When I want to commune with the souls of my dear departed, I have no graves to visit. Ashes were scattered off cliffs. Grandfathers were ploughed into favourite fields. Mossy headstones tilt forgotten. If I was Hungarian, or at least a member of my Darling’s family, that wouldn’t be the case.
At the age of 35, my Darling knows precisely where she will be buried. She will be with those of her family she loves and nowhere near relatives against whom she will bear a grudge throughout all eternity.
Although I don’t believe in it, I love the idea of an afterlife where one’s relatives are still part of family life on earth. So, I’m looking forward to going with my Darling to tidy up the grave of her father, polish the headstone and leave flowers and a wreath on the Day of the Dead.
(Interestingly enough, it was what Hungarians call 'the old times' that really turned the Day of the Dead into what it is today. Because Hungarians couldn't go to church they poured all their innate mysticism into the Day of the Dead. Everybody went.)
A wreath lecture
Hungarians adore wreaths. In the build-up to the Day of the Dead, every flower shop has a wall of them for sale. (My Darling doesn't take any chances. She has a wreath in her car at all times. She never knows when she might have to visit a grave.)
The flower shops are also stuffed with chrysanthemums, a favourite of mine. Chrysanthemums always remind me of powdered ladies serving tea in October drawing rooms.
A couple of mornings ago, I went out for a power(ish) walk along the banks of the River Tisza. I detoured back via the cake shop, which happens to be next door to a flower shop. Seeing buckets of beautiful chrysanthemums set out on the pavement, I thought it would be a nice idea to bring some home for my Darling.
When I presented her with the flowers, her beautiful face fell. It turns out that Hungarians only buy chrysanthemums for funerals and the Day of the Dead. They’re terribly bad luck otherwise.
All was not lost, though. We put the flowers outside on the balcony and that night left them at the foot of the statue to Attila Josef, my Darling’s favourite poet, in the main square of our city.
Conversations with the dead
Talking to the dead is taken very seriously in my Darling’s family. (When my Darling's done speaking to her father, she phones her sister in Budapest and holds the phone over dad's grave so her sister can have a word too. My Darling doesn't listen in. Of course.)
When I tell the following story, I’m not making fun of my Darling’s mother. We’ve only met each other once. She speaks no English and my Hungarian consists of words I wouldn’t dare use in front of her but we like each other.
The last time my Darling’s mother visited her husband’s grave she didn’t tell him that her mother had died. But, she did ask him if he could tell her the lottery numbers to choose. Think about that for a moment.
My Darling’s mother believes the spirit of her husband to be omniscient or she wouldn’t ask him for the winning lottery numbers. But, she didn’t want to tell him her mother had died because she knew he’d be sad. He liked her mother.
If my Darling’s father was omniscient he would know his wife’s mother had died. He may have already seen her in the afterlife. Unless, of course, they were in different parts of heaven. Does Hungary have a separate heaven?
Black people are beautiful, aren’t they?
This, apparently, was the only English my Darling’s father knew. He would say “Black people are beautiful, aren’t they?” with great solemnity. My Darling doesn’t think he ever met a black person.
Last time we went to the graveyard where my Darling’s father is buried, I said to her that I had something I’d like to discuss with her father. She said she’d have to translate for me. Otherwise, I could ask my question of profound importance for the rest of our lives together and his answer would be...You’re way ahead of me.
After my Darling had finished speaking with her father, and I’d taken a photo of her by his headstone for my electric scrapbook, I had a word with her father, asked my question and waited.
Stillness descended. A white flower on the grave stopped moving in the breeze. I pointed at the flower. "Look," I said to my Darling, "a sign".
She turned to me. Raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "Darling," she said. "Don't be silly."
From out of a clear sky, a feather fluttered down to earth. "Oh," my Darling said.
It was my turn to raise an eyebrow.
Was it a sign? Maybe we'll find out tomorrow on the Day of the Dead.