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Skeletons and Black Licorice

October is upon us and the change of season is in evidence.

This skull (HT162) is made from recycled metal in Haiti. The Day of the Dead is celebrated exuberantly there and is known in Kreyol as “Fete des Morts.”

Leaves are turnining brilliant shades of red and orange and gold and perhaps you’ve had a glistening of frost as the morning sun has risen.  Change appears  in the markets, too as the fresh produce now includes squash, pumpkins and other gourds in a fantastic palette, as well as apples, pears, and delicious newly pressed ciders.  In our homes, we take down trimmings in summer hues and exchange them for those with a harvest theme, Halloween, or Day of the Dead.

Having grown up in the Midwest, harvest decorating came rather naturally to me, as did Halloween.  Day of the Dead took a little warming up to.  And a no small amount of instruction.  In fact, I thought ALL of those skeletons were a little creepy, if not downright macabre.  I didn’t understand the holiday as a form of remembrance and reflection, a time of happy memories of those friends and family who are no longer with us.  I didn’t get that in many places around the world, it is a time dedicated to going to cemeteries, tidying up the gravesites, freshening up the flower arrangements, having a picnic with special foods and sharing stories about loved ones who have “gone before.” That it’s actually much more like Memorial Day than a festival of witches and goblins for trick-or-treaters. (For a more detailed description, visit  http://www.celebrate-day-of-the-dead.com/)

The first time I took the plunge and decided to “go” Day of the Dead, I did so with some trepidation.  My father-in-law had passed away early in the summer and my mother-in-law, who was still very raw from the pain of loss, was visiting us for a couple of weeks.  I quietly started getting out old family photos and arranged some flowers in vases. I took the only three skeletons I had out and put together a shrine to my husband’s and my grandparents, explaining the Day of the Dead traditions as I understood them to my mother-in-law as I went along.  Then I turned to her and said, “How would you feel about putting one together for Pops?”  She thought a moment and said slowly, “I think that might be kind of nice.”  Pleased, I told her that I had to get off to work, but suggested that maybe she could think about what she might like to include while I was out.  The two of us could work on it together when I got home.

Imagine my surprised delight when I returned several hours later and my mother-in-law was at the door, waiting for me.  “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, pulling me inside, “but I did a little hunting and gathering around the house and kind of went ahead while you were out.”   She then proceeded to show me the shrine she had created for Pops in the dining room.  It was well thought out – tender, sentimental, very representative of the things that he loved in life, and the things we loved about him. There were several photos, a pair of candlesticks, a beer stein from Germany, a toy airplane, his old pilot’s license, a Hawaiian lei, and a Green Bay Packer bobble-head doll.  We went out and bought a package of black licorice, arranged some more fresh flowers, and remembered.  It was lovely.

Now, several years later, I continue the tradition we started.  I change a few things here and there, but I always enjoy the process.  This week, the skeletons are coming out – there are a few more of them now.  The framed picture of Grandpa and Grandma will emerge from the bedroom, the table scarf will do some time on the ironing board, and I realize as I watch the leaves drifting from the treetops down past the back window, it’s time to get Pops a new bag of licorice.

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