Posts Tagged ‘Día de los Muertos’

El Día de los Muertos and Mayonnaise Cake

November 1, 2009
Feddie, Bonnie, and Bob: Kemah Boardwalk at Christmas

Feddie, Bonnie, and Bob: Kemah Boardwalk at Christmas

Last year I wrote about how I’d grown up with the tradition of El Día de los Muertos – the Day of the Dead celebrated November 1 and 2 – through my family’s several spins of Air Force life in San Antonio and our eventual adoption of it as our home.  Coming just a year after my parents’ passing, it was a special and poignant time for me.  This year, I’m remembering them, and I’m also making a special remembrance for Freddie’s sister Bonnie who left us in February.  My ofrenda for 2009 is Bonnie’s Mayonnaise Cake.

The tradition described in Wikipedia:

Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”), sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the “spiritual essence” of the ofrendas food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value.

My own tradition, of course, is to eat the foods and talk and tell stories about our beloved departed.

Bonnie sent us this recipe on January 24; less than a month later, she was gone.  She had come to live with us briefly in San Diego in late 2001, not long after her diagnosis with leukemia.  Within nine months, we all had relocated, first Bonnie back to Indiana, then Freddie and I to Galveston.  She visited us once on the Island at Christmas, but her most fervent wish was to get back home to be closer to her adult children.  I last saw her around Thanksgiving, 2007 in Indianapolis when we stopped by on our way to spend the holiday with Freddie’s parents.  Freddie grew so much closer to Bonnie in those couple years, often speaking with her on the phone every day.  It’s a loss that has not healed.

In any case, the cake is wonderful and easy to make:

2 cups flour
1-1/4 cup sugar
3 or 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons baking soda in 1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix flour, sugar, and cocoa powder into a large bowl.  Stir in mayonnaise.  Gradually add in water mixture and vanilla.  Pour into two greased and floured 9-inch pans.  Bake at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

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Cada Muerto Tiene Su Día

October 11, 2008

My mother had a peculiar sense of humor, to say the least, and I have inherited this quirk.  With her many years in San Antonio, Mom’s funny bone sometimes developed a Tex-Mex Spanglish twist to add to the puns and occasional bawdyness.  I can still hear her saying: “Que hora es — Poor Kay!”

As I think over this last year since Mom’s final illness, I feel a stronger sense of her presence than ever.  Although there is a deep sense of regret when I think of those days and weeks in strange hospitals — sometimes with stranger patients in the next bed — the grief has passed, giving way to peace.  Sitting here, writing as she once wrote in her newsletters years ago, her violets in the window, pets on her chairs, the birds and wildlife she loved outside the door, it seems like she is here with me.

This isn’t to ignore my father.  It’s more that throughout my life, Dad had typically been at a certain distance.  Either physically, off flying in Turkey or Korea or somewhere, or later simply off on his own separate life.  (Classic gay formula: Absent father, overprotective mother…)  There was a short time, maybe four years, that I got to know him before my parents’ marriage declined.  Then Dad was gone about his business, back now and then for a few cameo guest appearances, and then he was further gone in a fog of health issues culminating in dementia.  He wasn’t quite there.  He isn’t quite gone, if that makes sense.

But back to Spanglish, my title is typical of one of Mom’s jokes.  As San Antonians, every year we saw El Día de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead that marks what other Catholic cultures know as the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls.  Yes, this “day” is celebrated over two days; no matter.

When we first came to the city in 1969, we lived by Kelly Air Force Base.  I remember going with Mom to the H.E.B. supermarket at Las Palmas Shopping Center.  Across the street from the enormous San Fernando Cemetery No. 2., this landmark was once home to a Joske’s department store where she bought my school clothes.  Every year, traffic jams developed in the streets around there as devotees came to pay tribute and tend the resting places of the muertos, the beloved dead.

Our Air Force life was marked by repetition.  We left San Antonio after a year, coming back in 1972, leaving again, then coming back to stay for good when Dad retired in 1975.  With each round, unknown to me at the time, San Antonio was becoming my home town.  For years I’ve said that I had none, that I came from everywhere.  Now I know better.

Also with each round, the muertos came back.  Ever present in the lives of Mexicans, seen in countless calaveras and calacas, the dead evoke memories and devotion.  In the United States, the custom has spread far beyond South Texas and the border states, but outside Mexico and other Latin countries, the images seem most powerful here.

I’m planning a remembrance for Mom and Dad.  He died first in July, she followed in October.  With their over thirty years in San Antonio, it seems appropriate to me to commemorate them according to the custom, but with a few twists.

So I’ve read the Wikipedia pages on the Day of the Dead and the calacas.  As noted, calacas

…are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful figures. They are often shown wearing festive clothing, dancing, and playing musical instruments to indicate a happy afterlife. This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly, and that death should be a joyous occasion.

With the celebrations themselves

…many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People will go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and will build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, and photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

That makes a lot of sense to me, and it sounds like something Mom and Dad would both appreciate.

I don’t know if I’ll get the traditional marigolds.  Maybe I’ll opt for the blue irises that my sister always says Mom loved, or maybe I’ll look for some Texas yellow roses.  Instead of the pan de muerto, I’ll look at H.E.B. for pan dulce, the not-so-sweet pastries that Mom used to buy at a Mexican bakery.  There should be a cup of black coffee for Mom, and later in the day, a Lone Star Beer or a shot of Scotch for Dad.

They would approve.