Dia de Muertos

“Hey, daisyfae – someone sent us a message asking if we could organize some cyclists to join up with a parade. They’re trying to put together a Dia de los Muertos celebration and asked if we could help.”

“Sure… Sounds like fun!”

That was in 2011 – i was a volunteer with a cycling group. Putting on make up, decorating bicycles and riding through town seemed a grand idea!  The first year they hadn’t secured an actual parade PERMIT, so the bikes and a couple of cars went slowly down the street while a gaggle of people followed along on the sidewalks.

There was a gathering at a gallery showcasing ofrendas – altars commemorating the dead. Flowers, candles, and music. It was absolutely beautiful to see the altars, carefully crafted with the remembrances of the dead.

In August of 2012, i was shattered by the suicide of a close friend – rattled to my core and immersed in the complex grief that comes from an unexplained death. i was still a mess when the organizer of the Dia de Muertos event asked me to help. i joined the ragtag band of hippies and artists, and sat in a few meetings. They were expanding the effort to include workshops on crafting ofrendas.

Still grieving, i decided it was worth a couple of hours. At that workshop, i dug in… i learned how to make a skeleton from bread dough ‘clay’. i spent hours over the next few weeks thinking of all of the things he had loved, the things that brought him joy.

Cooking, his old gray cat, beer, sushi… i built a beer glass, and figured out how to make acrylic beer. i am not a crafty person, but i build shit. And that year? i built an altar to remember my dead friend. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was cathartic.

stella

The following year, when contacted by the organizer i offered her my services. i basically laid down at her feet and asked her to put me to work. That was the year i strapped a giant skeleton to my body while driving a car through the entertainment district in town.

i’ve continued as a parade marshal, farting around with a variety of creatures and whatnot to launch the parade with a bang. This year, it was cold. The parade was a touch smaller, but no less enthusiastic than in the previous years.  i modified the fanciful alebrije we built last year, gave her wings, and let her fly…

parade 2017

The ofrendas draw me in – whether small remembrances, just a few photos and candles, or intricate creations, they leave me wanting to know more about the person being remembered…

altar 2017

i’m not religious. Can’t say that i’m even spiritual. But this is a beautiful, healthy and glorious way to work through death. We paint our faces in the style of the Calavera Catrina.  We dance with death – and celebrate life…

skelfie

 

 

Eighty Five Years Ago Today…

Happy Birthday, Dad.  August 30, 1923.  Oddly enough, during my visit to The Park Friday to take Mom to see an estate planning attorney, she gave me a box of “stuff” from her recent excavations.  Among dusty story books i wrote when i was 9 years old, my Girl Scout uniform and the linens Dad’s mother made for her marriage bed?  Dad’s last drivers license and the ID card for his years teaching at the applied technology college… 

Rather than try to write something meaningful – while i remain up to my nipples in boxes and crates – i’ve dusted off the eulogy i gave at Dad’s funeral.  Not my best work – done in an overnight frenzy while i was frantically assembling illegally downloaded tunes for the visitation and service… The best words?  They are his… i had the first two rough chapters his own memoirs as a guide…

April 21, 2001 – In a Methodist church filled with about 150 thoughtful humans…

Continue reading

Gifts from my Father

Father’s Day.  It was always a challenge to find a gift for Dad.  Usually books or music, rather than “stuff”, suited him best.  He died in April, 2001.  i’m officially off the hook to help my kids shop for their Dad (the way i did when they were young).  That sort of makes this particular holiday “Free Parking” for me…

Rather than take the free holiday, thought i’d mention some of the gifts i received from my Dad.  There are many more.  He wasn’t particularly materialistic, so there are only two “gifts” i can physically touch*.  The rest?  Integrated into who i am, how i live – and if there’s anything good in me, i know who put it there…

Tolerance:  Dad was raised in a mill town near Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1930’s.  It was a melting pot of immigrants.  A first generation Sicilian, he grew up with friends who were Irish, Polish, Jewish and working class New England.  A Roman Catholic married to an American Redneck Methodist – once we were settled in the suburbs, he adapted, and even became an usher at church**.  “You meet people where they are – and trust them until they prove you wrong.  There are assholes of every race, creed, economic status and color.”

Music:  Although poor, his mother knew an education was his ticket out of the urban ghetto.  Music was part of that education.  He learned violin in primary school, and his mother gave him $5/week to buy a tenor saxaphone when he entered secondary school.  It was a good investment.  He played jazz sax in clubs all the way through high school and college, making extra money while indulging in one of his passions.  After his parents died within a few months of each other***, and his life fell apart, it was his “musician family” that gave him the foundation to get back on his feet, and get on with his career.  All four of us got musical training.  My brother, T, is a rabid musician, and i will still indulge occasionally****.  Not exactly a passion, mostly a creative outlet, an escape… an adrenaline rush.

Silliness:  Dad was a big man.  6′ tall, a solid 250-280 lbs most of his adult life.  Yet that never stopped him from mincing about the house doing his “two steps forward, one step backward” dance when we needed to learn a “life lesson” about setbacks.  Nor did it stop him from wearing whatever ridiculous hat my oldest sister, S – the 60’s flower child – happened to bring home.  We probably have more pictures of him acting like a goofball than we have pictures of him not acting like a goofball.  Including the pic of him posing with the Hooter Girls for his 75th birthday party.

Reflection:“The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Yep.  He was quoting Socrates to us as children.  Right there in the Trailer Park.  In retrospect, this was perhaps his primary “coping” mechanism.  He chose to devote his life to our family.  Rescuing my Mom and oldest two siblings from almost certain poverty, he gradually gave up other parts of his life that brought him joy.  He stopped seeing friends (couldn’t bring them home – Mom was embarassed about the cluttered house), stopped going to arts events (Mom always felt other people looked down on them), and so on… He read, watched television and sports, went to church.  And seemed perfectly content.  He seemed to know his purpose, and how all the pieces came together…

Not a complete list, by any stretch.  But some of the important stuff.  i still have conversations with him in the car after a tough day, or when i’m trying to figure out what to do with my life. Still.  No one lives forever, but if i can tell his story, perhaps i can serve as caretaker for his legacy…  i still miss you, dad… and i’ll try to keep that promise.

daisyfae and Dad.  From my sister, T’s, wedding in 1991*****.  Forgive the hideous dress – we had a few weeks to find something.  She met a Palestinian taxi driver while on a trip to San Francisco, and married him 3 months later…

* His mother died long before he married Mom.  Only a few pictures of her, and even fewer possessions were saved.  When i got married, he offered me his Mother’s wedding ring.  The scratches from her work in the mills still visible.  The other?  After teaching himself to play classical guitar on an instrument he bought in a pawn shop, he decided to spring for a Martin – not the top of the line, but a nicely constructed instrument.  Perhaps the only thing i remember him doing purely for himself.  He wanted me to have it…

** Taking great pleasure passing the collection plate on Sunday mornings in a white-bread suburban methodist church, in his dark suit, looking every bit the Sicilian Mafioso…

*** At the age of 25, an only child, he’d buried both his parents.  Not ready to tell this part of the story…

**** Beyond the theater silliness, and sitting in with bands during professional conferences, i will (rarely) grab the guitar, work up a 30-45 minute set, and get lost on an open mic stage.  Not quitting the day job, but if i had to, i could supplement my income by tagging up with a local club band.

***** This is the same sister, T, who now dates a former Lady Professional Golfer.  She was testing heterosexuality, and in the middle of a gentle “manic” phase when she came home to tell us she was getting married.  We had to wait a bit til she confirmed it would be a man.  We were all perfectly accepting of her lesbitarian status… and adapted quickly to throw the big white wedding she wanted.  Hence, the bridesmaid-dress-by-Satan.