Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?


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About a year ago, we visited the Detroit Institute of Arts,  and they happened to have an exhibit for Dia De Los Muertos. We were fascinated by the exhibit, the stories and the creativity. I took lots of photos. I don’t ever remember celebrating this day, and I asked my parents. They don’t recall celebrating it, either.

I am a third generation Mexican-American, so I suspect that my ancestor’s did celebrate it. In Mexico, it is a national holiday. In fact, my work colleagues down there are off today and tomorrow. Anyway, after my experience at the DIA, I thought it might be cool to restart the tradition.

Later that year, the movie Coco came out.  We fell in love with it! And yes, I cried. There aren’t that many movies I decided are worth purchasing, but this was one of them. The movie means a lot to me for many reasons: I’m Mexican, they have an all Latino cast, and the crew took something like 6 years to research the culture , the art, and the heritage. After the movie, Arianna said to me, “I think we should make an ofrenda this year”. So we did.

Let me attempt to give you a tour of our ofrenda (click on the image to display it full size):

Across the top, from left to right:

‘Buelito and ‘Tenchia, short for Abuelito and Hortensia. ‘Buelito is what my cousins all called my dad’s father. His name is Carmen, and so is my dad’s. This is why some of my tias and primos called my dad Tio Junior. ‘Buelito’s first wife was Maria, which is half the reason Arianna’s middle name is Marie(the other half will become apparent later).  Maria died in 1972, but I have a picture of her. I remember her, but just barely. ‘Buelito married ‘Tenchia (which is how we pronounced her name) some time later. They both loved to take trips to Reno, and this is why there is a die in front of their picture; this one was handed to me at his funeral. ‘Tenchia passed a short time later.

Next are Grandpa and Grandpa, my mom’s parents. Their names are Anthony (Tony) and Amelia (Amy). I was very close to them. This tiny picture is the only one I have of them dressed up together, taken at my prima’s wedding a long time ago. Grandpa lived to be 98, and played guitar and violin, hence the guitar in front of the picture. Grandma lived to be 99, and loved to play cards, hence the cards on the lower tier, where Arianna put Grandma’s picture again.

In the center is Grandpa and Grandma Antonelli, Cyndi’s great-grandparents, her mom’s grandparents. Between them is Cyndi’s late brother, Steve(more about him later). The Antonelli’s immigrated to the US from Italy, getting the job done!

Next to Grandma Antonelli are Cyndi’s dad’s parents, Ray and Margaret, from Florida. They visited Cyndi’s folks often, so I got see a lot of them while I was dating Cyndi and after we we had kids. Margaret suffered a stroke late in life, and used to repeat the words “A-bing, a bing, a-bing” a lot, which really captivates the attention of a new born baby. She was very happy holding our kids.

And on the far right is Uncle-Grandpa and Grandma Marie. Marie’s first husband Justin(not shown) passed away before I met Cyndi, and later, she married Justin’s brother, hence, the nickname. Marie is Cyndi’s maternal grandmother. Both Marie and Uncle-Grandpa were entertaining to be around. At our wedding rehearsal dinner, Uncle-Grandpa and my dad kept sending the salsa back to the restaurant kitchen to make it hotter and hotter. I especially loved Marie’s laugh. She is the other half of the reason behind Arianna’s middle name.

On the bottom tier, starting on the left:

Hold baby Adam(still alive, no worries!) is Ronnie Peterson, Cyndi’s godfather and my father in law’s best friend from when they were little kids in Florida. Ronnie’s wife, Janie or ‘Aunt Janie’ is Cyndi’s godmother. Ronnie had a beautiful, slow southern drawl, and taught Adam how to deal and play Blackjack when he was little. I’ll never forget how he pronounced “Hit me” during Blackjack, sounding like Elvis Presley. He worked for an aircraft company, hence, the notepad in front his picture.

Next to Ronnie is my uncle ‘Tudy(English pronunciation). He is one of my dad’s brothers. Tudy and I were also close because we were both gear heads. He spent his career working on cars and trucks, and helped me rebuild the front suspension on my 1963 Chevy Impala SS. This picture was taken while he was helping me replace the motor in the same car. It’s the only picture I have of him, but it’s my favorite. Those were good times, and I remember vividly starting the new motor for the first time. Among the cars he owned was a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, hence, the model in front of his picture.

Next to him is Steven, Cyndi’s brother. Steven was a character, and the family has LOTS of stories about him. He was the one who taught Cyndi how to play chess when she was very little. He was also a gear head, and around the time he died just a few years ago, was actively autocrossing a Mustang 5.0L he had built for the purpose. He liked to watch F1, hence, the race car in front of his picture. Nitpickers will note the model is CART, not F1, to which Steven would say, “Bite me”

Next to Steven is a representative of our other family: our MIT friends, whom we have remained close to for over 30 years. Christine passed away from cancer about one year ago. She was very young, having entered college the year after we graduated. A few months earlier, we lost another to cancer, the husband of another classmate. A few years before that, we lost yet another classmate to cancer. Needless to say it’s been a difficult having reunions with fewer and fewer classmates showing up when the oldest of us has just turned 50. But we’re celebrating them, and Christine is representin’. She’s resting on a gift I gave to Grandma Amy, Our Lady of Lourdes, with small ampule of holy water.

And then there is Grandma Amy again, with a deck of cards that Arianna picked out. This picture was used by Arianna at a Happening Event, where they also made an ofrenda (Arianna’s idea, too).

Missing from this particular ofrenda are those whom I could not locate pictures of in time: my dad’s other late brother, Joe who passed while I was in elementary school, and two of his sons, Petey and Joey, who passed the year before Cyndi and I got engaged.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our little offering. This weekend, our church is making an ofrenda for All Saints Day, which was ALSO Arianna’s idea.

2 thoughts on “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

  1. Very nice yall did a great job
    I wonder why some do this and others don’t
    Does ofrenda translates to offering?
    Kind of want to do this for Tammy’s mom and her brother too. I want to do it for Jim our bass player from Dorian grey who recently lost his life long battle with diabetes.
    Maybe have mom and dad or pauly share pics of Pete Joe and tio joe
    I think grandpa Tony’s legal name was Antonio right?
    Didn’t he wear the jayhawk mascot costume for Kansas university?
    I wonder if someone has mr Brady on their ofrenda or is the traditiona familia only?

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