Kage Baker loved the day after Halloween: traditionally, in the Catholic Church, all Saints day. All Souls Day comes on November 2nd.
Nowadays, especially in California and most especially in Southern California, the day is most obviously celebrated as Día de los Muertos: the Day of the Dead. Kage loved it; her family had a tradition themselves of visiting their loved dead at home: in the cemetery, what with her mother being from North Carolina. Also, Kage loved all the multicultural traditions of Los Angeles, and with its marigolds and incense and sugar skulls and lovingly constructed family altars, it is hard to beat the panoply of the Day of the Dead.
I loved it, too, but a child – Alas, most shallowly! – I loved it because we didn’t have to go to school on November 1st. We were raised Roman Catholic and All Saints Day was a holy day of obligation – thus, Mass was compulsory, and school was dismissed because we were supposed to spent the day in prayer and contemplation, (and, in the days before John XXIII and Vatican Two, fasting.) What actually happened, in the warm days of the early 60’s, was that we went to early morning Mass, went home to hot cocoa and doughnuts, and then spent the day lolling around eating candy and occasionally going by the public school to taunt the non-Catholic kids still in durance vile behind their fences. This did nothing for Christian tolerance, and often led to fights. However, being able to run while our enemies were trapped on the playground. we usually got away.
And then, that night, Momma made macaroni and cheese for dinner, so we could abstain from meat. Her mac and cheese was marvelous, and it was particularly no hardship because we still had all that candy …
I repent my childhood self-absorption. Of course, before age 10, I didn’t even know anybody who was dead. For reasons obvious and sad, I’ve come to collect a whole separate address book just for my dead, and over the long years have grown more attentive to their memories. So I hope I have made up for being captive to the mounds of loot I gathered on the dark streets under the camphor trees, which made the whole neighborhood smell like incense; and I hope the dead enjoyed our childish delight, dancing in the dark in our insane festive courage. I think they did – it wasn’t ever just the candy, but the way we came by it. The running through the dark, the masks and disguises and open flames, the shrieking down the darkest streets to the white sanctuary of a street lamp. It was all good, all innocent, all joy.
It would be years before we discovered what was chasing up through the October nights; years and miles and faces we had come to love watching us in the darkness. And not a friendly street lamp to be found. I miss the guaranteed comfort of sweets and glee and a warm dinner, but the mature love and memories of those I have lost is a more than adequate exchange,
When you get older, you need the memories more than the candy or even the mac and cheese. And remembered love outshines even the best street light.
As Kage always sang: Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis.