Skeletons, tutus, and why death is a very sad thing.


My rearview mirror is the hangout spot for two skeletal creatures wearing pouffed tutus and itty bitty plastic Barbie shoes. 

Yes, that is the most frequently asked question upon sliding into the passenger seat and clicking the belt into place, “why do you have skeletons in your car?” Don’t we all get morbid and sassy with our car decor?

I used to nanny three children and every morning, without fail, we’d all pile into the car for the pool or lacrosse practice or ballet. Wherever the day was taking us, it’d be the four of us humans and two skeletons. And when children think you are strange enough, it’s practically nanny-self-sabotage to be rocking the skeletons 4 months before Halloween. There is no blog out there yet called Epic Nanny Fail but I’m sure I would be a favorite member if there were (now go little brain children and create this website). 

It’s called el Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.” I tried to speak my peace one day. ” It is around the same time as Halloween. Many people in Mexico celebrate this holiday, taking the time to honor their dead and remember them.” The whole time I am spewing out words I haven’t been able to use since 11th grade Spanish class, I am thinking in my own head– Pump. The. Brakes. Hannah. Don’t overload them… it is laser tag day. But SO bring up the candy skulls and the cemetery picnics!

Calder, the 7-year-old,  interrupted.

But death is a sad thing.”

OOF.

Silence.

Cue crystal-sized car crickets.

“You’re right,” I told him. “Death is a sad thing.” 

We drove in silence for a while after that.

I have yet to come across the person opposed to this little boy’s statement. You could rattle on about celebrations & fiestas & parades but regardless, Death is still a sad thing.

Oddly enough, this post is not about my love for el Dia de los Muertos , my two little skeletons– one of which is named after James Franco (don’t ask),  or the fact that my mother fully stocked my closet with dresses that would be absolutely perfect for any fiesta when I was a little girl, leading to a downward identity spiral when I realized I was utterly culture-less and no Quinceanera was wafting in the distance. (If you ever get to see my school pictures, you would know exactly what I mean.) It is actually about a lady named Dee. A grandmother, if we want to be specific. A woman who taught me that Death is a very sad thing but that Life Well Lived gives Death the uppercut. Every. Time. 

It begins happening around this time of the year.

The Leaves Fall, the Weather Chills & People Begin Googling the word “Cornucopia” and coming up thumbnail images of  those silly bugles full of harvest foods. I start recognizing the pockets of this earth that still keep her. The memories that hide, like rail thin children, behind any Frank Sinatra ballad or song accompanied by bagpipes. A first chord and I am swept into a mess of tears and nostalgia as a swarm of Little Memories tug at my sweater.

It’s as if the air gets colder and we start saying things we never thought to say when the sunscreen was out– I miss you. And I wish you were here. And why can’t you just be here? It’s not fair. It makes no sense. Are you doing ok? I hope you are doing ok. Life is fine. It’s good, even. But I don’t miss you any less. 

I received an email the other day from a reader. She wrote in the email, “How did you become such a good writer?” Was there training? Could I recommend classes?

The question puzzled me.

I picked up my cup of coffee and walked around a bit, wondering how I became a writer, and a supposed “good one” at that. Then it caught my eye, a black and white photo of a strikingly beautiful woman. She is looking towards the camera and she is holding my mother in her arms. My favorite picture.

There was the answer. 

I am a good writer because when I was a very small girl, my grandmother told me that she would see my name at the front of a bookstore one day, my name dancing along the spines and book jackets of hardcovers. She told me of days when strangers would wait for my words, find solitude and peace in my syllables, uncover strength in my stories.

And that is all it takes, folks. It only takes a single person who tells you that you will one day be a very good writer to turn you into a writer who is very good.

If you go back and look closely at all of my writing, from post 1 to 300, she is there– more Hidden than the most Stealthy of Waldos. Behind every word that attempts to weave out “strength” or “love,” she is there. She showed me first that love is an action and a way of life. I am doing my best to pack those actions into the every, every day.

I live a life of love and that will make a writer very good, very good indeed. It will make poetry from places where there once was none.

The lucky ones of us have had someone like this. Someone who makes us believe that we are not so crazy, not falling short, but Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. In this very moment. And as they pass, we learn to celebrate them with our actions. To Eat Delicious Foods For Them. To Do a Little Jig For Them. To Remember Them, not as they are right now but as they were.

To remember the little things: how they loved the color blue. How they found great happiness in filling little notebooks with novels they had just read. How they convinced every person they came across of their Native American roots (it is still up for debate of whether was my grandmother was actually an Indian or not).

To sulk only on the sometimes but to pour the rest of it into making them proud. Letting them know, in a loud & clear kind of way, that you won’t ever plan to let them down. They wouldn’t expect that out of you. It was not a thought in your head.

And to honor them in little ways: by buying ridiculous singing cards, by always dancing to Danny Boy and by having Google updates sent to your email on the JonBenet Ramsey case (even 16 years later) just to stay well-looped on the greatest unsolved mysteries the two of you got all Sherlock Holmes on.

And, of course, by moving forward with the gifts that person helped you foster: a knack for prose, a special talent for story telling.

Because stories & words & memories are that much more powerful when writing for a beautiful woman whose name is still stuck in your lungs, the biggest of big fans– Dee.

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5 Comments

Filed under Disconnect, On Writing.

5 responses to “Skeletons, tutus, and why death is a very sad thing.

  1. What a Wonderful tribute to your Grandma, Dee! So glad she inspired & encouraged you to be the Beautiful and VERY GOOD writer you are <3 :)
    My Grandma encouraged me too, though she was Practically Practical in Every Way ;) and there was always the "You can do better" which I never really understood. Did that mean I wasn't good enough or there was simply more possible? She climbed a tree to rescue me when I was 6, taught me to read and instilled a love of books. She created a home of calm amidst the chaos. Forever grateful to Annabelle Quigney.

  2. Melissa

    “It only takes a single person who tells you that you will one day be a very good writer to turn you into a writer who is very good.” I don’t think I could love that any more.

  3. lettersfromasomedayeditor

    Now crying. I miss my grandmother at this time of year, too. And yours was right– I look to find solitude in your words.

  4. I know exactly what you mean. I was really close to my grandmother too because i was the only grand daughter. I remember i would ask her to tell me about her life before she migrated. Every Friday afternoon i would just lie down next to her and listen to recite her story. Tucking away every single detail.
    I remember i used to give her these tight hugs and she would look at my mother all puzzled asking what exactly i was doing and my mother would just laugh and say this is her weird way of showing love. i tear up every time i think of that.
    I wrote my first proper poem the night after her burial. I was in her room and every moment just stormed into my head. A whirling hurricane of memories.

    Moment of truth – my grandmother was the sole recipient of letters. I started writing letters from the mere age of 5. All to her. And she kept every single one of them.
    Yeah, grandmothers have a way of bringing out our true talents without us even knowing.

  5. This is soulful, beautiful, true. Grateful to have found my way here by way of another beautiful writer. So much goodness.

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