We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Ofrendaless

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

spanish cilantro soupSpanish-Cilantro soup, served cold, is delicious. A good starter for a meal. Lots of allium: onion, garlic, leeks. Plus potato and, of course, cilantro. Recommended.

Slept in until 8:30 yesterday. Kate and I have not found ourselves on the road at 10:30 pm very often of late. The moon was full and high, clouds for background, the mountains hulking with only their dark shoulders visible. The traffic was somewhat heavy, probably folks coming back from the first night of Christmas lights at the Botanical Gardens. That was what created the traffic going in, we learned from Marilyn.

So yesterday was slow, a rest day. In the afternoon I took Kate to see Coco. It was better the second time. I even liked the mostly silly Olaf 21 minute short, an extension of the Frozen franchise. This time I noticed how Remember Me dominates the movie as plot point, central theme and as music.

ofrendaThe anthropologist in me got to thinking about ofrenda, the family altars created at Dias de Los Muertos, and prominent in Coco. Similar in purpose to the ancestor tablets in traditional Japanese, Chinese and Korean homes they create a bond with the memories and accomplishments of dead family members, encourage the passing down of stories over generations, help glue together families in the present through the care in creating them and the sense of living a shared narrative. They also reinforce family norms.

They are, too, similar to the yahrzeit in Judaism and the yahrzeit wall at Beth Evergreen, not to mention Samain, the equivalent Celtic holiday celebrated on the same day. Thinking about this made me wonder about the relative disappearance of dead relatives from the homes of European ancestry Christians. There is no moment in the Christian year when the dead are remembered save for All Saints Day and that’s not celebrated by many Protestants. I suppose the idea of heaven and resurrection turn the focus away from the dead and toward the afterlife and eventual resurrection. If we’re all gonna meet up at the end times, why bother with the past.

dadOh, we have our photo albums, our knick knacks, but we too easily slip past the family past to engage career, building our own family, taking care of our own lives. We’re relatively disconnected from our past, from our family. Read this article in the NYT about lonely deaths in Japan. It’s not only beautifully written and illustrated, it shows what happens to a society where declining child birth leaves the elderly alone, ofrendaless.

I point the finger at myself here. I have a small permanent ofrenda, a replica of a Spanish style balcony I bought in Bogota on my first international trip. Its purpose in Colombian culture is to hold photographs, mementos of loved ones. In it I have family photographs, a couple of small U.S. flags for mom and dad’s veteran status. Near it I keep my dad’s old briefcase, his silly animal hat. But really I rarely think of it, rarely return to their memories. Dad and I were estranged at his death, true, but I long ago mellowed on him. Even so, there are no moments during the year when they come to mind, when Aunt Mary and Uncle Charles, Grandma and Grandpa Keaton become the stuff of story and ancestry.

3 generations of our family

3 generations of our family

Good art gets us to reflect on ourselves, our own lives. It may either gently or roughly remind us of things we have neglected, emotions we bury, yearnings we had forgotten. I guess Coco stirred in me a longing for those deeper family connections, a more in this life experience of the Ellis family story. Good and bad it is my story and Joseph’s story, Mary and Mark’s story and now by extension Kate and Jon’s, too. Ruth and Gabe and SeoAh’s as well.

As the holidays begin to accelerate, perhaps this is a good time to ask the question about how we Anglos might learn from our Latino neighbors? Maybe the ancestral traditions of other lands, other peoples, can enrich our own. Help us sing Coco’s song, Remember Me.

 

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