Gloria Johnson’s Arroyo Grande home is decorated from floor to ceiling with Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) crafts, including all kinds of colorfully painted skulls. She has been preparing for the eve of Todos Santos (All Saints) to celebrate Día de los Muertos today.
On a recent afternoon, Gloria and two other women, Lonna Crane and Sue Christie, were preparing for the event by painting bright colors and designs on little skulls. The skulls are to contain a candle, which is given to each participant in the event.
Gloria, of Mexican ancestry, says Día de los Muertos is “a wonderful tradition to remember and honor loved ones who’ve passed on before us.”
She is remembering her father, aunt and two good friends who died in the past year.
One friend, a physician with Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, died with three others in a plane crash last October in Mexico. She was part of the Good Samaritan group offering medical aid to people in need.
The other friend was Gloria’s boss and mentor, “a wonderful, caring person,” who worked for CHC. She crusaded for the American Cancer Society and greatly helped the Latino community. She died of cancer.
Her father died more than 10 years ago. She believes it is important to keep their memories alive. Gloria can still easily cry over her father.
Sue is also remembering her father, who wrote a memoir toward the end of his life, which she helped edit. She says it brought her much closer to him and treasures that time she had with him.
One of the main symbols of Día de los Muertos is La Calavera Catrina (the elegant female skull). She was created by José Guadalupe Posadas in 1913. Gloria has made an adult-size Catrina in full regalia wearing a giant black bonnet.
The altar for Día de los Muertos traditionally holds pan de muerto (a bread), marigolds everywhere, foods the loved ones liked (even cigarettes or beer), photos and mementos of the loved one, and maybe a poem or song. Candles are lit.
Each person present is encouraged to share thoughts and feelings about their loved ones, which often bring tears. The spirits are asked to come. Gloria will sing “Adios Muchachos,” her dad’s favorite song.
In Mexico, families go to the graveyard on the eve of Día de los Muertos, wearing bright colors, bringing flowers and lots of food, playing music and cooking there. The graveyards are filled with people.
Other Día de los Muertos items at Gloria’s include a ceramic tree of life with a female skeleton in the center, wearing a colorful blouse and skirt; a clay sculpture of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, (who was also the wife of artist Diego Rivera) on the wall, with five skeletons coming out of her head; and two “viejitos” (little old people about 12 inches tall made out of magazines) and clothed skeletons holding crosses with flowers.
The entrance gate invites guests to enter under an arch of flowers and painted skulls. Inside they will find the entire house decorated in Mexican crafts, including plates, sombreros, fabrics and masks.
Gayle Cuddy writes the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach her at 489-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.