Gringas & Guacamole
By Gail Nott
The Path Traveled Only Once
It was becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate and steer the SUV; the weight of the sleeping two year old was causing my arms to go numb. In the passenger seat, the old Mexican grandmother, shrouded in a black shawl, was muttering the Rosary. Three teenage boys in the back seat were whistling at and calling out to girls. Six children in the rear screaming and chattering like monkeys. No, I was not driving a Community Center Service vehicle; I was part of a Mexican funeral procession in Mexico.
Concha was seventy years old when her family lost her to the wheels of a car driven by a gringo. Respected and honored by the village, she left a legacy of eleven children and sixty-two grandchildren.
While I felt deeply honored to be asked to share this sad day with the family, I was naïve as to the protocol. Mourners spilled from the church into the street. Umbrellas, opened to offer protection from the sun, moved toward the cemetery like a parade of brightly, colored gumdrops.
Saddled horses, tied outside the church, shifted nervously awaiting their riders. I had agreed to transport the very young and old unable to make the trek. Trailing behind the charros, (Mexican cowboys), I was annoyed when they stopped before we even passed the Plaza for a round of beers and tequila. Didn’t wakes occur after the burial? After a few more “pit stops” by the charros, I decided to stop looking at the rear end of horses and passed them.
At the cemetery, I waited patiently for someone to retrieve my passengers. Concha’s casket had been placed on an altar in a small, open pavilion and the Rosary was being said. The heat and flies were taking their toll on my human cargo.
Having no idea who belonged to whom, I helped everyone out and ushered my multi-generational charges toward the rest of the mourners. As the baby cried and the youngsters whined for their mothers, I became aware that I was one of only four gringos present. Would the family and villagers resent our presence?
The service moved toward the gravesite and I tried to remain inconspicuous. After an hour I was becoming hot and tired and questioned why the service had not been completed. Much to my chagrin, I saw they were still digging the grave and far too deep. This is what I call poor planning! I was to learn that it is an honor and a show of respect for the deceased as each man takes a turn with the shovel.
Off to the side, another group of men were mixing concrete by hand. When the casket was lowered into the freshly dug grave, again, man after man, took a turn shoveling cement onto the casket. Embalming is not required by law and far too costly for the meager means of many families. The cement curtails odors, prohibits the casket from floating upwards and provides a resting place for yet another family member, an underground mausoleum.
As darkness dropped like a mourning veil, bottles of tequila changed hands, babies slumped in the arms of their aunts and grandmothers, and young children whimpered from thirst and hunger. Enterprising Mexican vendors with coolers sold soda pop and snacks to weary mothers.
I too was tired after three hours, and approached family members to offer them a ride back to the village. Sleeping babies were placed in my arms and gnarled hands grasped my shoulders, but the women of the family would remain behind to complete one final task. Many massive stands of flowers, the number indicative of the high esteem the villagers had for Concha, were to be strategically placed around the grave. Bouquets of cut flowers, some in tin cans, graced the perimeter.
Villagers drifted away, tequila-sodden charros clumsily tried to mount their horses, and Concha’s family knelt to say their final good-byes. I come away marveling how Mexicans celebrate life and death, respected, endured and faced without fear.
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com