The weather outside is frightful, showers and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, but the fire is so delightful! Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. Winter on the Central Coast of California is easy, just like the livin’!
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico, and in my home, on November 2. Given the timing of the holiday and the macabre imagery and costumes, people assume it’s simply “Mexican Halloween.” But, the meaning of this holiday is so much greater.
In the year 2000, my 35-year-old brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and I did what I always do when presented with a major life challenge; I researched and read about the topic of death. Books have always been my saviors. During the toughest year of my life, as I watched Matt die, the accumulated wisdom of others brought me comfort. It was during this time that I learned about Day of the Dead.
The holiday takes its origins from the Aztecs and was celebrated around the end of summer like Halloween. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Catholic influence led to the combination of the holiday with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Dia De Los Muertos follows the same two-day structure. In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day calls us to reflect upon how we should live; All Souls’ Day is a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. In the Mexican tradition, November 1 is the day to remember the loss of children and November 2 is the day to remember adults who have left us. The most important aspect of the holiday is the belief that the spirits of the dead join the living for the celebration.
In preparation for the party, altars are created that contain remembrances and offerings to our departed loved ones. (Sugar skulls are often included for children and alcohol for adults. You may have noticed KAH tequila in my display.) I love arranging my tribute each year and I love talking about my altar to visitors in my home. Those who are represented are gone but not forgotten; that truism is comforting to me.
My grandmother, Rose Carmella Bartucci. She had a big heart and memories of her make me smile. My daughter never knew her, but her middle name and nickname (Rosebud) are in her honor.
My brother, Matt. I miss you so much.
My father-in-law Jim. My husband inherited all your best traits and my daughter adored you.
Bart, my faithful four-legged companion. The pink shed isn’t quite the same without you.
During the time that my brother was sick and following his death, I often felt very alone in my grief. It’s not easy or natural to speak of death and dying in our culture, but I believe very strongly that we should. What better way to start a conversation than by bringing the departed back into your living room?
I’ll end this now as it’s time to toast my loved ones.
One of my favorite regular columns in any magazine is the Harper’s Index in Harper’s Magazine…of course. It’s a simple list of interesting factoids that makes for fun reading and sharing. Today I learned:
Percentage of U.S. pet-custody cases that involve dogs: 96%
That involve cats: 1
Apologies to the “cat people” in my life, but I was not in the least bit surprised to read this! After all, dogs have a “pack mentality” as do people. (More trivia: what is the name of a group of cats????? Got you, right?!) All three of my four-legged family members are draped across my legs as I write this. It’s a chilly morning and they are earning their keep!
My husband and I have been married for 33 years and for 25 of those years we’ve had at least one dog. We were excited the day we finally moved into a pet-friendly condominium. It didn’t take long for us to adopt our first dachshund, Carly. For eight years, our friends and family had speculated as to when we’d have a child. They had a good laugh when we purchased a small library of books in the genre of how to raise the perfect dog and consulted a baby naming book. There were whispers that we were “practicing” for our first child. The speculation grew when we took Carly to Sears for Christmas pictures.
Alas, the next member of our pack also had four legs. Bill, another long-haired miniature dachshund, joined us the year after our first. Jeff and Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds named the dog after the president “before the Lewinsky scandal” they told us. We thought our new puppy looked rather “presidential” so we chose not to change his name. It would be another two years before we had our only child, Natalie, and Bill would be the first to arrive in her room when she cried.
It’s impossible to imagine our home without a dog or two or three and perfectly outrageous to ponder me and my husband embroiled in a custody fight over them. But, there is no danger of this as we are happy together and have further bonded over the arrival of our latest baby “Winnie.”
P.S. A group of cats is called a “clowder.” I looked it up.
My new girl is a tail-wagging cuddler…perfect for me as my friend Karyn of Wagsmore Dachshunds promised. She’s also got a bit of the imp in her and a touch of the German stubborn to make her entertaining.
Dachshunds were bred 300 years ago in Germany to hunt badgers. Their name literally means “badger hound” (dachs means badger; hund means dog). Their short legs allow them to enter badger dens, and their fierce nature gives them the courage to take on the 15-pound mammals.
As a tribute to my dog’s origin I selected a German name.
“Here Winnie, Winnie…” rolls trippingly from the tongue. And, “Bad girl, Winifred Angela Wagsmore!” sounds very dramatic. “Angela” is in recognition of a strong leader who has spent her life refusing to be intimidated by egotistical leaders of the opposite sex. (When our country elects a president I can be proud of, I’ll consider naming my next dog after her.)
Winnie is my sixth dog, but it’s been eight long years since I’ve had a puppy. Three days into this journey, I’m struck by both what I remembered and what I forgot about the puppy days.
– Puppies teeth are sharp; I have a “love bite” on my neck.
– They leave noseprints on eye glasses, computers and phones. The world is a bit blurry.
– Puppies are exhausting. Life is a bit blurry.
– They are like toddlers; they put everything in their mouths!
– One should “puppy proof” the house BEFORE they arrive.
– Puppies need stuff! I love Amazon; they even offer Amazon Basic Puppy Pads at a very good price.
– When a puppy enters your home and heart, life becomes one big photo-op.
Things I remembered (not much):
– I’d spend a lot of time following a small creature around waiting for her to poo or pee.
– I’d be so excited when said creature pooed or peed in the appropriate place. After Winie’s first outdoor elimination, I ran inside to tell my husband. “Yes,” he said. “I know and I think the whole neighborhood knows, too.”
– The best lives are oftentimes a bit smelly, messy and exhausting. Friends and family have commented on both the dark circles under my eyes and my ebullient glow. Puppies are so wonderful 🙂
P.S. I started writing this days ago, but have been too tired to finish it until today. It’s day six with my new baby!
The great artist and philosopher, Charles M. Schulz, said it best: “Happiness is a warm puppy.” And, I’m ready for more happiness since losing my faithful companion Bart.
“Hmmmm,” you may say, ” don’t you have two other dogs?”
“Why, yes, I do,” I’d answer, “but I don’t have any puppies!”
I’d also add that there are three people in my family and I’ve had three dogs for the past fifteen years. Three’s the perfect number, you see. One, two three…I count as I put down the bowls filled with kibble. One, two three…I count as I brush out their coats. One, two three…I count as I round-up the pack at bedtime.
Bart passed away while my daughter was studying in London this summer. When Natalie arrived home, tired and jet-lagged, we spent several days hanging out and watching movies with her. My girl is a sweet one and she immediately noticed that there were more laps than dogs.
“Oh, mom, I’m sorry,” she exclaimed one night when she noticed that she and her dad had doxies in their laps, but mine was empty. “You must miss Bartie. I even miss him,” she said. “I miss him trying to get away from me to get to you!”
She was right; I did and I do miss my Bart. So, it was a welcome surprise when I received a note with baby pictures from my friend and the breeder of all of our dachshunds. She was, of course, sorry to hear about my loss and wanted to tell me that she happened to have a litter of pups and…one of them would be perfect for me!
“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.”― Edith Wharton
I’m going to miss the little heartbeat at my feet. It’s been three days since Bart died in my arms, but I’m still looking for him. He followed me everywhere, and there’s no substitute for that. (Heaven forbid my husband should start following me around!) We have three dogs, but Bart was mine. He needed me.
Oh my goodness, how Bart loved it when he’d hear me grab the keys to my shed from the kitchen drawer. He’d run straight to the back door and wait to descend the stairs down to the pink shed. He had a well-worn bed (he liked to chew on the corners of it) under my desk and he’d patiently wait until the writing part of my day was over. Then I’d put him in my lap while I read or enjoyed a cup of tea in my cozy chair. Bart is featured in two of my of my most popular posts: See The Nose?! and My Dog’s Favorite Books.
I’m so glad to have had the absolute adoration of my cuddly Bart for nine years!