Kristen and I were woken up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning to make the three hour trip. I'm more accustomed to long car rides than I would like to be. My entire extended family lives (or at least used to live) in and around Chicago, so growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, it was a three hour car ride every Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Graduation, Baptism, First Communion, occasional long weekend and birthday. Also, I went to college three hours away from home, so I`m used to making such trips. However, one thing about traveling in the good old United States of America is that the roads are PAVED. And for the most part, even with Wisconsin´s never ending construction season, relatively smooth. Here, the paved roads are few and far between. Even gravel roads are scarce. For the majority of the route to Pancho's mothers, we drive on dirt, around giant pot holes, and even through the occasional stream, brook, or low river. Thus, this particular journey requires a sports bra and Dramamine. But it is what it is. We arrived at the house with only a minor case of whiplash and began meeting the endless stream of Pancho's siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. Kristen and I ate some sancocho (a very common food here. Basically a stew type thing.) before helping set up for the mass which was to be held on the porch.
A large table was set up to be used as an alter, with lawn chairs surrounding it. The mass began with about fifty people in attendance. In the center of the alter was a large wooden box, about 18 in by 1in. with a cross carved on top. After beginning the mass with a prayer and a short explanation of the significance of the day, Padre Pancho walks to the alter, leans over and carefully removes the lid of the box.
Immediately, all of those around the alter begin to edge forward, leaning over in an attempt to get a glimpse of the contents of the box. A few of members of Pancho's family step forward, peer into the box and place their hands on the contents. Meanwhile, everyone else present, (save for me, Kristen, and Raphael) crowd in, waiting fortheir turn to see.
Witnessing this entire process take place, I began to formulate several guesses as to what the box contained. But, truth be told, I wasn´t all that sure I wanted to know, much less see for myself. However, my curiosity heightened when cameras began appearing. Within minutes of unveiling the box, cameras were flashing in every direction. So I thought to myself, I can't possibly be right about the contents of the box...could I?
After a few minutes, I turned to Kristen and whispered, "Um, are they looking at...um". Staring straight ahead she answered, "I don't want to know"..
The mass continued, with the occasional guest making his or her way forward for a looksies or the random flashing of a camera. Then, in his concluding remarks, Padre Pancho invited everyone to come forward once more to pay their respects. I glanced at Kristen, who just shook her head. But I had to confirm my suspicions. I inched forward, bracing myself for what I may see. Taking a deep breath, I leaned over and peered inside. The box contained, just as I had suspected. There I was, looking at the actual the bones of Padre Pancho's father. This was definitely one of those moments in life when you are forced to stop yourself and try to absorb the situation. The mass concluded and people began to to disperse. Needing a few answers for my questions, I approached Raphael and inquired, "So, what's with the bones...?" He laughed, shook his head and said, "You know, I was wondering the same thing myself."
But as it turns out, there was an legitimate explanation. At least, as legitimate a reason that possible for a box of bones. Padre Pancho's father passed away 16 years ago. Like many Latin American countries, the dead are buried above ground in a crypt.. There is a cultural mindset that the dead should not be buried underground. (I can't be sure on the reason behind this mindset). So, when Padre's Pancho's father passed away, the family could not afford to put him in a crypt. Thus, it was necessary to bury him underground until enough money was saved up. This day happened to be the 16th anniversary of the father's death, hence the unveiling of the bones at the memorial mass. Like I keep saying, you can't make this stuff up.