Tag Archives: grandparents

Feeding the spirits pizza and love

Hoy es el Dia de los Muertos

Today is the Day of the Dead.

In Mexico, so they say, families picnic in cemeteries, honoring their buried grandmas and grandpas, their tios and tias (uncles and aunts, for you gringos) and beloved departed friends.

They honor that the circle of life never really ends.  It just goes ’round and ’round. 

Our loved ones die, yet we can consciously choose to remember them, to honor them, to call back their precious spirits and bless them.

Every year on November 1st or 2nd, during a two-day celebration down south in Mexico to honor the dead, I choose to remember the spirits of loved ones and friends who are now bone or ash, returned to earth or sprinkled upon moving waters. 

In the old days (pre-twenty first century) I often opted for the way our indigenous Anishinabe honor the spirits.  During sacred feasts or ceremonies, before anyone eats, someone creates a “Spirit Plate”.  The ancestors are lovingly fed a bit of venison, some wild rice, a bit of fry bread, some decadent slice of blueberry pie with Cool Whip.  The filler of the Spirit Plate then goes outside and ritually feeds grandma and Uncle Ben and hundreds of unnamed ancestors who once walked the earth.  You do this slowly, reverentially, with full intention that you are feeding the invisible relatives who perhaps hover in the ethers, aware of our remembrance.

We feed them with our love, our respect, our honor.  We feed them so as not to forget them.  We feed them to keep them beautiful and alive within our hearts, our families, our communities.

When our kids were growing up, we sometimes spread a blanket in the living room on the Day of the Dead.  We made a Spirit Plate.  Our feast was usually–I almost hate to say it–pizza.  We hoped Grandma and Grandpa wouldn’t mind a few bites of pizza.  At least they might smile or roll their eyes at the “craziness of this new generation”. 

We talked with the kids about their dead great-grandmas and grandpas, and perhaps a neighbor down the road.  We tried to keep alive an invisible world which pulsated with mystery and the unknown. 

Some say that the ancestors don’t really eat the pizza.  They say the ancestors enjoy only a “whiff” of our pepperoni or tomato sauce, and that’s enough.  I’m not sure.  The food was usually gone by morning, so you decide.  Ancestors or raccoons?  I’m leaving it open to possibility.

These days I sit quietly on the couch and call to mind the dearly departed.  Grandma Orton.  I wait to feel her essence, her spirit, her Grandma Orton-ness.  Sometimes you can feel it so strong that you know you’ve connected with their particular being.  At other times, you have to settle with a mental blessing.  Grandpa Orton.  Grandma Sheldon.  Grandpa Sheldon.  Grandma Elsholz, Grandpa…and then you add other names, calling them in your heart, feeling them in your heart. 

Bless you and you and you.  We loved you well.  May our love follow your spirit, wherever you next travel.

Thank you for what you gave to us.  Thank you for sharing your gifts and teachings.  Thank you for that bright shining star of spirit that you uniquely blazed for all the world to see.  Thank you. 

We won’t forget you.

Where Grandma once cooked supper

Old homestead falling back to the earth. Shall we tell a story about the Grandma and Grandpa who once lived here?


Greenery surrounds


Where Grandma cooked supper


Where children chased fireflies


Green apples still blush as they ripen


Berries still shimmer in the morning dew


Where Grandpa once built a new table for Grandma, where he fed the horse, where he taught his boy to hammer nails.


We follow the path of life where it might lead, from our grandparents into this present moment.

Where your great-great grandma & grandpa lived…

Slowly, slowly, the homestead crumbles

Years and years and even more years ago your grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-great-great grandparents may have carved a homestead on the land.

Trees grow out of your grandpa's car

They tilled the earth with plows and horses.  They planted seed to feed their families.  They sweated, they laughed, they cursed, they survived.

Yellow garage door. The only splash of color in a gray, gray day.

Today their homesteads crumble into the earth.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  The old buildings are disappearing quickly.  Every day the sun and wind and snow and earth takes a little more of wood and brick. 

Do ghosts walk these deserted corridors on moonlit nights?

I woke early this morning with a Plan.  To photograph The House!  The old, old homestead along Skanee Road.  I’ve been waiting for about a year until the right moment happened.

The right moment meant:  perfect lighting, perfect timing, perfect camera.

I notice the chiffon-colored sky on the way into work.  It would be a perfect moment!  NOW was the time to photograph the old house! 

Who peered out this window years ago? Who gazed at the moon?

I drove up to the house with great excitement.


It was gone.

How could an old house simply have disappeared after a century?

But, sure enough, the house was gone.  (Later my friend, Jan, said they tore it down last fall.)

If you wait for the perfect moment, it may never come. 

Grab your imperfect moments, dear friends!  Sometimes they are all that we have.

Who woke up early to feed the horses at dawn?

The lives of the homesteaders–your grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles–must have been filled with imperfect moments.  Moments of squabble, of fear, of challenge.  Mixed in with moments of joy, laughter and contentment.

How much has really changed?

Who knows when it will be the last time they park the car?

The old homesteads are crumbling everywhere now.  Last summer I noticed that the old barns in Michigan are slowly disappearing.  How many years until the last one tumbles into the earth?

Let’s appreciate them while they remain.  Let us remember our grandmas and grandpas.  Let us honor the ones who tilled the land where we someday would build our fine houses.

Remember when they worked the fields? Remember when they milked the cows? So quickly it's gone...

Perhaps, as the January moonlight streams into your bedroom, your great-great grandmother will silently walk into your dreams and share stories of long-ago lives. 

Don’t be afraid.

Welcome her into your midnight world.  Get up and make tea for both of you.  Listen to what she shares.  Listen to her hardships, her delights.  Take them to your heart. 

Even though the buildings crumble away, hold fast to the spirit of your ancestors.  They still love you.  Even now.

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

Grandma and Grandpa Orton, may you rest in peace.

Dear Grandma and Grandpa, 

It was good to visit with you yesterday. 

To visit with all the grandmas and grandpas lying in the earth beneath their headstones… 

Not a visit like in yesteryear, when we sat down at your houses and talked.  When we told stories about our lives and you told stories about your lives.  When we saw each other face-to-face and shared our thoughts and feelings. 

No.  It wasn’t like that at all yesterday. 

I stood at your graves and remembered you.  Remembered the beauty of you.  Honored you.  Told you the living had not forgotten you. 

Hello Grandma and Grandpa Sheldon

Grandpa Orton~~you left us first, back in 1988.  Remember how you came to visit us that November with Mom and Dad and Grandma?  Remember how you guys got the car stuck and you helped to push it up the slippery road?  You were 78 years old.  We laughed and laughed at you helping to push the car up the road.  But Barry and I looked out on the driveway as you walked one afternoon.  You were etched in black and white against a black and white landscape and we shivered.  Something in us knew we would never see you again.  And you were dead and buried within two months. 

The night you died–at the very moment of your death–I suddenly threw down the book I was reading and began to talk to you in my mind.  Your life went in fast-forward before my mind’s eye.  Like a life-review, I remembered the plastic coin purse you gave us as children; the way you and Grandma would urge us to eat all our food “until you can see the rooster at the bottom of your bowl”.  Then Dad called with the news.  Grandpa had passed away at the exact moment the book hit the bedroom floor.  Oh, Grandpa, how I loved and admired you. 

Grandma Sheldon, it’s been a few years, hasn’t it?  How are you doing now?  We miss you.  We miss your bright and cheerful laugh.  I remember how you told me, as a child, to eat more.  “You eat like a bird!” you would say.  You made meals which filled the table high:  roast turkey, baked beans, rutabaga, jello salads.  Your country farmhouse was filled with smells of serious cooking.  Remember how you taught us simple tunes on your piano?  Thank you, Grandma, for the gifts you gave us. 

Grandpa Sheldon, remember when the four of us–Barry and the kids and  I–visited your winter house in Tampa?  Remember how you made us rutabaga?  You took us for a tour of your orange and grapefruit trees and we marveled to think you could pick fruit from your front lawn.  You were such a kind grandpa.  Thank you for everything, dear grandpa.  I hope you rest in peace. 

Time and trees watch over the tombstones

Grandma Orton, how I loved you!  So many memories…remember when we visited your condominium and Christopher played his saxophone for you?  You so patiently admired all the notes, but later we realized that might have been a bit challenging with your hearing aids.  You came up to visit us so many times.  Remember how you held Kiah on your lap?  Remember all those visits to the Upper Peninsula and how you used to take us out for dinner?  Remember the time you cleaned my frig and how mortified I was about it?  Please come back and clean my refrigerator again, Grandma!  Please come back and share yourself with us… 

Thank you, dear grandparents, for the roots you provided for future generations.  You gave the gift of yourselves to all of us.  The gifts of your precious beings.  We could never appreciate you enough at the time.

We do now. 

Blessings to you, dear grandparents.  Thank you for everything.