Memories for Day of the Dead

All Soul’s Day is a time I look back and appreciate the friends, family, and pets who are no longer with us.

Alan Wing was a  kind, funny, goofy, gentle soul who sadly died earlier this year. I ran into Alan in the Whole Foods parking lot on a trip back to Texas a few years back. He gave me a big hug and we chatted for a while, and went our separate ways. RIP, Alan.

Allan Wing

This year two cats named Orange Kitty left our world. One was a ferocious hunter who worked her way into my son’s heart. She followed his step-dad’s home on his birthday, and lived a long and happy 18 years. The other Orange Kitty was my Dad’s beloved companion; she was one of the sweetest cats ever.


Son’s Orange Kitty

Dad's Orange Kitty

Dad’s Orange Kitty

For photos and a brief description of Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead, go here:


Day of the Dead: Memories of My Grandmother Saunders

Today is the second day of Día de los Muertos, and my fourth post on the holiday. Today I’m remembering my paternal grandmother.

Harriet Saunders, 1906 – 1986

My grandmother as a young woman

Granny was a really smart woman, and an avid reader. She’d use Latin phrases in her letters to us, and used lots of literary references. Her collection of seashells was really neat; even neater was that she knew the scientific names for them all.

I remember going to church with her a few times when she came to visit. She’d take us to the beautiful Episcopalian church in Palm Beach. I never quite understood the whole communion thing but found it fascinating. Granny was our one exposure to church but she didn’t push us at all.

Granny was kind to us grandkids. I loved ballerinas when I was young, and one year for my birthday, she had wonderful curtains made for my room, and a matching bedspread. They were cream with a ballerina print in blue and purple. She also had a wooden trash can and light switch painted to match. I really loved that set, and felt so special. (Isn’t that the best thing about grandparents?)

Her southern drawl was pleasant to listen to. She was apparently very shy, which might explain why I have only this one photograph of her, thanks to my aunt.

She was a good baker; I loved her cheese crackers, which she’d make for us every year. They’re made with sharp cheddar, have a bit of Tabasco, and were topped off by a perfect pecan half that she’d shelled herself. This is one of my holiday traditions as well. (Not the shelling the pecans.)

On her ofrenda, I’d leave spiced tea, a chocolate bar, some seashells, and a stack of books including A Confederacy of Dunces and Archy and Mehitabel.

What traits might I have gotten from her? Intelligence, intellectual curiosity, love of reading, appreciation of Latin phrases, a shy nature, and affection for cats.

Day of the Dead: Memories of my Grandmother Kinney

Today is the first day of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and is the third in my series about the celebration. The holiday focuses on remembering one’s dead loved ones, particularly by building private altars (“ofrendas”) in homes honoring the dead. The Mexican tradition includes placing sugar skulls, marigolds, and favorite foods and drinks of one’s ancestor on an altar or at the grave.

Eleanora B. Kinney, 1914 – 1999

Grandma working at Johns Hopkins

Grandma and Grandad on their wedding day

Grandma Kinney and her sister, Lucille, 1996

I loved to visit my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. Both Grandma and Grandad were great grandparents, in that indulgent, doting way. One of my first stops in their house was the drawer in the buffet that Grandma kept stocked with candy. I remember licorice, butter mints, and chocolate bars just waiting to be eaten. We didn’t have much candy in our house so it was fun to have a drawer FULL of sweets!

My grandmother  was a typical home cook, I imagine, in the forties and fifties. We were occastionally there for Sunday dinner, which would likely be a roast beef (overcooked by today’s standards) or ham. She was certainly not a gourmet cook but there are some things she did really well. Her homemade crab cakes were amazing. She made them with fresh blue crabs we’d catch in the Chesapeake by hanging pieces of chicken off my great aunt’s dock. She also just cooked up a bunch of crabs sometimes, with potaotes and corn.

Where she excelled was baking, particularly at the holidays. She baked spritz cookies, which my mom then taught us kids to bake. It’s still one of our traditions – we’ll call or email each other with complaints about sticky dough or other spritz cookie travails. Grandma made a pie crust with cooking oil that was really good; I haven’t quite perfected it but keep trying. One of my favorite recipes is her chocolate pecan cookies, which are sort of like Mexican wedding cakes/pecan sandies/sand dollars with cocoa added. I’ll share the recipe in a post closer to the holidays.


She made me cream cheese and olive sandwiches, which I still make once in a while for nostalgia’s sake. That’s one of the great things about grandparents – they can make their grandchildren feel beloved and special without all the discipline parents have to deal with. I doubt my mother would have had the patience to chop up olives in neat little slices for our sandwiches.

When I knew her, Grandma usually dressed in solid slacks and a print blouse. She was fond of Vera prints, and was apparently a bit of a fashion plate in her younger days. She was not sentimental about stuff, so whatever pretty items she wore in youth were long gone by the time I could have worn them. She wore some nice rhinestone jewelry at some point, but then in the 1970s took lots of it apart to glue onto a piece of framed green velvet in the shape of a Christmas tree.

She was always the one to keep us in touch with other members of the family. I spent time with both her sisters, and got to see the house in Maryland they were all born in. She loved to play cards with her friends and one of my treasures is a well used deck of cards we found on the coffee table after she died.

Grandma was a worrier. She’d fret over things I never even noticed. She worried about her daughters, particularly my mom, who had no man to look after her. (Big generational difference, yes?)

On her ofrenda, I’d leave a deck of cards, some sparkly costume jewelry, her spritz cookie gun, a bottle of Shalimar, marigolds, roses, and a glass of scotch. She loved family gatherings, so I’d try to plan a little picnic around her grave. I really don’t know what HER favorite foods were because she spent a lot of time cooking favorites for others.

What traits might I have gotten from her? Her affectionate nature, her enjoyment of family, her love of rhinestone jewelry, her practical nature, her thin, curly hair, and her easy smile. I miss her.

Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a tradition in Mexico based on both the Catholic All Souls and All Saints days, and older Aztec traditions. Day of the Dead is celebrated the first two days of November, and traditionally, families go to the graves to clean them, and to honor their ancestors and celebrate life. One of my favorite parts is the creation of little altars (“ofrendas”) for one’s departed souls. These are created in homes, and include little items the ancestor might like – a shot of tequila, a plate of tamales, or their favorite sweet.

Here are some of my favorite photographs from our Day of the Dead trip. In the next week, I’ll post memories of my own ancestors and what I’d put on their altars.

For an depth description of Día de los Muertos, see Gherkins and Tomatoes’ post.

Offerings for Day of the Dead, Mexico City

Marigold petals and corn. ©2006 Sue Mecklem

Family decorating grave

Family decorating grave. ©2006 Todd Mecklem

Skull Cakes

Skull Cakes. ©2006 Todd Mecklem

Cross made of marigold petals for Day of the Dead in Mexico City

Cross made of marigold petals for Day of the Dead. ©2006 Sue Mecklem

Day of the Dead, Mexico City cemetery

Decorated grave. ©2006 Sue Mecklem

Chocolate Skulls in Toluca, Mexico, 2006 by Todd Mecklem

Chocolate Skulls in Toluca, Mexico.©2006 Todd Mecklem