This evening, a writer friend posted in her newsletter an invitation for readers to write 100 words about “home,” whatever that word conjures. What came to my mind was the project I’ve started in my classroom: a Dia de los Muertos altar. I’d never tried doing a full one. With the incentive of pleasing and benefiting my students, I found two nice cloths at home and covered a chest-high rolling wooden cabinet in my classroom. I made a layer at the back with a box to bring part of it higher up. I added candles and a few statues. I hung a sort of Celtic cross, stone-colored, in deep relief, above. A tissue paper flower arch over would be good. Maybe I can look up how to make one. One of my students has a photo of her gramma and uncle on it. I brought pics of my grandmothers and parents.
After a meeting that got kind of emotional – the family is going through a lot – my principal wandered over to the altar and asked about the photos. She picked up the one of my mother as a young woman, holding birds, near arches, and said, “You look just like her. You have her smile!”
When I read Laura’s invitation to write what the word home conjures, I thought how interesting it’s been the past few years as home has sometimes crossed into work. Ever since Covid, and distance teaching–seeing into students’ homes, them seeing into mine–I’ve had many dreams where my work and home are all one place. Today I felt a different blending, with students’ photos of those they’ve lost, and mine mingled, with teachers and other adults at school seeing into my life in a new way. I think it’s important to feel “at home” at school, yet be able to leave it.
It can be life-altering for students to be allowed in, invited to share their human lives and see into ours. We’ll add over the coming days: marigolds, little pumpkins. My altar is small and won’t be like the photos in this blog post, but if you sign up for my newsletter, I’ll put a pic of the final alter in the one that goes out Nov. 1.