Attending Montevallo’s Day of the Dead

Published 9:02 am Monday, November 13, 2023

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By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

I absolutely pounded a chicken quesadilla as I sat on a plastic chair and watched Montevallo’s first-ever Day of the Dead unfurl around me.

The next day one of my co-workers, Viridiana Romero, would make fun of me for not being more adventurous at the event. “You had a chicken quesadilla?” she said. “You should have tried lamb or brain or something more festive.”

Honestly, I don’t think she’s wrong. I wish I had been more creative in my eating choices, and that I’d taken better advantage of going to this event.

Montevallo has never held a Day of the Dead, a “Dio De Los Muertos” before, and honestly I’d never really been to one before either.

Like most Americans, most of my exposure to the holiday came from a simple display erected in my high school’s library by the Spanish club for the month of November, all crate paper and xeroxed photographs held in Walmart frames. 

It didn’t feel terribly authentic.

I honestly felt like I learned more about the holiday when I was in college and saw Pixar’s “Coco” for the first time in my fraternity house, and even that didn’t really prepare me for the real thing.

Despite this, I rolled into Montevallo with confidence that I had the broad beats of the holiday pretty well figured out. Basically, you show up, you eat some food and you take time to remember the people who you’ve loved and are now deceased. It’s colorful, it’s festive and it’s a celebration of life and death.

It’s one thing to hear about something like that and to see it represented in the media. But it’s something else entirely to actually be there in person.

When I actually pulled up in my car to the Day of the Dead, I immediately saw people walking around with skulls painted on their faces. I was greeted with music and the smell of tamales, tacos and quesadillas. Like I said I would eventually wind up eating one of those. 

Off to the side, people moved through a series of altars where old family pictures were displayed with candles, and I couldn’t help but stop there and watch as men, women and children took a moment to remember their parents, grandparents and siblings.

It made me think of the people I’ve lost. My dad, my grandparents, and my friend Blaise from college.

I don’t think of them that often. It’s often too painful. Too many good memories mixed with the bad. So easy just to push it all aside and do whatever it is that needs to get done that day.

These people though, the ones who went out and celebrated the day of the dead, were remembering all of those things, all of those memories of the people they’ve loved and lost. And they did it all with such a zest for life, and such a degree of exuberance. 

It made me jealous, and it made me want to emulate them. 

But I didn’t, I just sat there, eating my chicken quesadilla and took notes for an article I’d be writing about the event the next day.

Perhaps next year, I’ll work up the courage, the nerve to remember and to remember the good times.