My daughter and I went to Cleveland’s Day of the Dead celebration today. She had studied Dia de los Muertos in art class at school (my, but I love her art teacher) and really wanted to go. Neither my husband nor our “temporary” daughter (we’re hosting a foreign exchange student this year) wanted to go, so we went on our own. We hadn’t had just a mother-daughter day for a while, so it was kind of nice to trade in a family outing for just the two of us.
It was a cold, drizzly, windy day in the CLE today, but there were droves of people at the celebration. We checked out the altars created by different artists, watched the Dia de los Muertos parade, and wandered through the art installation/cemetery. One of the installations in the cemetery was titled Writing to the Dead. Postcards on ribbons and markers sat in baskets in front of a piece made to look like a mausoleum and iron fence. You could write a note to someone who has died, share a joke or a memory, or just say hello. I wrote a postcard to my mom, who died 12 years ago, well before my child was even born. The kid signed it too.
I’ve always had this tiny shadow of longing and sadness that my daughter and my mother never got to meet. They would have doted on each other. And even though my child and I don’t share the same genes, she reminds me frequently of my mom in her generosity of spirit, her kindness, her gentleness that surrounds a surprising inner strength.
Writing our postcard to the dead and tying it on the fence was the last thing we did there. The kid was getting tired (she had had a Halloween sleepover the night before), plus you could tell it was going to start raining again soon. The Dia de los Muertos celebration is held in the Gordon Square neighborhood, by Detroit and W. 65th. We had found a spot on 65th and were walking back to the car when I suggested we stop into this tiny little bookstore on the corner. I don’t even know the name of it. The store caught my eye because it had a number of manual typewriters in the window. I’m a sucker for machines that print–the older the better. So we went in.
This place was so small that you couldn’t really call it a bookstore. Just a few bookshelves in a space smaller than a motel room, but we were there and I saw books, so I browsed. It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to see three back copies of Glimmer Train Stories on a shelf of fiction. One of them was issue 64, from fall of 2007. It’s been sold out for years. I know this without checking because I had a short story in that issue. It’s called “This Is How It Happened.” I started writing it when my mother was dying, and that’s what it was about–about the process of dying and what happens and what you think about. It’s my mother’s story. And there it was, improbably placed in front of me and my child on the Day of the Dead, not more than eight minutes after we had written her a postcard.
She wrote back.