am deeply honored by my latino friends who consider me one of their own. I've been wanting to do Día de los Muertos for a number of years. Finally this year, I got it together! Here is my altar, in honor of my dad (stepdad) Carleton F. Wood, his grandmother and my great-grandmother Anna Gajewski Farrell, and from my other dad, my beloved grammie Ruth Jane Brock.
The biggest surprise for me in setting up the altar was how much fun it was to think about these people while choosing items that would represent them.
Color, beauty, food, creativity - oh, and some relationship to me! - were what tied these people together.
I don't have much in the way of photos of mis queridos, but here is an image of Grammie that I've included alongside the altar.
Dad, Gammie, and Grandma Farrell were all quite famous in the family for their good cooking. Food was central to their lives. As such, I've included these proteins, frijoles negros and nueces to represent the basics of nutrition, the building blocks of life.
In the top portion of this photo is a bowl full of millet - a popular bird food! This represents Grammie, for though she always insisted that she ate hearty meals, we all know that in reality she cooked hearty meals, and enough of everything to feed the whole farm family of ten that she grew up in, but she ate like a bird. And she was tiny like a sparrow.
The kosher salt represents the savory flavor of life. It also represents that these people were the salt of the earth!
Speaking of flavor... the Asian hot sauce is for dad. We heard his stories a million times about his days in the ir force, when he was stationed in Holland and became enamored of spicy Indonesian food. One of our favorite family meals was his hot garlic spaghetti. He seasoned the cooking oil with chile peppers, black peppercorns and garlic, and we loved standing over the steaming pan breathing in the aroma. The spaghetti was partially cooked in water, then drained and added to the spicy oil, cooked until it got just a tiny bit crisp. A sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and let the hot oil drip down your chin - mmmm!
The vinegar represents two stories: First, every summer as a kid I spent a couple of weeks with Grammie and Grandaddy at their home in Lemoore, California. Summers in central California get mighty warm, so one afternoon after playing outside I ran into the kitchen thirsty. I saw a glass of clear water on the table, so I grabbed it and drank in deeply - YIKES! It was a glass of vinegar. I'm not sure why it was on the table like that - maybe Grammie was trying to trick those pesky flies?
Second, Grandma Farrell was full of vim and vinegar - she was a feisty one. She had grown up on a farm and was very proud of her strength. As an 80-year-old she loved rolling back her sleeves and making her huge biceps dance like a tattooed sailor does!
The Karo syrup also goes to Grandma Farrell. On Sunday mornings she cooked a special treat for us kids: her German pancakes. Super light and thin as a crepe, she plopped them onto our plates then added Karo syrup and powdered sugar. She showed us how to roll them up like a tube, and then we were in sweet tooth heaven!
A new Frida doll presides over the altar. Pues, claro que yo la honre a mi querida Frida, but she's also here to represent Grammie, who gave me her love for creativity, as well as to represent Grandma Farrell, who crocheted the lace on Frida's dress here by hand!
More flavor. These three put a lot of spice in my life! They let us kids hover and watch and learn. We had wonderful conversations. I loved sparring with my dad over politics. Although we had opposing views, he was very open-minded and a good listener. The chiles de árbol are for him. Cinnamon and cloves for the grandmothers. Warm, grounded and sweet, like the warmth of their love and affection.
The veggies represent Grammie's garden. Even when she left California and moved into a small apartment in Missouri, she still kept a little vegetable patch going because there's nothing better than fresh produce off the vine!
The iced tea is for Dad, who drank one right after the other and begged me to go get him ANOTHER! Oh! The Chevy's cookbook is for him, too - not that he used cookbooks much. But Chevy's is a restaurant and as a restauteur Dad took us out to dinner a LOT. My favorite was going to Mexican restaurants!
The poppy lemon scones are for Dad. Despite being a diabetic, he couldn't resist sweets! The black coffee is for Grammie, and the café au lait is for Grandma Farrell. She scandalized me by preparing coffee like this for my little brother and sister. Of course it was only a dollop of coffee and mostly milk, but I still didn't approve!
Over here to the left of the altar I have included a small sampling of student artwork, showing los Queridos Muertos of my students. Most of my students are latino, so many of them aleady have some familiarity with Días de los Muertos. We also read and looked at some good books before working on the project, like El espiritú de Tío Fernando and Chumba la Cachumba. Then I asked them to think about someone special in their family who had passed on, and they worked on creating a collage portrait of that person.
I think the expressions and tenderness in their portraits are wonderful. I just love kid art!Hopefully I'll have time to set up a display of these tomorrow morning before parent-teacher conferences.
One more dollie to share! This is la señora del mercado, with some more chiles - this time chile pequín. For Dad, of course! For him, the hotter the better. I hope he enjoys.
Now I must be off to work on my shrine project for the Oaxaca Street children benefit. I'll try to finish it and post it on this same posting tonight.
Blessings to you and your queridos muertos!