I have lived in Mexico off and on for 50 years and I have never made an altar before. A few days ago I saw an Indian family pass by my bedroom window pushing a cart full of orange marigolds (cempasúchil). I thought how strange, they usually have a variety of potted plants. Then I remembered it was October and these flowers are used for an altar. About an hour later a woman with two plants rang the bell. I quickly decided to put up an altar and bought one.
I cleared off a space on my desk, grabbed a dinner plate and set the flowerpot on it. I went through the house gathering pictures and memorabilia of loved ones who have passed, and placed them around it. Then I put two votive candles on the desk and in 15 minutes I had my altar. Even though all these pictures have been on display, I was surprised how nostalgic I felt, seeing them all together in one spot. A picture of my husband Tony, on our six-month anniversary, looking very lovingly at me. Gone for 31 years. Then a photo of my Aunt Elizabeth, for whom I was named. She was the first woman to graduate from Baylor Medical School in Texas. She would have been the first woman doctor in that state, but another woman doctor, from back East, moved to Texas two months before she graduated. Next to her a photo of my beloved dog, Parangaricutirimicuaro. She was famous here in 20 years ago. (She had a couple of write-ups in the Guadalajara Reporter because of her name.) I named her so my grandchildren would learn this popular Mexican tongue-twister.
On the right an old photo of my grandparents in their late 60s and early 70s. There was a lot of whisperings about them, because horrors, my grandmother was scandalously six years older than he. She outlived him by 11 years. Abraham Lincoln was president when she was born, and she died a few days before John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Also two photos of my dad – quite the gentleman and very personable. After I discovered Mexico, I learned that he also loved Mexican music. As a young man during Prohibition he would cross into Mexico to frequent the cantinas. I also found a picture of my mother taken during a good period of her life. She was a troubled person and bipolar. She painted and sculpted and shortly after my favorite uncle died, made a 4-inch bust of him. We were amazed that it looked exactly like him. I placed that sculpture in the front of the altar.
So many memories come to me as I look at my Uncle Bob. He lived one block away and came to the house often. My siblings and I thought he was coming to visit us kids. After we grew up, we realized he was really visiting his brother, but he always had time for us and would regale us with stories. Our favorite was about little Johnny being kidnapped. Johnny sat in the rumble seat and dropped cork kernels. Then when he escaped, he followed the corn until he reached home, safe and sound. I think Uncle Bob may have plagiarized that story! He also made plans with us. We were going to go on fishing trips. That never happened. We were going camping in the jungle. That really excited us. We would be jumping up and down as we made plans. Could we swing through the trees like Tarzan. He assured us we would. Then time passed and we became adults and sadly we never camped in the jungle. Then he died. It would never happen.
Ten years later I took my six-year-old daughter to the zoo one quiet Sunday morning. There weren’t many people there yet. Diana and I were by the monkey exhibit and I looked across the way and saw two banyan trees with vine-like roots hanging from their limbs. Without a second thought, I took off running about 30 yards, grabbed a root and swung through the trees. As young as my daughter was, she was extremely embarrassed to see her mother swinging at the Honolulu Zoo. In part it was an homage to my Uncle Bob, but mostly it was fulfilling a childhood dream. Be careful if you put an altar, you’ll be surprised by the memories that come flooding back.
Libby Evans, Guadalajara