Marigolds and Memories
Marigolds and Memories
Maria stood alone in the living room as pattering drops of rain trickled down the front window. Through the window, the laurel tree in their yard leaned toward the ground with sudden winds. Just beyond the yard, rivulets cut their way down the gray powdered road that dead ended at the base of a hill, where the streams gathered in pools of water. Everyone in Angangueo knew right away this was a fast moving storm. High winds followed sudden darkness and booming thunder followed flashes of lightning. The rain now came down in sheets, and the rivulets disappeared into the muddy, brown road. Maria gasped when the yard lit up, and a loud clap of thunder rolled across the valley. Diego must be telling me something she thought. She spun around and turned her attention to the long wooden table in the room.
The daughter entered the living room and said,“Yes, Mama?”
“Will you help me move the table against the wall.”
So began their preparation for the Day of the Dead celebration. At the center of the festive holiday is the ofrenda (or offering). By the end of October, the three-tiered altar will be covered with marigolds and memories and display the following items: crucifixes, paintings of Mother Mary and of Jesus, framed pictures of the deceased (Miguel's father, Maria's grandmother, and for the first time — Diego), plates with the various foods each enjoyed, some of Diego's favorite toys, and, in the center of the top tier — what had made the Prado's ofrenda somewhat famous — a three-foot tall clay rendition of Angangueo's San Simon Celador church modeled by the daughters.
There will also be three red votive holders with white candles that flicker for the departed, and incense to help guide their spirits home. But first, an altar.
“On the count of three,” said Maria, “one, two, three.” From opposite ends they lifted and moved the table against the wall. Maria walked a few feet away to check if it had been centered properly. “I think a foot your way,” she said, returning to her side of the table. They moved it a foot toward Rachel. “Very good,” said Maria. “Now tablecloth and crates.” As they walked toward Maria and Miguel's bedroom, the rain fell harder and the drone of it slapping the roof increased slightly in volume.
Rachel asked, “Mama, isn't it a little early to begin the ofrenda?”
“Is it? Maybe, just a little.”
As Maria slowly recovered from losing Diego, her faith helped lead the way. She knew her son existed in heaven and that in heaven his health issues did not. To accept the alternative — that he was nothing at the bottom of a cold grave, with no purpose to the ordered world we live in — was unacceptable. As the months went by, she felt his tug from beyond, at first, faintly, but a little more with each passing day. The tug would feel strongest on the Day of the Little Angels when she'd feel his presence in the room and be able to whisper to him the four words she longed to whisper every day, “I love you, Son.” Rachel had been correct; it was very early to begin the ofrendra. But this altar was going to light the way for Maria's little boy. It could never be too early.
As they entered the bedroom, Maria instructed her daughter that the crates were on the left side of the closet. While Rachel brought out empty gray milk cartons, Maria opened a long wooden drawer from the dresser and removed the tablecloth. She inspected it for cleanliness and placed it inside one of the crates. They moved all the crates to the living room. Maria went into the kitchen, and Rachel began to position the milk cartons. She placed seven of them across the table by the wall with a little space for the tablecloth to drape between. She stacked seven more crates on top of that row to make it the third tier. Then she placed seven in front of the double-stacked row for the second tier. The table itself would provide the first tier. After draping the white tablecloth over table and crates, she tugged at the corners and pulled the tablecloth left and right until she had it positioned equally. One wooden table and twenty-one milk cartons had been transformed into a three-tiered altar.
Maria opened the cupboard and removed three red votive holders from the top shelf. Then she pulled out a cigar box. The candles for the celebration were kept inside the box. She carefully removed two of the candles— one for her grandmother and one for Miguel's father, and set them on the countertop. Then she hesitated. A loud clap of thunder rattled the house. She slowly removed the third candle and stood there motionless, as if frozen in time. Then she closed the cigar box and placed it back in the cupboard.