Thanking the Living and the Dead this month.
A Point of View © 1996
By Paul V. Montesino, PhD, MBA, ICCP.
November is for me, as it could be for some of you, a month full of important dates, both at the personal and general level. My father died in November of 1995; three of my grandchildren were born in late November of various years and it was in November many years ago that my wife and I tied the marriage knot.
As for the general level category, “The Day of the Dead” in Mexico and “Thanksgiving” in this country are sufficient evidence that would prove my point of view and end my article here, but, of course, you know I don’t let my readers off so easily.
In the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries, there was a woman called Julia Rizo who lived an inconsequential life in a similarly unimportant Cuban town near Havana named Alquizar. She had five young children and one day she lost her husband, some reporting that he had suffered a heart attack, others that he had simply abandoned her.
Julia, not an educated person, decided to work for a living in a cigar manufacturing company as a destemmer to support her family. Destemmers remove by hand the natural stem of the tobacco leaves in order to make them more easily and enjoyable as cigars. There was not or is any simpler and more humble job in the Cuban tobacco industry than the one of a destemmer.
Julia remarried eventually, had two more children, and worked for six years in the same cigar factory until she died at her workstation from a fatal heart attack caused by exertion.
Julia’s seven children grew up and became useful but humble adults who also married and had children of their own, and as they did, Julia’s surname receded slowly but surely in her descendants’ identities as most surnames do. Her DNA spread and survived, but not her last name.
In Alquizar’s cemetery, unless the deceased or their families had purchased a burial plot, the bodies of the poor are exhumed two years after their passing and placed in a large and deep open grave where their bones and the ones of hundreds or perhaps thousands of unidentifiable others rest for infinity. Julia joined that anonymous group. You could identify and dig the Rizo last name from some of her descendants’ legal names, but it was impossible to dig her remains from her common grave.
This November, whether on the “Day of the Dead”, or “Thanksgiving Day”, I am remembering Julia Rizo’s name because she was a grandmother I never met. I know I still carry some of her DNA and her last name far down the list, and I am sure she wouldn’t have any problem with my life.
The day I climbed the podium in my first class as a university faculty member and later published fifteen books at Amazon, I was already giving her my thanks for her humble life before me. My hands felt warm. I get the feeling that it was caused by the inherited effect of tobacco stems. It had to be. I couldn’t have done it without it.
And that is my thank you note this month of remembrance.