Unexpected Ofrenda

Last year I made what I ended up calling our “First and last ofrenda.” … Eager to start a new tradition on a holiday as beautiful as Día de los Muertos, I made an altar for Carlos’s father without realizing that Carlos grew up in a country, (El Salvador), that, for the most part, doesn’t take part in the type of Day of the Dead festivities you usually think of when you think about November 2nd.

In El Salvador, Carlos explained, Day of the Dead, or “Día de los Difuntos” as I hear his family call it, is a somber day to go to the cemetery, clean the graves of loved ones, decorate the graves with flowers, have names repainted on the tombstone, and maybe stick around for a quiet picnic. Unlike Mexico, or neighboring Guatemala, El Salvador doesn’t really celebrate Day of the Dead with fun parties.

Being that Carlos wasn’t comfortable having an altar for his father, I thought this was one tradition that just wasn’t meant to be for our family, but my boys had other ideas.

“Aren’t you going to make an ofrenda this year? I liked that tradition,” my older son asked.

“I liked it too but it made Daddy unhappy to have an altar for his father so we shouldn’t make one this year.”

“But we can make a different one. I’d like to have one for Ginger,” he said, referring to the family dog we put down over the summer.

“Can you have an ofrenda for a dog?” he asked, “Cause they have spirits, too.”

I agreed, and so that is why I made an ofrenda for Ginger this evening, instead of working on various other things I was supposed to be doing.

Ginger liked to chase rabbits that would slip under the fence right before she caught them – though I would bet money that had she ever caught one, she wouldn’t have known what to do with it – I think she just wanted to play. She was a tall German Shepherd mix who played gentle with all creatures smaller than herself – from other dogs, to cats, and even babies.

We adopted her from the Humane Society and it seemed like she always remembered that and thanked us for it. She didn’t know any fancy tricks – just the basics – but she was bilingual – responding to commands in both English and Spanish. We jokingly called her “Jengibre” since “Ginger” is the name she came with and I wanted to give her a Spanish name. Suegra found it disturbing that the dog’s name tag said “Ginger López” – she had never met a dog with a last name before.

Ginger loved to be wherever I was. Even if she was comfortable laying on the other side of the room, all I had to do was make eye contact and she’d get up to come closer to me. She refused to catch a frisbee or play fetch but she loved to play chase, especially if you had a pocketful of breakfast cereal. Her only sin was climbing up on the sofa when no one was home, but she had enough respect to climb down when she heard the keys in the door.

We miss Ginger. She was described by family and neighbors as “a sweetheart.” We hope she’s chasing rabbits in a better place.