Each time I visit my great-grandfather’s grave, I think of the lesson taught in the animated movie Coco. The lesson of remembering and the tradition of respect to family.
I see his grave like it’s out on a forgotten island. It’s one of those simple graves with his name, Elias Villarreal, stenciled into a block of cement that frames the borders of the plot. There is no picture or fancy designs. No religious symbols or verses. It simply reads Elias Villarreal 1886–1939.
Most of the other plots in this older section of the cemetery are the same. Surrounding by dirt, some of those buried are already lost to time. Their plots are cracked. Names hard to read. Unvisited for generations.
All my other family members, grandparents, aunts and uncles, are buried next to each other in a newer section of the cemetery, surrounded by grass, trees, and benches. The landscaping and flowers honor those that lie there. There is love for the dead who are still in the minds of those that visit.
So, I can’t help but feel a little sadness when I see the plot for Elias Villarreal. He died when his son, my grandfather was only 24 years old. Until recently, through some digging on ancestry.com, almost no one had seen a picture of him. His descendants only imagined what he looked like and what kind of life he led.
In the movie Coco, when someone dies, his soul is sent to the Land of the Dead. It exists there for as long as at least one person continues to remember. Once a soul is forgotten, it leaves the Land of the Dead. No one exactly knows where the soul is going. It is gone forever.
I never had the chance to meet my great-grandfather. He worked for the copper mine in various roles. He was the first in our family, on my father’s side, to immigrate to America. He had a wife, and 12 kids. Some died at birth or at a young age.
His father was named Maximo and he traveled throughout Mexico and the Southwest establishing Methodist churches. That’s how Elias ended up in Douglas, Arizona, and that’s how I ended up growing up in the same border town.
I’ve written about Elias before, partly to share family stories and the inspiration that he gives me as one of his descendants. I write about him again…