My neighbor’s grand daughter, Cassandra,
Had her first communion.
Another in a series of events across the street.
A happy and fun event this time,
Following the two deaths
Which occured the spring.
There’s finally something happy to celebrate.
Depending on whom you talk to in the family,
Or in the neighborhood,
Petra has either 13 or 17 children,
Of which eleven are living now
Ages 22 to 48, all grown,
With families of their own.
They still follow all the traditional rituals,
Baptisms, communions, quinceaneras,
Weddings, birthdays, religious holidays etc.
Before the deaths in the family,
Some of the brothers and sisters were a little estranged,
Some not speaking to each other,
Some refusing to speak to each other
Some just living far away,
Some too busy, like we’ve all experienced.
But the death of one sister,
Followed by the murder
Of a brother in law,
Seems to have changed all that.
The children of this family of 13 or 17,
Whichever the number is,
Are now enjoying doing things together,
Talking to each other,
About growing up poor in the rancho,
No water but the creek,
Not always enough food,
No doctors or medicine
And especially, how their lives are so different now,
That they can give to their children
What they didn’t have…
A birthday party
Fancy dresses for special occasions,
A very special day that is all theirs to remember.
Now, I know this isn’t totally exact
For every child in that family
Because I’ve seen old photos of quinceaneras
Girls in big fluffy white gowns,
Brothers in black pants, boots and a cowboy tie,
Petra, dressed pretty much as she is now,
A skirt, white blouse,
Wearing a nice rebozo
Instead of her apron.
So something changed during the many years
These children grew up
That allowed them to have at least some of that.
But for now,
This is one of the things they speak of,
Giving what they didn’t have
To their children.
Was held in the chapel next to Las Monjas church,
Behind Bellas Artes, in a small quiet room
With five small kneeling altars,
Covered in satin with a white flower garland
Atop each altar and one chair in the middle for Cassandra.
She is having a private family communion.
On the side altar she is watched
By San Judas, senor de Jesus, Maria milagrosa
And the Nino Santo Jesus.
The time: 1pm
However, the day before,
The priest called the family,
Changing the time to 12 noon.
At 12:30, I begin walking town
When I meet up with one of the uncles
Who offers me a ride.
We get there ten minutes early,
Or so we thought.
They had already finished the communion service,
Standing outside posing for pictures,
Aplogetic to those of us who came late,
(we thought we were on time)
About not informing us of the time change.
As a matter of fact only three people
In the entire family,
Were informed of the change.
It went on without just about everyone
But no one seemed to mind.
Earlier in the morning I had gone by Petra’s
To check in on things.
She was in the upstairs kitchen,
Stirring the largest cazuela of mole
That I had ever seen, over a wood fire.
The traditional way.
It was not like the Oaxacan mole,
Or the Puebla mole
Or the mole I have seen in Queretaro and Guanajuato.
A rich deep terra cotta color,
Not very thick,
Full of all types of chilis,
Spices, and a few mystery ingredients.
Delicious, served over chicken and rice.
I don’t think the whole batch would have fit
In my entire freezer.
I plan to go back for a cooking lesson.
For the party,
First everyone sits around tables.
Food is served, and people are talking.
This type of formalized dining
Used to make me nervous.
Especially before I spoke Spanish well.
I must be getting used to it,
Because I jump in with the rest of them now.
Eating, sitting back, having a good time,
Not thinking about what else I might have to do,
Or what I might be missing.
It’s very relaxing.
Eventually everyone is served and has eaten.
Mind you, this takes about three hours.
They start to bring out the cake,
When another round of people come,
More food is served and the cake waits.
This happens a couple of times.
After the funerals, the novenas, the birthday parties,
I am almost able to understand
How everyone is related to each other.
The son of a brother,
The sister of the musician, whose husband,
Is the Uncle of one of the cousins,
The two daughters of one brother
Who I always thought belonged to someone else
I discover are really part of a family of four.
It’s endless, the twists and turns inside this family.
I guess that is what happens
When each family has thirteen or seventeen children.
Plus their original family, which also has that many.
There is a tiered cake that belongs in a wedding,
Everyone gathers around the celebrated girl.
There’s a specific song they sing
While she shoves her face right into the cake.
Her three year old sister follows along for fun.
Mom cuts the cake.
Everyone is enjoying all the attention and fun.
The party is really just beginning now.
Cassandra’s father has hired a mariachi band
Who doesn’t show up.
He is beside himself that they don’t come
Gets on the phone,
Goes out in the car,
Returning with out them.
Ni modo everyone says. (nothing you can do)
Shortly, however, a trio of Nortenos arrive.
A bass fiddle, an accordianist, and drummer.
They are related to Petra’s sister’s son’s wife.
Another one of those extended family connections.
But no matter about the mariachis,
From here, the momentum has been building anyway,
It’s kind of a free for all
Kids running wild.
More people arriving,
This group is sent to the kitchen for food.
Are allowed out on the front steps
With the older kids watching.
The adults begin dancing,
The tequila bottles get passed around,
The men are singing,
The music lively,
You want to dance, you just can’t help it.
It’s almost been forgotten
That this is a first holy communion party.
The mariachis show up outside
Wearing blue and white suits
Playing mananitas for cassandra.
The girls are thrilled and excited
Just the right age for all this excitement
With a capital E.
And they know all the songs.
About 20 young girls age seven to 14
Line up on the step,
Put their arms around each other
And sing (well, singing screaming) along.
The parents, who had hired the mariachis,
But were unable to find them to cancel
Are now paying for the Nortenos
And the mariachis.
There’s discussion on how they can afford it.
Without a moment’s thought,
They decide nothing can be done
And they’ll figure it out tomorrow.
If you have ever hired mariachis before,
You know this is no small budget item
In this fiesta.
Cassandra’s father tells everyone
Let them play for the kids.
This is meant as a punishment to the mariachis, I think,
But eventually, everyone ,
Including the punishers,
Are back and forth
For a favorite mariachi song,
Then inside for a dance,
And so it goes, back and forth,
Between the street and the patio.
The mariachis play for an hour and a half.
The Nortenos stay inside.
Every hour, a hat is passed
To see if they can collect enough
To pay the Nortenos for another hour of dancing.
At 2am, everyone calls it quits.
Here’s the movie –
I especially like the part in the dark
Where all the kids are lined up on the steps
Yelling and singing along to Mariachi Loco.