My crafty grandmother Carmelita

My crafty grandmother Carmelita

This Día de los Muertos, I am thinking about my grandmother an awful lot. She passed away almost five years ago and with all the knitting and crocheting I’ve been doing this year, she is in my memories a little more than usual.

My grandmother came to Chicago, from McAllen, Texas for a few months when I was a newborn. I’m told it was a typical frigid winter in Chicago. The many stories of her visit always end in giggles about the story of my older sister chasing my grandmother’s bus in tears when it was time for her to go back to Texas. I imagine the time that she spent with us to be warm and comforting; my grandmother Carmelita was everything a grandmother should be; sweet and always the voice of reason.

When my grandmother passed away, I woke up to a tearful phone call from my aunt in Texas. It had been years since I had last seen her and I was filled with regret for opting to stay home during my parents’ last visits to Texas. It happened over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and so my parents, my oldest sister and I hit the road and drove more than 24 hours straight to make it on time.

These days it is my grandmother’s crochet lessons that stick with me the most. Our family visits to Texas always included a sweet handmade gift. My last childhood visit included a little lesson; I remember sitting down next to her and learning how to do the chain stitch on a crochet hook. She enthusiastically showed me all her projects and tools, and I vividly remember her teaching me how to make a pom pom.

These memories stay with me now more than ever and I can’t help but feel a wonderful connection to her through my fiber arts adventures. Carrying on the tradition and dedicating an altar to her and El Stitch y Bitch’s crafty ancestors has given me the ultimate peace; I know she is with me and El Stitch y Bitch and I hope she and our crafty ancestors are causing a raucous at the National Museum of Mexican Art this year.

El magico

El magico

My grandfather was a magician and a photographer.  I have many wonderful photographs that capture my childhood thanks to him but this is the one photograph that he did not take that I absolutely cherish because we are in it together.   Taken sometime in the early 80′s, I’m seated as his number one fan–front row and center–for another exclusive magic show.  He had plucked a cigarette butt out of an ashtray and was in the process of turning it into a fifty dollar bill. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t just do that with all the cigarettes.

It wasn’t too long after this photograph was taken that he moved back to Mexico (he had migrated to the US in the 60′s).  The magic shows and photographs ceased.  Over the years I would only see him again a handful of times.

The last time I saw him, I was 19 years old and it had been ten years since we had last seen each other . My grandmother announced my arrival and he remembered who I was because he lit up when he heard my name, but he no longer recognized me and his gaze penetrated past me to a part of his past where I existed.  For him, I was now a complete stranger–it was a humbling moment and I fought back tears.

I sat with both him and my grandmother, and because he had my undivided attention he rambled on about the past, and then he fell silent because my grandmother began grumbling.

He turned to me and said, “I have the prettiest wife.”  His gaze fell on my grandmother and her eyes met his and she blushed and waved him away, “No sabes lo que dices.”

I smiled and nodded, felt lucky to witness a most loving and magical exchange between bickering grandparents.

He passed away a few years later.

Every once in a while, like this Dia de los Muertos,  nostalgia strikes and I wish I could sit down for one more magic show or smile for another picture.

When The Calaca Comes A Knockin’

When The Calaca Comes A Knockin’

It’s almost that time again for papel picado, pan de muerto and most importantly remembering our loved ones during Día de los Muertos on November 1 & 2. Did you make an altar for a loved one? What do you miss the most about that person?

Growing up I had never heard of Dia de los Muertos from my parents. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I discovered this wonderful Mexican holiday. I always enjoy eating pan de muerto, buying sugar skulls and going to check out the alters at the National Museum of Mexican Art’s annual Day of the Dead exhibit. My mom Adela would always say, “Ya estoy para la tumba” and I would roll my eyes and shake my head.

When I would go to the Día de los Muertos exhibit I would always look at the altars people made for their loved ones. There would be sepia pictures, baseballs, aprons sometimes toys and tequila. All of their favorite things gathered and put together with loving care. You could always tell that friends and family missed their departed loved ones greatly.

Thank goodness, I never had to make an altar. I couldn’t even begin to imagine losing someone I loved. Well that all changed in the summer of 2006 when the Calaca came knocking and my mom passed away. When the fall came Día de los Muertos took on a whole new meaning. It was difficult for me to go to any Día de los Muertos events. I had never made an altar for anyone but that year I made a little alter for her in my kitchen.

Since then my mom has been included twice in the Día de los Muertos exhibit in altars done by Artist Luis DeLaTorre and this year in the Stitch y Bitch altar. Looks like she’s on the move without me. Before she passed My mom took it upon herself to write little notes and hide them in different places.

Funny they always appear at odd moments in my life. Once I had a cold and found a note by her that said to drink tea for my cough then there was the time I happened to open this little trinket box with little birds on it and inside it said “Adela is here.” Yeah, that one was weird  but she was always full of surprises.

Adela Pando

This Día de los Muertos I wanted to dedicate this post as a virtual altar to my mom Adela. I miss her lots!

Here is a few things I remember and miss the most about her:

  • Her audacity to move to this country in the 70’s without speaking English
  • Enjoyed looking into those mischievious flickering eyes of hers.
  • Eating chiles rellenos while watching the novella together
  • Listening to stories of her growing up in Mexico City
  • Watching her put make up on; the blue eyeliner made her look pretty
  • She could always make me laugh even when I was down
  • Summer time when she would give me money to buy hot dogs
  • Winter days she’d wake up early to make us buñuelos
  • Going to la segunda on Halsted with her because she would buy me a bag of those mix and match toys that came in the clear plastic bags.

Well I always get a little misty eyed but time to shake it off after all it’s Día de los Muertos time of celebration and remembering.  What I’ve learned from this experience is when the Calaca comes knocking you have no choice but to answer and despite this  our loved ones who have passed on are always with us even when it’s not Día de los Muertos. What do you miss about your loved ones?

Here are a few fun ideas for  Día de los Muertos that you might enjoy!

Día de los Muertos Parade – Sounds like fun! Swing by!

Día de los Muertos Audio Ofrendas – Can’t wait to listen to them!

Día de los Muertos Apron – This calavera apron give away is awesome!

Día de los Muertos Dance – Put your calaca dancing shoes on and let’s dance!

Día de los Muertos Alter – Not sure how to put one together? Here how to create your own alter.

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