Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dia de los muertos

Today is the Mexican Day of the Dead and All Saint's Day for the Christian world, the day after Samhain, when the dead are remembered and celebrated.

Living next door to the home where Lon Chaney once lived I think of many of the thousand faces he projected on the silent screen and wonder if his son, who portrayed the very human and oft times sympathetic werewolf, lived there, too. Witches, werewolves, vampires, oh my.

It's hard to think of vampires in the bright clear light of day, but when the sun bleeds its last dying rays on the gathering clouds, staining the mountains and the light with red, the romance of the night comes close and wraps me with possibility and dreams. It isn't that I wish for a vampire to bite me on the neck and stop time for me, but rather that the spice of the night come closer and remind me of the many who have gone before and still remain like vampires of memory -- ever living, ever young, ever present.

Strangely enough, I have been thinking of my Uncle Homer who, despite his height and comforting strength and muscular presence, was never without a smile, a laugh, and a hug for all his friends and kin. He died when I was 9, just after we came back from Panama and lived in Virginia. He is still fresh in my mind and in my heart -- even when I don't think of him.

I remember all my mother's family and gathering in a state park in southern Ohio every summer for a feast of home cooked food, fattening and delectable desserts, and watermelon that stained my cheeks red because I wasn't quite so sedate and proper back in those days. Watermelon was something to dive into face first, coming up smiling through the sticky red juice and spitting black seeds onto the ground or at the nearest cousin.

The older members of the May clan gathered in the shelter house reminiscing about times gone by, people who had passed on, and exchanging family news and recipes while the kids whooped, hollered, raced, chased, and fell in puppy love. Shy glances and shyer smiles from beneath lowered lashes that pinked cheeks and glittered in the eyes of cousins who didn't know it was not possible to be infatuated or to plan weddings and families in their wildest dreams.

Those family gatherings were also the harbinger of fall and return to school and a celebration of our dead who smiled, frowned, smirked, and glowered back from faded, creased, and folded black and white pictures that looked as though cut out with pinking shears. What we remembered most was the particular special dish that person brought and how good it tasted, better than their heirs could ever make because they didn't have that Old World touch or whatever it was that made their food so special.

Within my family it is my grandma's peach cobbler and grandpa's vegetable beef soup that I remember most. That and grandpa's stash of banana flips made of sponge cake and banana flavored sugary icing that bulged out from the half moon smile inside the clear packaging. I come from a family where food was a means of communication, a gift, and a treat. Food is also a remembrance full of memory and romance and happier times when our worst problems were getting tagged playing hide and seek or not picked for Red Rover or statues.

Today may be the Day of the Dead, but for me every day is a day to remember loved ones, friends who have passed, and family. Like the romance of vampires they live forever, immortal and unchanged.

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