My family chose the traditional May Memorial Day to visit the cemetery, but November 1 and 2, the Day of the Dead, are recognized by many Californians with memorials to those who have passed through this life.
My father died on the third day of November, “a day late, and a dollar short,” an idiom he often used with his personal twist on humor. On this eve of Diá del Muerto, I chose “Faded Blues,” a revised excerpt from Double Take, to share my memories from more than half-century ago with a twist my father would have appreciated.
Mama was well respected for her excellent ironing skills. She did laundry for the most difficult to please customers in our neighborhood. Our home was not air conditioned but Mama made do. She set up the ironing board in the dining room where a breeze whispered through the screen door now and then. After she finished ironing for her customers, she sprinkled and ironed our starched church clothes—a dress for herself, dresses for the twins, and a white shirt for Papa.
Papa had a favorite faded blue shirt long before it was trendy. The old shirt sported the drop shoulder look. Cuffs of sleeves much too long were kept in place at the wrists by masculine black garters below his elbows. The soft shirt bloused over his belt, and dark pants made his slight frame appear taller than his 5 feet, 7-inch height. Mama disliked, perhaps hated, that blue shirt because it did not reflect her reputation of starched and ironed clothing. No matter how much she ironed that shirt, it was too supple to hold its shape.
Papa sometimes wore a white shirt to our local church on Sunday mornings if Mama insisted. Other times, he donned his favorite shirt no matter what church we visited or how ministers were expected to dress. Each time Papa wore that faded blue shirt, Mama frowned and mentioned the white dress shirt. He pretended not to hear. Mama never argued with Papa’s decisions about other things, but that soft blue shirt became her enemy. She pouted quietly each time he wore it.
One November afternoon, Mama chose the stiff, freshly ironed white shirt hanging next to the limp, faded blue. One of her grandson’s standing near the closet said, “Oh, Grandma, let Grandpa wear his favorite blue shirt.”
Mama refused. She insisted that Papa must wear his dress shirt for this special event. She removed his aging black suit and the crisp white shirt from the closet. She placed a rolled blue tie, folded black dress socks, and undergarments in a small paper bag.
Tears cascaded from Mama’s dark brown eyes. She turned to her oldest son. “Be careful not to wrinkle the shirt on the way to the undertaker.”