día de los muertos

sugarskullThe death rituals of human societies are fascinating, and they’re all geared towards one thing: helping us remember those that came before us and touched our lives.

Día de los Muertos is the Mexican remembrance and it happens around the same time as Halloween. There are parades, people get dressed up, kind of like a Mexican version of Halloween, I guess, but a little (a lot?) more up front about death than the American tradition of wandering from house to house and promising mischief if you’re not bought off with a little something yummy.

I’d like to take this opportunity, then, to remember some of my friends and family that have passed ahead of me.

Rob Finch, my friend of many years, who smoked too much pot on occasion but was always there no matter what. My trusted guitar tech on many long (and loud) nights, he could always be counted on to lift spirits and drive fast.

Beth Jenkins, my cousin, and an English teacher to boot. Taken by ALS, she never gave up on anything – certainly not life.

Brian Williamson, a dear friend from my days at SHAPE, was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work one night in the summer of 1991. We had seen each other the previous summer and had plans to get together again, but it never happened.

Tom Henry, who left us at just 44 years old after too many years of drinking and drug use. I knew him in his easier (mostly clean) days, and our 10 years together in bands are ones that I will never forget. Those of us who knew him will understand this quote:  “Do I have something on my face?”

Paul Mihalka, the most with-it motorcyclist I ever knew, taken by cancer after a long life filled with adventure.

My father, Tom Fleming, and his parents, Harley Joe & Patricia. My father was very much the kind of father HJ had been – distant, detached and hard just because he didn’t know what else to do. Grandma Pat was a peach, though, and just always a wonderful person to be around.

Mary Jenkins, my maternal grandmother, who insulted pretty much anybody every chance she got, including my wife-to-be on our wedding day. She was a hard woman to be around – racist and vicious – but I’ve always said you can learn life lessons from anybody.

Michael Hedges, who used to call me at 2 or 3 in the morning to talk about geography and history; he never really got a grip on the whole time difference thing between the east & west coast. For both of us being guitarists (he immensely more talented than I), it’s amazing that we never talked about music. Simultaneously the weirdest and most down-to-earth cat I knew, to have such an amazing musician taken from us in a car crash seems patently unfair.  I’ll never forget sitting backstage with him at the Birchmere – we got to talking about … something … and he forgot it was just intermission.

Jean Smith, whom I always had a crush on, and her son Jim, who was simply one of the most present people I ever had the pleasure to know. Taken from us together by a coward, their deaths remind me both of the joy of life and the unfairness of it all.

It saddens me that this list gets longer with time, but I can’t help but thing of the things my friends and family have taught me over the years.

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