Ancestral Remembrance

A bulletin board covered with paper monarch butterflies is one of the first things you’ll see upon entering the building.  It’s a group collaboration in honor of Día de los Muertos.  According to one source, “Monarch butterflies are souls of ancestors who return to Earth for their annual visit.”  On Wednesday and Thursday, celebrations were held, some with parents and food, others quietly just for members of the class.  One group made remembrance candles from decorated recycled jars. Many classes set up altars with photos of ancestors or deceased pets, decorated with traditional marigolds.  

As part of my writing work with the 2nd-4th graders, we made ofrendas (small altars) for ancestors.  The 3rd and 4th graders additionally wrote a poem about their ancestor.  Some had pictures and quite a bit of information, while others were unsure of the relationship with their person and had limited facts.  Students were invited to imagine what their ancestor may have been like, including how they may have looked.  Here is Leo’s poem about one of his ancestors in Michigan: 

He was a farmer in Michigan
He rode a white horse across the state
He hunted a lot, probably deer

I wonder what he was like
if he was ever mean
or nice

How did he ride a horse
around the state?
What was his favorite food?
I wonder what part of Michigan
he lived in

I wonder what he’d think
if he met me

I happened to drop in on the 1st grade’s ancestor sharing.  The room was darkened, except for a gentle light coming through the window shades.  Gabbi was sitting on the floor beside a low table covered with a table cloth, a vase of marigolds, some candles, and a small bowl where each child placed a paper heart with their loved one’s name on it.  She quietly called each student up to the table where they read notes about their person/pet, ending with what they’d say to them if they had a chance.  One sweet girl picked her cat, and indicated that if she could say something it would be, “Meow.”  The pace of this sharing was relaxed, and as each child came forward to tell of a grandparent, uncle, or beloved pet who had passed away, the rest of the group was respectful and attentive.   By the end, the table was full of photographs and drawings for each child’s chosen loved one.  

This year’s Día de lost Muertos celebration was especially meaningful for me, having lost my mom in the past two months.  It was healing to hear so many ancestor stories from children and staff throughout the school.  Today, as we celebrate Veteran’s Day, it’s a time to also pause and recognize a special group of people who have come before us with courage and bravery to preserve the freedom of our current lives.  I personally want to acknowledge my 98-year-old dad, Jim Kenner, who served in the Navy in the late 1940s-1953.  May we all be inspired by the recently shared ancestor stories to continue speaking up and acting with courage for the causes in which we believe.  

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