Books Illuminate the Days of the Dead by Frances J. Vasquez

In “The Labyrinth of Solitude,” writer-poet Octavio Paz said, “The opposition between life and death was not so absolute to the ancient Mexicans as it is to us.

“Life extended into death, and vice versa. Death was not the natural end of life but one phase of an infinite cycle.”

That view is never clearer than during festivities for Days of the Dead, or Días de los Muertos, when the spirits of our departed loved ones come alive in joyful celebration.

Rituals surrounding the holiday have been practiced by indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica for thousands of years. They believe that the souls of the dead have divine permission to return to earth each year to visit their relatives. Offerings of flowers and food are set out to welcome them. It is a time for feasting and reunion – not a somber occasion.

Celebrations are held on Nov. 1, All Saints Day, for deceased children; and Nov. 2, All Souls Day, in honor of deceased adults.

The relatively recent phenomenon of Day of the Dead in the United States illustrates the power of cultural traditions as opportunities for people to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

The Riverside Public Library offers interesting, authoritative books about the tradition. I recommend “Día de Muertos en México – Oaxaca,” by Mary J. Andrade, and “Fiesta: Days of the Dead & Other Mexican Festivals,” by Chloë Sayer.

Both books are beautifully illustrated. Andrade’s is bilingual and Sayer’s is in English.

Death for the indigenous of Mexico signified a stage in a constant cycle, not an end of life. Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures kept skulls as trophies and displayed them to honor the dead. The skulls symbolize death and rebirth. In Mexico, the deceased are honored at cemeteries, homes and businesses through elaborate altars displaying offerings of candles, incense, photos, memorabilia, favorite foods, beverages, and flowers (particularly cempasuchitl, or golden marigolds).

Why marigolds? According to legend, during the Aztec travels in Mesoamerica, the ruler Tenoch led the Nahua tribe in search of a place to settle. Many people died during the arduous journey. The travelers stopped to pray to the sun god for flowers to honor the places where their loved ones perished. A day later the fields were covered with beautiful golden cempasuchitl. The ancestors adorned the graves with this flower, hence the traditional flower of the dead.

Legendary Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada used calacas, or “skeletal” images, as political and social satire – making fun of the aristocracy during the repressive Porfirio Diaz presidency. Posada’s caricatures in Mexico’s newspapers sent direct messages that even the illiterate could understand: the disdain for the corrupt regime. His illustrations successfully molded public opinion against Diaz, and served as the “face” of the Mexican Revolution. Posada’s calacas are favorite images in U.S. Day of the Dead memorabilia.

UNESCO declared the city of Oaxaca in 1987 as part of the cultural heritage for mankind, and in 2003, UNESCO recognized Day of the Dead celebrations as part of the intangible cultural heritage of world humanity. A dream came true for me last year when I traveled to Oaxaca for the weeklong Day of the Dead festivities where the meaning of the indigenous beliefs are kept intact.

According to Andrade, the author, “The new gods have yet to displace ancient ones.” It’s the season in which bright magenta and golden orange flowers cover the expansive fields like a fine cape.

The Central Valleys of Mexico are sprinkled with rural towns imbued in tradition and culture. I visited several Zapoteca and Mixteca quasi-ceremonial centers: Teotitlán del Valle, Etla, Mitla, Ocotlán, Tlacolula, San Martin de Tilcajete, and Zaachila where the land is infused with history, legend and folklore.

Subtle variations in the festivities reflect each town’s particular cultural character. Everyone anxiously awaits this short but substantive season when aromas stimulate one’s senses to reflect on those who have departed physically, and share in famous Oaxacan delicacies: mole, bread, tamales, chocolate, mezcal. The capital city of Oaxaca is the jewel of the valleys whose architectural design is a colonial monument.

Residents hold colorful processions through the streets featuring large puppet figures. Elaborate altars are installed everywhere: homes, businesses, hotels, restaurants and cemeteries.

The Inland area’s premier Day of the Dead festival will be held 3-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, in downtown Riverside on Market Street between University Avenue and 12th Street. The family-friendly celebration will highlight a procession of Aztec danzas to invite the spirits to dance and rejoice during this symbolic annual reunion. Of special interest are the family and community altars along 10th Street from Market Street to the Ysmael R. Villegas Medal of Honor Monument.

Visitors to the community altar are invited to write down the names of departed loved ones and include satirical, brief poems in the form of epitaphs, or humorous anecdotes about the deceased. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.riversideca.gov/museum/day-of-the-dead.asp.


Frances J. Vasquez is president of the Inlandia Institute board and a member of Inlandia’s Riverside writing workshop.

For more literary journeys, go to inlandiainstitute.org.

Three Stories by Jane O’Shields-Hayner and Angelina O’Shields-Hayner

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.

***

The Halloween Birthday

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

NARRATOR: “The cemetery was alive. It was October 31st and the Dia de los Muertos decorations were on many of the graves and in the aisles between the graves. It was a happy day for Cecil. It was his birthday. It was long ago when his day of birth had come and passed, more than a century now, and the past fifteen years had been strange for him.

Once, as a younger man, in his fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties, he had spent his days eagerly busy in his many pursuits. He owned a produce company, and his day began before dawn, when he met the trucks and the trains loaded with fresh farm fruits and vegetables. They arrived from all around North, Central and South American, meeting their last destination in Cecil’s warehouse before they were washed, shined, boxed and appeared in the neighborhood grocery stores. Cecil worked hard and left his office in mid-afternoon. It was his choice, since he was the boss.

Everyday he had gone to the golf course to play a few rounds with his friends, or to the horse stable, where his daughter, Jane, his only child, rode everyday after school. He cared for her horse, his horses, and all their feed and tack, and he delighted in the happiness he shared with her there, and with the beautiful animals that had become members of their family.

The walk he now took from the cemetery to his daughter’s house was only three blocks, and he walked this nightly, although he wasn’t sure why. Once, he had found his old Ford truck sitting in front of her house, and remembered that he needed to check the oil. He lifted the hood, secured it with the support bar, hung the cage-covered light bulb, illuminating the truck’s engine; and he was taking care of his business when the neighbor’s daughter started screaming.”

CECIL: “Geeeee Mooneee! (he exclaimed) What’s wrong with her? He put down the hood, mumbling to himself and walked away.”

CECIL: “Jane?”

NARRATOR: “He called his daughter’s name and then became restless. The stars were still out, but an orange glow had appeared from the east, illuminating the yellow fringe of leaves on the Sycamore tree. Suddenly he was very tired. He began to walk back to the cemetery, and then he forgot. He forgot every time he remembered. Yet he still remembered that he forgot. The words: transient, ischemic and dementia held places of sadness in his memory. It was a partially forgotten sadness, and he could no longer understand it, but the low-down feeling lingered, still.

He loved the old cemetery, and it seemed that everyone there was always celebrating his birthday. Whenever he left it, a longing set in that was powerful enough to change the direction of his walk, every time, every night that he could remember.

Birthday guests were sitting on the graves, gathered into groups. Boxes of apples and pears, winter oranges, squash and grapefruits lay on the ground, completely covering some of the burial spots. How odd. “It must be the farmers’ market night here, tonight,” thought Cecil. “Yes, it must be!”

He knew all the farmers by name. Yes, he would visit them too. As always, he would first visit Jane, then maybe he would walk to the stables and feed the horses. He loved them so, even though the pain in his knees was a result of his loyalty to the white horse, May, the one that fell with him again and again and again. The black horse was Jane’s and she was elderly now, in her thirties. She had been a beautiful, high-strutting Paso Fino mare in her time. Now she was a family treasure, cared for and pampered. He would take her an apple, and a carrot for May, of course.

Cecil picked the treats from boxes of food on a nearby grave and tried to pay Mrs. Sanchez a dollar each for the two of them, but she seemed to not even hear what he said. He dropped two one-dollar bills in her lap, and they lay on the white, embroidered apron she wore. She was looking away, but when she glanced back at her lap she shrieked, and called out: “Jose! Miguel, aqui! Aqui! Andele!” Then she stood up and the two dollar bills fell from her apron to the grave below her.

The lights were out in Jane’s small, blue house on 12th Street. Cecil thought he would go down to the stable and find her there.

Two young boys stood staring at the cemetery.”

JOSEPH: “Morris, I dare ya to walk in there!”

NARRATOR: “Joseph was a black-haired boy, wearing a zombie mask and dancing; showing off his best hip-hop steps.

Morris, a boy with curly blond hair and a white sheet over his clothing, stood at the edge of the graveyard. The toes of his leather shoes touched the grass on the manicured lawn and his heels touched the pavement of the street.”

MORRIS: “I’m already in there!”

NARRATOR: “Morris shouted back.

Families knelt on the graves, placing photographs, toys, foods, and Halloween pumpkins all around them. They were starting early. Dia de los Muertos didn’t occur for another day, but many families began decorating on Halloween, because they enjoyed it.”

JOSEPH: “Hey.”

JOSEPH: “It’s not even scaarryyy! Look, everybody’s mama is here! Nobody here looks creepy at all, mostly just us!”

NARRATOR: “Morris gazed toward the bloody stains on his ripped bed sheet. His mother had splattered red paint across the sheet and cut holes in it for Morris’ arms and head.

Cecil loved children and he laughed softly when he passed the two boys in costume.”

CECIL: “Ha, ha, ha…”

MORRIS: “Did you hear that?”

JOSEPH: “Hear what?”

MORRIS: (quietly) “Did you hear that laugh?”

JOSEPH: “You’re craaaazzzy, Morris!”

MORRIS: “No I’m not.”

JOSEPH: “Yes you are!”

MORRIS: “Don’t make me wanna punch ya!”

JOSEPH: “My mama will tan your hide if ya do!”

NARRATOR: “Cecil laughed again, remembering something he couldn’t place.”

CECIL: “That’s just what my mama said!”

NARRATOR: “The red paint on the white sheet, the words the boys used, the shoes they wore, shabby, dry, worn out leather, seams busting out and strings hanging loose, all of it was like visiting an old friend, to Cecil.”

MORRIS: (in a flat, serious voice) “I heard it again.”

NARRATOR: “Now Morris’ voice was shaking and Joseph had stopped dancing and stood like a tombstone, holding his breath.”

JOSEPH: “I heard it too.”

NARRATOR: “Klop, klop, click, klop…klop, klop, click, klop….The Cinderella carriage, pulled by a shining white horse was walking down the street. Inside, four costumed riders laughed and sang “Werewolves of London,” hitting the wrong notes as often as the right ones.

Cecil looked up and saw the white horse, and recognized it as May, his stumbling, but loyal white mare.

He stepped up his pace and broke into a trot. He was amazed that his knees didn’t hurt. At one point, he remembered using a cane, then a walker, then he was unable to walk at all, even after the doctor talked him into his second round of double knee replacement surgeries.

That was when his memories became like a dense, rainy day fog, when his night walks became strange, when everyday was his birthday, when people shrieked when they saw him, and sometimes when they didn’t, when he only stood near.”

CECIL: “I’ll catch that mare. I’ll take her to the barn and brush ‘er down, give her some hay and oats and mix in a little sweet feed to make her happy.”

NARRATOR: “He trotted toward the white horse and when he got closer he slowed to a walk, so he wouldn’t frighten her. Cecil didn’t notice the carriage, the harness, the riders or the driver. His focus was May, his white horse. “How did she get here, right on the street,” he asked himself.

The horse was walking slowly and the passengers in the carriage were still singing: “ahhhooooohhh, Werewolves of London, ahhhooooohhh…” when Cecil grabbed the reigns and gently stopped the forward direction of the entire entourage; horse, driver, carriage, and passengers.”

DRIVER: “Hey, what’s wrong with you, Sally? Git, come on, ha! Cooommme on!”

NARRATOR: “Cecil held the reins in his left hand and began to guide the horse in a U-turn toward his barn. The driver was perplexed, now losing any cool she may have once had, and shouting at the horse. “You bag of bones, you turn back hah!”

The revelers in the carriage had stopped singing and looked afraid. One woman screamed, “Let me out!”

The boys standing on the edge of the graveyard watched the scene with their eyes like large marbles, protruding from their faces, and the families decorating graves stopped what they were doing and watched.

Cecil began to trot along with the white horse.”

CECIL: “I’ll get-cha home, girl. That’s right, go on home.”

JANE: (sitting on the ground of a grave) “Daddy! I’m here. Come here. Daddy, please, now!”

NARRATOR: “Cecil dropped the reigns and began the walk that always drew him back, and when he did, he came upon a grave that was decorated with black cats and orange ribbon. Jane was sitting on the grave, holding an orange and black birthday cake on her lap. More candles than he had ever seen burned dangerously on the top of the cake. The entire grave was illuminated.”

JANE: “Daddy, I know you’re here. I brought watermelon and salt, just the way you like it, and your golf clubs, your blue ribbons and trophies from your riding days, and I brought long-neck beer, too.”

NARRATOR: “Just outside the cemetery, on the street, the carriage driver now stood beside the horse, petting her. The riders stood, shaken, on the sidewalk.”

CARRIAGE DRIVER: “They say there is a wandering ghost here. It’s a man whose birthday was Halloween. That’s his grave.” (She lifts her arm and points with a long index finger straight toward Jane and the flaming cake)

NARRATOR: “She pointed with a raised arm and long index finger, right to the spot where Jane sat, alone, holding a flaming cake, burning with many candles.

The two young boys now stood at the edge of the grave, and Cecil walked up, bent forward, kissed Jane on the cheek, and spoke.”

CECIL: “Well, I’ll be dad-gummed if that’s not the purtiest cake and the most candles I’ve ever seen.”

NARRATOR: “The families who sat on the other graves, the carriage driver and all the riders, and the two young boys all joined in when Jane began to sing.”

JANE: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Daddy. Happy birthday to you!”

NARRATOR: “When the song ended, Cecil and the boys all bent forward and blew out the blaze of candles. A cloud of thick, waxy smoke blew over the cemetery and the many ofrendas that decorated the graves.

Cecil looked at the boys. The blond, curly-haired boy looked up at him and smiled.”

CECIL: “Well, I’ll be darned!”

NARRATOR: “The black-haired boy walked to a grave where a family laughed and toasted Cecil’s birthday and Morris walked underneath Cecil’s long winter coat and disappeared.

Jane cut the cake and Cecil sat on the ground, leaning on a tombstone. Only the name on it was visible. It read Cecil Morris O’Shields, October 31, 1907-October 25, 1999. Draped on the gravestone were a pair of white riding chaps and a bridle. On the ground before it was the photograph of a white horse, with a curly-haired man riding her. He was smiling and petting the horse’s shining neck.

The carriage now moved smoothly through the night street, the occupants were now laughing and retelling the tale shrieking and laughing.”

RIDERS: “Did you see him? Was he scary? I’ll bet this was all an act, just part of the carriage ride, part of the show, yeah, that’s right.”

NARRATOR: “A whoosh of air had extinguished the candles on the cake that Jane held, just as it always did. Now, for all the living world to see, Jane sat alone on the grave, telling tales of her childhood and reading stories she had written about her family. No one was apparently there to listen, just the fruit, the salt shaker, and the long-neck beer, but she smiled, offering up a slice of birthday cake on an orange napkin to whoever passed her father’s grave, on this night, on Halloween, on his birthday.”

***

Ghost Angels

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

Setting: a dark corner of downtown Riverside

Characters: Narrator, Sound Effects Person, Kevin, Teacher

Most of these roles can be shared by the same cast members, ie: narrator could do sound effects and Kevin’s voice.

NARRATOR: “The street corner was dark. Night sounds rose from several directions (SOUND EFFECTS, THE BACKGROUND SOUND EFFECTS DO NOT OVERWHELM THE NARRATOR’S VOICE)

Up the street, a drum’s beat measured time (DRUM SOUNDS) and electric guitars played rock and roll (GUITAR RIFF). A singer’s voice floated into the night, flat and struggling to catch up (VOICE, BLUESY TONES). Tires screeched (TIRES SCREECHING) from the distance and from nearby the rattle of ceramic dishes (DISHES SOUND) being loaded into a tub mixed with the drums and guitar, where the Mission Inn restaurants were now closing.”

TEACHER: “This is where I come to hear them.”

ACTION: The woman speaking wore athletic pants, a yoga top and a zip-up hoodie. She fidgeted with an iPhone, pushing buttons, making adjustments, holding it close to her ear.

TEACHER: “I hear them at night, (PAUSE) Listen! First you’ll hear the runners’ rhythm.”

ACTION: She held the phone facing the direction of her gaze.

TEACHER: (whispering) “Then you’ll notice a softer sound …Shhhhhh….. Listen! (she holds her index finger to her lips) Oh, my! (she drops the arm holding the phone to her side) It’s going to be a late run tonight. On hot days they come later. (she smiles) I guess the sidewalk is too hot for ghost angels.”

NARRATOR: “It was a hot night. The sun had set, but heat still radiated from the concrete sidewalk and the asphalt on the streets.”

TEACHER: “I was his teacher. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and I was assigned by the school district to teach him at home. He was remarkable. He was excited about everything he learned. When I assigned reading a book by a particular author, I would return in three days and he would have read not one, but two or three! It was delightful to make lesson plans for him. Our classes were more like graduate seminars than high school, and he was only fifteen!”

ACTION: She turns and cocks her head to move one ear in the direction she was looking and she stares motionless for a full minute, then begins to talk.

TEACHER: “He was an excellent student, and an athlete. He was a runner. He ran more than two hours a day, up through the rocky climb of Mount Rubidoux, through the scrubby foothills of Box Springs Mountain. He ran through the neighborhoods and streets of downtown on the days when he ran without his track team. On those days he ran with Lady… oh yes!”

ACTION: She stopped and looked directly toward the listeners.

TEACHER: “I haven’t told you about Lady… Lady was a stray dog rescued by Kevin’s family. They saw her roaming wild and hiding in bushes on the high school athletic field. They tried to catch her, offering food and affection, but she was so frightened she wouldn’t come near. Kevin and his dad took sleeping bags and camped out on the field, where they watched her roam the area in the dark of night, searching for bits of trash and discarded wrappers, hoping to turn up something to fill her hungry belly. She was thin and walked with her head low and her tail tucked tightly between her back legs. Fearing an imminent attack, she stayed in a self-protected posture.

Finally, Kevin and his dad asked The Animal Control officers for help. They brought a big cage to the field and placed fresh meat inside it. Kevin and his Dad continued sleeping on the ground and waiting. For two nights the dog came near but wouldn’t go in. On the third night, hunger won over her fear and she walked into the cage, tripped the trap and was caught.

Lady stayed at the pound for one week and Kevin and his family visited her every day. When they were able to bring Lady home, she immediately became family.

When Kevin began having headaches they were crippling, but he tried to ignore them. Schoolwork needed to be done, running became difficult, due to the pain, but he didn’t stop. The joy of flying, face first, into the wind, parting the breeze with his arms, shoulders and legs, and becoming part of the fast-moving world he saw to all sides, drew him to lace his running shoes up daily and let his strong legs loose, flying him into the hills.

One night while he was sleeping, he couldn’t ignore the nausea and pain inside his skull any longer, and he fell from the bed to the floor, unable to move. Lady was, of course, lying on the floor beside his bed, and when he fell she knew Kevin was in danger. She sniffed his breath for clues, then ran downstairs to the room where his parents slept and she barked until they awoke.”

Sound effects: (ARF! ARF!)

TEACHER: “She grabbed the sleeve of his mom’s gown between her teeth and pulled to summon them out of bed. Upstairs they found Kevin unconscious and called 911, then an ambulance came and took him to the hospital.

When I taught Kevin in his home, we sat at his dining room table, and Lady lay on the floor beside us. She was the size of a small German Shepard, with long, shining black hair and a bit of brown around her face. She won my heart in no time, and I agreed with Kevin’s family, that she was possibly the smartest dog I had ever known. She actually spoke. She used her voice in a low volume howl and pointed her nose toward whatever it was she wanted or was trying to tell you.

After teaching Kevin for a year, his medical appointments grew more frequent and his parents put him on home schooling to cope with the erratic schedule. I heard from him occasionally. When he had brain tumor surgery, I visited him in the hospital. That was the last time I would see him.”

PAUSE: The teacher looks down, then straightens her clothing and begins to talk again.

TEACHER: “Ten years later, Kevin’s mother wrote to me that he had passed away and they invited me to attend his memorial service. I learned that Lady had taken ill when Kevin went into the hospital that last time, and I learned that she died three days before him.”

ACTION: The woman stopped, took a deep breath, and ran her hands under her eyes, brushing tears from her cheeks.

TEACHER: “I was standing here one October night, several years ago, and I heard the fast-paced footsteps of a person running, clearly coming toward me from behind. I didn’t think anything of it, and only when the steps grew close did I move to the edge of the sidewalk and glance behind me to let the runner pass. To my amazement there was no one there, just the footsteps, clear and crisp. They passed me by, and I felt a whoosh of air, as they continued and moved out of my range of hearing. Then I heard a faint, familiar voice, calling ‘Lady! Lady!’ The calls became distant, and then I heard them no more. His voice was deeper, but there was no mistaking it. It was his voice.

From behind me I heard softer steps, padded steps, the steps of a running dog. Like the runner’s steps, the canine steps grew close, passed beside me and disappeared in the direction I had been staring. No dog was there to be seen but I knew the soft, galloping sounds were the sounds of Lady’s soft paws on the concrete.

I was overcome by joy, knowing these two beloved souls were nearby, even if they were ghosts. I knew they were surely ‘ghost angels,’ and I’ve called them that ever since; Kevin and Lady, Riverside’s ‘ghost angels!’”

ACTION: The woman was silent a moment, and then she raised her head, turned to the side and spoke, a smile now rising from her lips and growing across her face.

TEACHER: “Here it is! Do you hear the sounds of the runner?”

SOUND EFFECTS: Running footsteps (human), they start quiet, then grow louder and then quiet again, then disappear.

Then the soft galloping sounds begin. They also start quietly, louder, then fade away softly.

TEACHER: “They never run together.”

ACTION: Her face turns away, her eyes stare into the distance. She swallows and squeezes her eyes shut, as though she anticipates tears.

TEACHER: “It’s been three years since I first heard them pass, and they are always alone, running a few moments apart, and I always feel a wave of sadness when they pass me by.”

ACTION: She closes her eyes. The steps approach once more. The runners steps are slower.

The padded galloping steps become a walk, then a low, growling howl, soft and non-threatening.

KEVIN (in a muted male voice he whispers): “Lady.”

SOUND EFFECTS: More soft howls.

TEACHER: “Do you feel that? Do you feel the waves of JOY moving around us? It feels like warm ocean currents!”

ACTION: She closes her eyes and smiles. When her eyes open, tears roll like small rivers down her cheeks. She wipes them away.

TEACHER: “Goodbye, dear ones! You will always be in my heart.”

NARRATOR: “The runners crisp steps now keep a rhythm with the softer steps, and after another moment in which a circling, warm and blissful breeze brushes our skin, (use fans to move the air) the pair of footsteps take off together in a run and disappear into the night.”

KEVIN: “On to rainbow bridge, Lady!”

SOUND EFFECTS: A distant bark, half growling, which fades into the night.

***

ZOMBIE LOVE

By Angelina O’Shields-Hayner (Age 8)

I am a zombie and I am half human. I like to attack mansions. Their size is awesome to me. I can turn into a bat. Not all zombie humans could do that. I was once married to a zombie but after a few hundred years he started having side effects from human blood and he exploded.

I had been grieving for a few hundred years but then I started noticing something was wrong. My husband was playing tricks on me and trying to tell me he was still with me as a ghost, not a dead zombie. We loved each other so much that we couldn’t be kept apart. I was lonely because I didn’t have much family, just my annoying brother, so I wanted my husband back.

He came back and lived in the house with me and my brother went to live in the sky where the other zombie humans lived.

We were all happy.

XOXOXO

THE END

KIDLANDIA: Honoring and Remembering Our Loved Ones by Julianna M. Cruz

It’s a stormy day here in Riverside, and memories of my mother-in-law came streaming in as we set out to buy Marigolds. 30 years ago, during the first week in November, a storm passed through Riverside much like today’s and it sent my mother-in-law (to be) into a bit of a panic. Why? Well, I was wrapping up the last minute arrangements for our outdoor wedding at the Botanic Gardens (UCR) and she was afraid it would rain on our wedding day. My easy-going attitude about the weather did not ease her worry; in fact, it made her worry all the more. I didn’t have a Plan B, and she looked at me and said, “What are you going to do if it rains?” She didn’t approve of my response, “I guess we’ll get wet.” I reassured her that even if it rained it would be a wonderful event and that in other cultures rain on your wedding day is actually considered good luck. She just shook her head as I chuckled. That’s when she reminded me that I still hadn’t registered at any of the local stores and relatives were calling her to find out which china pattern we had chosen. Gifts were the furthest thing from my mind, and I never have been the kind of girl that chose china patterns. I just wanted people to share our special day with us (I considered their presence to be their presents). Again, I got the shake of her head and a sigh that let me know she was trying to be patient with me. As it turned out, the day was absolutely beautiful. Stunning cumulo-nimbus clouds floated in a bright blue sky and the garden looked as though it had been washed clean and groomed just for our wedding—I couldn’t have been happier. I’m pretty sure Dorothy was happy too. Thanks for being patient with me, Dorothy. I really miss you. Thank you for bringing this memory to me today. Decorating my in-laws grave today gave me great pleasure. The air was spicy and sweet, kind of like the memories I have of Henry and Dorothy Cruz, the best in-laws ever!

Dorothy and Henry are at the National Cemetery and my Grandma Martha Nunez is at Crestlawn Cemetery in the Arlington area, so we drove along the outskirts of Riverside under a beautifully stormy sky. Both cemeteries are located in such a way that one can truly admire the topography of the Inland Empire.

Standing at the olive tree by my grandma’s grave I drank in the view and breathed in the scent of marigolds. I arranged them in a cascade style and that reminded me that I needed to go get water. It seemed that my grandma was always thirsty, so whenever I visit I pour an extra drink for her. Whenever I am there I remember the times I would ride my bike down the Santa Ana River Trail to sit with her. I would roll my bike up to the olive tree, go get some water, and sit down for some quiet time. As I sat calmly, I could hear the crow of roosters and barking dogs from down the hill. The bird songs and the wind whistling through the olive leaves made me feel happy. My grandma loved birds. We would always feed her little friends the last bits of stale bread. I miss you, Gommy and I feel you with me always.

Dia de los Muertos gives us a day to remember and honor our loved ones each year, but I feel them all around me everyday.

Take some time today to remember your loved ones.


Julianna M. Cruz is a teacher, an author, and an Inlandian.

 

Events this weekend featuring Juan Delgado, Carlos Cortes, and Dia de los Muertos! by Craig Svonkin

First, this year’s Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) Conference will be bookended by sessions featuring Inland Empire creative writers. Taking place downtown at the Riverside Convention Center, three events will feature Inlandia authors:

Friday, October 31, 3:45 pm – 5:15 pm Inlandia Literary Laureate Juan Delgado will be presiding over a session of Inlandia poets titled “Creative Writing: Poetic Voices of Inlandia.” This will immediately be followed at 5:15 pm until 6:40 pm by a Creative Artist Spotlight Address by Delgado and Tom McGovern, co-authors of Vital Signs, a collection of poetry and photography about the Inland Empire, with book sales and signing until 7:00 pm.

Then, Sunday, November 2, from 10:45 am – 12:00 pm PAMLA will be offering a seminar, “Inlandia Institute: Celebrating and Memorializing Literary Inlandia,” hosted by Cati Porter and featuring Inlandia authors Laurel and Carlos Cortes (Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time). We will be discussing the value of ‘place’ in writing, and reading and talking about Inlandia.

These PAMLA sessions are open to the public, and all sessions are free to current UCR, RCC, CSUSB, Chaffey, La Sierra, and Cal Baptist students and faculty. For more information, please contact svonkin@netzero.net or visit the website for the full conference schedule: http://www.pamla.org/2014.

Also on Sunday, from 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm, please join us for an Open Mic with Juan Delgado at the Dia de los Muertos Festival at White Park, in the Gazebo, in honor of a loved one who’s passed. Read a poem (your own or another favorite) then place the poem on a joint altar. Attendance is free for the living and the dead.

Then, next Thursday November 6, at 7:00 pm please join us at the Riverside Public Library downtown, upstairs in the main auditorium, ArtsWalk for a reading and discussion with Tyler Stallings and his new book, Aridtopia.

Stay tuned – lots going on in November! More info coming soon.

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UPDATE: Addendum from the PAMLA Conference with complete details:

The Creative Artist Spotlight Address: Vital Signs with Juan Delgado and Thomas McGovern, will be on Friday, October 31, from 5:15 pm – 6:40 pm (in RCC Exhibit Hall C). Inlandia Literary Laureate, poet Juan Delgado, and award-winning photographer Thomas McGovern (both professors from California State University, San Bernardino), will speak about their collaboration on the beautiful and moving photography/poetry book, Vital Signs, about the Inland Empire region of Southern California, starting with the city of San Bernardino. The Before Columbus Foundation has selected Vital Signs as one of the recipients of the 2014 American Book Awards. Please join us for this special (and free to everyone) event. The Halloween Cash Bar (and Candy Feast) Reception will follow, with good conversation, light snacks, a cash bar, and a Halloween-themed film, all out doors (weather permitting). Feel free to wear a Halloween costume, if you’d like.

Riverside is an interesting place with an interesting history. If you’d like to learn more about the history and architecture of Riverside while getting to stretch your legs and get out of the Riverside Convention Center, please join one of the two Walking Tours of Historic Riverside conducted by Steve Lech, Riverside expert and President of the Riverside Historical Society. These tours (please wear comfortable shoes and be ready for a brisk pace) will leave the Riverside Convention Center on Friday at 2:00 pm and Saturday at 1:45 pm from the Lower Concourse (near the Registration table), and each tour will take 90 minutes.

Another opportunity to learn about Riverside and its culture and history, in connection to a variety of cultural, architectural and historical issues central to California and the West, will be the two back-to-back sessions about the Mission Inn, Riverside’s most famous architectural landmark (built in an eclectic “Mission Revival” style, and a fascinating place to explore (do be sure to visit the Mission Inn during the conference, even if you aren’t staying there). These sessions are titled “The Spirit of California Imprisoned: Summoning the Mission Inn,” and will be held on Friday, October 31, from 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm and then from 3:45 pm – 5:15 pm, in RCC Ballroom B.

As you are planning your PAMLA conference schedule, please take a look at some of our Creative Writing sessions and pencil one, two, or all of them into your conference schedule (of course, all of our scholarly writing is creative writing, but you know what we mean):

For example, on Friday, October 31, you could attend:

10:45 am–“Creative Writing: Poetry that May (or May Not) Change Your Life”

2:00 pm–“Creative Writing: Brief Poetry”

3:45 pm–“Creative Writing: Poetic Voices of Inlandia”

And then join us for the Creative Artist Spotlight Address, with local poet Juan Delgado and photographer Thomas McGovern, co-authors of Vital Signs, at 5:15 pm.

On Saturday, November 1, please join us for:

“Four SoCal Writers: Eric, Ara, Joseph, & Joseph” at 10:30 am.

“The Little Short Shorts: Narrative as Commentary,” at 3:30 pm, with songs and short creative fragments, including creative writing by me, PAMLA’s Executive Director, Craig Svonkin.

And then on Sunday, November 2, we will have a special session beginning at 10:45 am, co-sponsored by the Inlandia Institute, focusing on local writers featuring Carlos & Laurel Cortes, and Cati Porter.

The full conference program is up online: http://www.pamla.org/2014/schedule.