As most of my readers probably expect, holidays are celebrated differently in other countries. In Chile, October 31st is more about religion than it is about spooky stuff. Interestingly, folks are given a two-day holiday for Oct.31st and Nov.1st where big businesses close up shop and people gather with family. While kids and their families do trick or treat in the evening in the city, in the small towns across Chile, people observe the day with more solemnity.
Our morning was spent lazily enough. Both families slept in – Tia Luz, Tio Cristian, and Julian – and Mark, Oli, and myself. We get rolling around midday when we received an invitation to visit Tia Carmen and her family out in the countryside. Tia Carmen, you see, is one of Mark’s mom’s best long-time friends. Carmen and Maria raised their kids alongside each other and Mark has many fond memories of visiting his Tia Carmen and Tio Guillermo out in “el campo.” In fact, when Mark and I were first dating, he would regal me with stories of his youth in Chile and Tia Carmen’s farm figured predominantly.
Getting outside the busy metropolis of Santiago is refreshing. Although the drive was just over an hour, the mountainous scenery- with lush orchards and vineyards – was invigorating. Tia Carmen’s farm is located just outside Rancagua, which is south of Santiago. The sky was a bright blue and the sun blazed down but as we left the wide highway for the smaller roads, the air became cooler.
Tia’s house is old, although how old exactly I’m not sure. It is built in the traditional style of Chilean country houses, being a single story with thick stone walls and tile floors. Outside, the back patio is the center of the home with a mud oven, benches, and grill. A yard stretches back a distance where it meets up with a communal football field (we’re talking soccer here, folks). The yard used to be home to chickens and cows but now is home to a sweet German Sheppard and her two pups and a farmhand who lives in a shed.
As soon as we arrive, we are showered with kisses and hugs. Carmen is delighted to see us as are her daughter, Lilian, Lilian’s husband, Renato, and Renato’s brother. Chileans are a very affectionate people which is one of the reasons I like them so much. This was my third time visiting Tia Carmen’s farm, and each time she has made me feel right at home. Mark and I both agree, a visit to her farm is restorative for the soul.
Not a moment to spare after the warm greeting, we were firing up the grill for some grub. This is another reason I like visiting here so much – the food is pretty much non-stop. While waiting for the grill to reach the right temperature, Tia Carmen passed around mugs full of a warm eggy broth. This was perfect as the sky was starting to cloud over at this point and it was becoming chilly. Before I knew it, between squishing on the puppies and playing with the kids, we are sharing pork ribs with a roasted salt flour. Baked potatoes appear from somewhere as does a spicy pebre (think of it as Chilean salsa) And then, of course, the prerequisite drinks as passed around – Pisco Sour, beer, and a new one for me called Borgonia, made with smashed up berries and red wine.
There is much to catch up on since it has been roughly three years since the last time we visited. We talk and eat for a couple of hours and just when I think we are about to return to the city, I discover that we are off to the graveyard. So, we bank the coals in the outside oven and the ten of us pile into two cars. We head toward the small pueblo and park a few blocks from the township cemetery.
The place is buzzing with activity. The street in front of the cemetery has been closed to cars and vendors have set up shop selling flowers and snacks. The entrance to the cemetery is swarming with people from nearby towns. And everyone seems to know everyone else.
On October 31st, it appears, families gather to remember and honor the dead, much like the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations. Widowers are bent over scrubbing the tombs of their loved ones, and children are removing dead flowers, to be replaced with fresh cuttings. A funeral is also occurring along a back wall, the death of someone young and beloved, and an entire town is gathered to sing and mourn their loss.
We visit the grave of Tio Guillermo who passed away two years ago after a long illness. Mark remembers him fondly, almost as a father figure. We all help to clean up the grave and place fresh flowers. This act is very humbling and heart-warming. Alongside the music of the funeral, I feel tears coming to my eyes – for Tio Guillermo, the people he left behind, and those morning the newly deceased several graves away. Olivia asks lots of questions and gravely points out all the graves that have seemingly “been forgotten.” We return to Tia Carmen’s some time later, not in mourning, but in gratitude for what we have.
Of course, as soon as we get back, we prepare for more eating. It is late in the day now and the sun is quickly setting. The clouds loom darker and heavier than before and a wind is picking up. Tia Carmen grabs a large bowl and heads outside to the patio to begin making pan amasado – or bread made by hand. She mixes the ingredients in the big bowl and kneads them together. When the dough is formed enough, she dumps the contents of the bowl onto a large flat table and begins to knead vigorously. She partitions the dough into small clumps and flattens them. Each flat round is poked with a fork five times before being placed into the mud oven. The kids get to help which they love.
Soup is reheated for the kids who slurp it down happily. At this point, it is decided that we will stay the night. There are enough beds in this rambling farmhouse and everyone will be cozy with piles of blankets during the chill night. We are given a guest room built outside the house proper; the door opens onto the patio with the mud oven and Oli and I listen to the murmur of the adults as I prep her for bed. Luckily, I brought a change of clothes for her so I roll her out of her soiled play clothes and slip her into a clean shirt for bed. I rub her back and hum to her while she drifts off, exhausted after a day of fresh air and cuddly puppies and lots of food.
The adults retire to the dining room inside the house and cup our hands around warm tea and steaming hot bread. Bread and butter and black tea. Conversation goes late into the night and I retire early. I quickly fall asleep but am awakened twice before I can fully sink into dreamland. The first time, Mark brought me a pair of fleece pajamas lent by Tia Carmen. The second, by Tia Carmen herself, as she brings me a chamber pot and a roll of toilet paper. (There is only one bathroom in the house proper, and as I’ve said before, we are located out of the house.)
The fleece pajamas are the warmest coziest things I’ve ever worn and tucked under a mountain of blankets, I am in Heaven. My daughter snoozes beside me and her breathing is soft and quiet. At one point in the night, I rise to use the bathroom and discover that is it raining heavily. Curtains of rain pound down from a sky blacker than any I’ve seen in recent memory. After taking care of business, I stand for awhile under the patio roof and watch the rain and listen to it trampling the grass and weighing down the branches of the trees.
In the morning, the sun greets us and sets to work quickly drying and warming the air. The mountains in the distance show a layer of snow that wasn’t there the night before. I sit with Mark on the front porch nursing a piping hot cup of tea and smile to him. We both agree that this was one of the best Halloweens yet.