Well, crap. Another Memorial Day has come and almost gone, and there's still war, and my country is still in it and doing it. Just as when I wrote my very first Memorial Day post here nearly three years ago, I grieve for this fact constantly, for all the loss, for all the waste, for all the ridiculous cruelty on all sides.
I'm quite done with war. I don't want to spend another moment arguing about it, wallowing in pain about it, and certainly not justifying or glorifying it. I can't make it stop, not even in concert with all the other people who want it to stop, apparently, but I can make myself and my own peaceful practices better, and more, than what they are on holidays devoted to war and war-related subjects where I sit in a lump and cry or snap at my true love or just stay in bed and try not to think about how sad and angry I am. So I have decided to make a new tradition. I have decided to turn Memorial Day into my own private Día de los Muertos.
I have always loved this holiday, as long as I've known about it. One of the features of the day in Mexico and in the southwestern United States is to go to the cemetery and have a picnic with your living friends and family on the graves of your deceased friends and family. You have a party. You offer sweets to the dead, make an effort to include them, because even though they are dead they are still your family and you still love them.
My family as I know it is mostly still above ground, and the ones I love who have already passed on were either cremated and scattered without ceremony (by their own choice) or buried somewhere I can't find, for example, a specific Jewish cemetery in New Haven where I long to plant perennial bulbs on my grandfather's grave. (Of course I do. Look at how adorable he was, and how much we loved each other.)
I live, however, in a town chock full of graveyards. And some of the people in them, not so much the warriors but the poets and artists, the arguers and dreamers, gardeners and canoers and adorers of nature, the ones with the Big Ideas and the inability to live practically, as well as the ones who supported them and maybe also were poets and dreamers with Big Ideas, but were able to step up anyway, all these people who lived passionately and fully here, in this town I always wanted to live in because I'd read their words, they really feel like family to me. If I'd lived here when they did, I would have known them, and possibly liked them in spite of our religious differences. I would not have corrected Thoreau on his verbosity or Emerson on his pompousness; given half a chance, I would have read and appreciated and tried to match them per the standards of the day, their day, one of the many without radio or television or the internet, just as I do today, in our day, with my blogular circle where the writing (especially mine) is not always perfect, the emotions (oh, yes, really especially mine!) are not always mature, the concepts discussed are all works in progress, every one, as well as the lives (and don't we know it) -- and the love is, surprisingly, real and true.
Meanwhile, esteemed correspondent and honorary niece Elizabeth McClung has been having a dreadful time this last week. Due to time constraints, I have been unable to read all about it until just now, but bottom line, the girl needs cheering up. Apparently, she even issued a friendly demand for other people to go forth, have fun and be silly this weekend, and to tell her all about it. You can read about what happened when she tried her own advice here.
As you can see, Elizabeth's particular brand of fun runs to the goth. So just for her, I took many pictures of my excursion today. Because what could be farther up her street than a merry celebration in a largely Victorian graveyard?
(There's even some Hello Kitty involved. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.)
This is me, looking distinctly not-goth, about to leave on my afternoon adventure.
(Notice that I am wearing my beloved lost glasses, as they have now been restored to my loving face. Thank you again, BLC! Also, you may recognize this damaged mirror and attempt to smile nicely into it while shooting myself from former similar attempts. Okay. Moving right along...)
This is sort of what I looked like while actually leaving, or at least while leaving the bathroom.
Next stop: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Authors Ridge!
Appropriately, I parked my tricycle at the "Authors Gate."
I knew exactly where Authors Ridge was, just up this hill.
Yup, this little hill right here.
Yup, this one.
My true love did not accompany me on this trip, so I had to photograph myself climbing this hill for you.
I just trudged right up. I was absolutely sure this was the right way to go -- and it was one way to go, that's true enough. See I'd been here before, with my old leg and my true love, and I did remember that this is how I got there.
That ridge at the top, though? Not Authors Ridge.
Oops. Very pretty, of course, but not Authors Ridge. And after you have traversed its brief crest and come back out of he woods, you know what?
You still can't see Authors Ridge.
And moving ahead a bit further, to the bottom of that sunny slope, you see that ridge across the dip?
Yeah, that's not it either.
Nor that. Not quite.
"Bit steep up ahead," a concerned mother of small children hurried to warn me unsmilingly as she and her family passed.
"Yeah, and isn't it awesome! This is about the only exercise I get, you know?"
"Oh, okay then. Very good," she responded, like a businesswoman who'd just been corrected on some detail of a client's needs.
And up that steep slope, there's still another little bit to go, and then (Click to enlarge.) --
-- voilà! Surrounded by double loops of thick black metal chain, here lie Ralph Waldo Emerson and family, and the start of Authors Ridge.
And this is where I began my own personal Día de los Muertos celebration. As you can see, many people have stopped at these graves and left flowers and other little markers honoring the sleepers and also stating the connection these visitors have felt with them. If you look closely at the leavings on the ground before each tombstone, you may see here and there a bit of cake.
Yes, cake. Yes, that cake. The one made with a recipe I got from a writer and then passed to a fan of the Transcendentalists, most of whom are buried here on Authors Ridge. Good grief, what else could I possibly bring them?
Some people leave money, which I thought sort of poignant on some of these graves, for example that of Louisa May Alcott who supported her family with proceeds from her writing after her father had failed to do so. (Click to enlarge.)
Someone left Henry David Thoreau a pencil. (Click to enlarge.)
And me, I left cake. Good cake. Writer's and readers' cake, enough for several families. (Click to enlarge.)
It's what you do on el Día de los Muertos. You honor your beloved dead by embracing them into your family, reminding yourself that you love them and why, and feeding them sweets to let them know they are still loved and still part of the family and that you know that death is just another part of life, one that might throw up barriers stronger than stone, but not entirely stronger than love. And I think it's one of the points of Memorial Day, actually, which does not have to be all about war.
Lots of people made us who we are. Lots of people sacrificed. Not all of them were soldiers. Soldiers and artists, statesmen, craftsmen, needlewomen, and shopkeepers, they are all part of the family.
All these authors are some of my beloved dead, yes, even though they never knew me, even though we are not related by blood, and yes, even the ones whose writing drives me crazy (as mine would drive them, given half a chance). So today I did not grieve for them; I celebrated them and how they have touched my life, and I gave them bites of delicious cake which I know will not really feed them, but the life all around them.
(The life all around them today included this robin, who followed me around a bit, sang for me though he didn't know it was for me, and posed for my camera frequently, though not always this patiently. Elizabeth has a crow for a cemetery buddy; I have a robin. Go figure.)
I did not just give cake to Transcendentalist writers. This lady looked nice, and her name sounds sort of familiar.
I left cake for a guy whose tombstone, in Harvard colors, didn't photograph well but with whom my true love once felt some sort of connection (probably the Harvard thing and the medicine thing mentioned on the enormous, imposing, and very shiny tombestone -- and the fact that the guy is actually buried beneath Harvard colors). And I left some for Daniel Chester French and his wife, who lie ironically beneath one of the plainest markers in the entire cemetery. (Click to enlarge.)
See, it's ironic because French was a famous sculptor, specifically a sculptor of different kinds of memorial markers. He made the Concord Minuteman who stands at the Old North Bridge vigilantly guarding history. He made the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln that gazes wistfully down at us from within the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He also made the sculpture across from which I sat while I ate my little picnic (salmon, tomato and cucumber sandwich on rye), the sad, sad memorial to the three Melvin brothers who died within two years of each other in the Civil War, commissioned by their only surviving brother. (Click to enlarge.)
(Yes, there's a half-naked woman on it. Yes, it made me think of you, Elizabeth.)
As I mentioned, my true love did not accompany me on this trip, as he has been engaged in a massive feng shui (house cleaning) project. He is half-Mexican, though, so naturally I invited him to participate in my plan to appropriate el Día de los Muertos as my own personal replacement for Memorial Day, and I told him whom I planned to honor in this way, or at least to blow cake-scented kisses to.
"Oh, I definitely think this is something you should do on your own."
"Be prepared for weird things to happen, though."
"I am always prepared for weird things to happen. Or let's just say I sort of expect them, as long as they're not the unpleasant kind." (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...)
Of course, nothing terribly weird did happen. There was only how I met at the grave of Louisa May Alcott a Mexican woman whose family had moved to Los Angeles when she was a child. What are the odds of two former Angelina's meeting at the grave of a famous Victorian lady author on Memorial Day in Concord, Massachusetts? One of her family asked about the things people left on the graves, and I piped right up with an explanation while another family member, a handsome adult with a neurological disorder of some sort that rendered him exuberantly frolicsome if not particularly verbal, leaped and shrieked among the tombs. I said I was leaving cake, and when most of them had moved on I started to do so, and explained why to the woman left behind.
She thought this was quite wonderful. She plans to do it herself every year from now on, too. She has family members at war, too, and beloved dead who were never soldiers, and she completely understood where I was coming from.
And all that does tend to make me feel better about the whole cultural appropriation thing.
(She also tasted the cake and agreed that it was delicious.)
There is much more to say, and I have many more pictures, but it is after 5:00 a.m., and I must sleep. I shall show you more another day, with another point -- demonstrating my fantastic new foot, for example, whose secrets I only began to grasp today, and pointing out some diverting aspects of this particular mostly Victorian graveyard, which is also still a "live" cemetery where new people are interred every month.
I'll just leave you with this image, which I think is great advice for someone facing a grave.