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Honoring the Ancestors: The Dead do not Diet

My grandmother Gloria passed away in 1987. She was a Catholic, but also a devout believer of Spiritism and in the power of prayers. From this strong woman of impeccable character I learned many things, including how to make a mean Sancocho (stew with meats and root vegetables also known in the Caribbean as Ajiaco). This peasant dish fed our family many times, not because we lacked means, but because it was powerful.

 The act of cooking for my grandmother was one of communion with her roots, with her spirits and with her family. Many in the family chose to ridicule her for being a devout believer in Spiritism while at the same time staying true to her Catholic roots. She saw no compromise in striding that religious fence to her spirit was spirit. I remember how she would sing the Hail Mary whenever she lost something. I would giggle at her singing, not because she could not carry a tune, but because it was strange to think that a Catholic prayer could act as a charm. For a charm it was, she would sing that song and things that were lost appeared. Now, I catch myself doing the same unconsciously when I misplace something, and I think of her, my heart feels her, my spirit is caressed by her memories and what was lost, shows up.

With abuela Gloria I learned that every act, however simple could carry spiritual meaning. For her it was almost an apostolate to share the table with family, friends an anyone who in general was hungry for a steaming bowl of stew or simply for company and a few kind words to forget for a while the weight of every day affairs.

My first lessons in the kitchen came from her. I was a keen observer of her techniques. She valued waking up early in the morning, before the sun came up. I would sit at her little kitchen table and watch her peel mounds of root vegetables, onions, garlic, sweet squash, peppers and many other ingredients. Between her peeling veggies and sipping on hot coffee, she would tell me stories of her ancestors, about the sugar plantation her father Juan used to have when she was little, about her Sunday rides in father’s Ford–one of he first ones to arrive to the east coast of the Island. But most of all she liked to thank the heavens above for having survived the ferocity of the Hurricanes that shaped and reshaped the face of Puerto Rico such as San Felipe, San Ciprían and Santa Clara her favorite trio of deadly storms. By the time she was done with her stories, the kitchen was clean, the pot boiling and the aroma of seasoned pork, beef and veggies would invite the family to wake up to a new day.

Her door was always open to listen, her table always had a place set and there was always bread to break and soup to share. The words diet or fattening were not part of our vocabulary of then. We all knew her Sancocho was healthy, made with love and most of all it could make you break in a sweat and even wake up the dead.

I know she can feel me now, even the very act of typing at outrageous speeds I learned from her (she was the fastest typist I had seen). Abuela Gloria, your words have not been forgotten, your recipe still feeds my family, your devotion to Spiritism survives in our practices. You have a place of honor in our Eggún Shrine and in my Bóveda for you are intertwined with the strong roots that support our tree, my feet rest upon your shoulders, my heart rests upon your spirit hands.

The dead do not diet.

Omí T’oñí Oní Yemayá Achagbá

These are the responses to the article when it was published in 2010.

8 Responses to “Honoring Ancestors: The Dead do not Diet”

  1. wande says:August 22, 2010 at 6:18 amvery sweets,her little meditation ia another way to communicate …..right the dead do not diet

  2. Omimelli says:August 22, 2010 at 11:59 amThank you Wande.

  3. Lisi says:August 29, 2010 at 9:16 pmOh what a beautiful story… reminds me of my grandma and similar ways. When I would visit her it was spanish coffe and spanish crackers with white cheese and lucky if guava paste was added to the spread. My grandma would pray and say the Rosary at her alter. I was never allowed to leave until the fill set was prayed along with other prayers. If any family member would pass it was a full week of prayer along with family members visiting and paying respects to the deceased. At the end everyone would have coffee and the usual beverages of Malta for the children. It is a scene so seldom seen now-a-days and I truly miss them and I miss my Grandma so much and I do pray that she is always with me and it is always nice to add the little black coffee for the dead do not diet! Thank you so much for this posting it reads with warmth and hearth.

  4. Omimelli says:August 29, 2010 at 10:24 pmHello Lisi, Thank you so very much for visiting and for sharing part of your story as well. Your narration brings back similar images. I remember Novenas as well and having hot chocolate and cheese after the prayers. Usually there would be Tubber Roses (Azucenas) on a vase as my grandmother insisted that the dead loved their scent. Take care, Omimelli

  5. Raja says:January 24, 2011 at 6:08 amOh! This is really so touching. I could not stop reading until i read it all and i am sure i am coming back on this site to read it several times as there is so much to learn from here. Congratulations to you for putting it in so beautiful way as i can really picturise it as though i saw all that you wrote take place in fron of my eyes. BEAUTIFUL. Reply

    • Omimelli says:January 24, 2011 at 1:54 pmRaja Namaste. It is a pleasure to have you visit. I would love it if you were to consider writing some day about the spiritual experiences you have had as a Sikh. I think it would be of great interest. I would be glad to translated into Spanish and post it. Alafia (peace) Omimelli Reply

  6. Willie Ramos says:January 24, 2011 at 10:57 pmGreat story. Your emotion comes through very clearly. Got any of that sancocho around? LOL Willie Ramos

    • Omimelli says:January 25, 2011 at 11:21 amAlafia Babá, You are first in line for a big bowl when you come back to P.R. Thanks for visiting, Omimelli

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