As the remnants of the harvest moon rise, I stir a pot of asparagus, brown mushrooms, vine-ripened tomatoes, orange peppers, leftover broth, a few random spices, and some salt. The smell of soup is a memory of love. The smell of crisp newly fallen leaves mingles with the tang of the autumn breezes. Way too soon for any hint of winter’s snow and far beyond the scorching heat of summer, the road beckons. As my father would say, it’s traveling weather.
Traveling weather during the time when the veils thin between the worlds can bring comfort. The ancestors are near, bringing wisdom as we navigate the daily spray of muck and discomfort that present-day life brings far too often. The third harvest draws forth memories and the love of those long done. I crave a shower of ancestral love and purification right now.
In its stead, I recall how a gorgeous sunny day would mean that it’s time to hit the road and savor wide open spaces. Pack a picnic lunch or just a few apples and a bottle of water. Check the car for a full or mostly full tank of gas. Go past the usual bend in the road. Turn right instead of left or left instead of right. The goal was never a destination, but the feeling of freedom, passion, confidence, and relaxation.
The third harvest calls for a preparation and the ability to delve deep into the emotional wells that house the memories of our ancestors. Remembering the dead, our loved ones, our former friends, relatives, neighbors, friends, lovers, partners, and associates takes courage. We drive the road alone in physical form, yet we are never alone so long as we remain open to our ancestors.
Mentally and physically, taking a road trip with the ancestors involves a certain level of preparation. Cooking favorite foods, playing music that stirs the soul, and holding cherished items can form the start of the journey. Layering the body in comfort, starting with soothing shower, or choosing to wear a cherished piece of clothing, adds a few more steps.
Sometimes the traveling brings back painful memories, a few tears, or regrets. Being open to laughter, wonder, and curiosity smooths the path and permits us to drive a few more miles down the road. The trips never have to be long – going to the grocery store and taking a few hours to return home can satisfy just as much as driving on back roads across an entire state. What matters is the time spent, not the length of time.
During pandemic times, simple pleasures allow a depth of comfort formerly reserved for more elaborate gestures during the pre-COVID era. The love of our ancestors is the love of family. We create and celebrate family through small tokens such as browsing through a photo album that documents the happy and important moments shared with loved ones long gone. Sharing a memory of childhood summers with a cherished grandparent can ease us one bit closer to our beloved ancestors.
One memory I have that brings my mother close during this time of the year is a perusal of her collection of thick, desk-sized calendars. She wrote every day, even if it was only to say “ND” – “no driving.” Phone calls from friends and loved ones detail the ordinary acts that too often are forgotten. Now, seeing her scribbles throughout the years detailing the small events of daily life reminds me of tasks that traditionally need to be done at this time of year: pull out the crock pot for regular use, make the shopping list for holiday fruitcake baking sessions, find the list for the annual holiday/Kwanzaa letter that sometimes gets sent (or not), change the front door decorations, and visit the cemetery to greet loved ones.
As a child, my father loved to pack me up in the car for a quick trip to my grandmother’s house, nearly fifteen miles away. But it never stopped with just one visit. The trip always included stops at the grocery store, the lottery ticket counter, the gas station, the library and sometimes a restaurant. Although he loved taking the beltway, he usually drove on back roads. We often watched the trees change from green to gold to grey. I never saw my father happier than when he was behind the wheel. His face would light up with a smile that rose from his chin to his large balding spot on the top of his head. His laugh rumbled up from his belly through his nose, as though it was the best moment of his life. He sang show tunes from Broadway plays like Cabaret and Bye Bye Birdie. Sometimes he whistled them. He wore a watch, but he almost never got us back on time.
Now as the days wind down and the veils thin, I find myself doing what my parents and grandparents have done. Each act of memory from putting up familiar decorations to passing on family recipes steeped in lore takes me a bit farther down the path of traveling with those who have passed beyond. Adding flowers, food, and drink to my altars welcomes, feeds, and celebrates all the ancestors. Unlike other parts of the year, taking the time to remember makes it easy to grieve, and easy to continue the love.
Traveling with the ancestors resembles any other relationship. These trips elicit the need for care and tenderness with ourselves as we pull forth memories, continue old traditions, and start new ones. As we weave the old into the new, we strengthen our bonds with our individual and group ancestors.
One way to start is to pause during our travels to speak, write, and share the happenings in our lives just as we would in a video chat or phone call. Remembrance can and should be more than just a few rituals or weeks around this time of the year. Ancestor veneration takes its rightful place throughout the year. It is easier for some to begin now, when connections are easier to make as the veils are thin.
Another way is to dedicate time or space to continue the work of one or several ancestors. A recent Facebook post by one of my friends reminded me of the necessity of planning for winter. Unlike previous years, the pandemic may force many to remain confined within a relatively small geographic area. Rather than resent this reality, plan for small or on-going projects that honor one’s ancestors. My winter project this year is to craft a quilt using my loved one’s clothing. Like a thousand piece puzzle that sits by a window just waiting for someone to add a piece or two, this quilt may take a few months – and that’s okay. Ancestral gifts need to take however long is necessary to craft.
As the moon sets in the morning, the soup releases its essence throughout the house. It is time to clear the garden, to change the door mats, and to welcome in the ancestors for a visit. Remembrance of our loved ones retains their essence and their impact on the world. In a year when we may have spent a great deal of time asking the Gods and our ancestors for a great deal, and rightfully so, we are able to pause and give back with our full attention, our time, and our memories. Whenever we can do so, we travel with our ancestors in faith and in love.
On this sunny day, I wish for my dad to be there, ready to take a trip up a serpentine road with scenic views of the ocean. I can hear his voice now, his mellow tones asking what music should we play, as he slides in a CD of Lee Ritenour or Wes Montgomery. Lee Ritenour’s “Ocean Ave” mirrors his question: “Where shall we go today?”
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