Our housekeeper very graciously invited us to come to her home for a special meal. It seems, to this outsider, that Day of the Dead is an elastic holiday without a definite date, perhaps lasting a week or two. I prefer to think of it as Ancestor Remembrance Day, which sounds much less ghoulish. While many gringos equate it with our Hallowe’en (“Hallowed Evening” ), down here it has not historically been about spooky stuff, despite what the title might conjure.
Mundy gave us directions to her place, where she lives with her husband, and where they raised a son and a daughter whom we met. She mentioned that she had also invited someone we knew from our rental last year – our good friend Patricia. Pat says she has no sense of direction, so we offered to drive. Mary navigated, and I actually followed her commands. We got there precisely on-time, without getting lost, at the appointed hour of one o-clock. Here’s what we found – Mundy bathing her dog from a bucket on the sidewalk in front of their house. (Never invite gringos to your house expecting them to arrive on Mexican time. They will be “early.”)
The main course was something called pib, depicted first above. It is a “pie” baked in a rectangular pan, of corn (maize), black beans (frijoles), lard (manteca), spices, epizote (an herb), achiote (an orange coloring), chicken broth (caldo), onions, tomatoes, shredded chicken, and cheese, wrapped in banana leaf. Traditionally this is cooked by burial in a charcoal pit. As they live on the outskirts of the city, she cooks it in her oven. Mundy showed us a bag of soaked corn from her refrigerator which her father had grown in his milpa (large garden, far afield from the homestead, burned and rotated annually in the ejido land, which is community property). He also grows beans and squash (calabaza).
¶ Being a milpero is a declining art, as so many men gravitate to the cities to seek employment. And woman are traditionally not allowed to participate. This skill is virtually a divine commission intended to sustain community. We felt very honored to partake of this meal. Last year we arrived in late October in time to observe the public ceremonies surrounding the official holiday. This year it was very special to see the homey aspect of gratitude for abundance, with modesty and moderation. Thank you, Mundy, and Wilbert. (The leftovers were delicious, too!)