In this particular case, at this particular time, for this particular article, the specific details are less important than the grander mission statement, but they are specific details nonetheless, which means they are not entirely dismissable. As such: (1) San Antonio has an American Hockey League team called the San Antonio Rampage. (2) Last season, the Rampage rebranded themselves as “Los Chimuelos de San Antonio” for a single game as a way to acknowledge Día de los Muertos, which is a Mexican holiday meant to honor the deceased. (3) The general response from fans was so enthusiastic that the Rampage decided to do it four more times. (4) This season, the Rampage have three games as Los Chimuelos de San Antonio on their schedule. (5) They played their first one this past Saturday. (6) I went. (7) I enjoyed it, though the fact that they won the game in a blowout accounted for only a tiny sliver of the joy.
I only ever met one of my grandfathers. His name was Sip. (“Sip” was short for Sipriano. He was “Sipriano Serrano,” which is a name that I have always been impressed by.) He was my dad’s dad. He died when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember much about him. I don’t remember if he had a big voice or a small voice. I don’t remember if he glided when he walked or if all his movements were angular. I don’t remember if he was nice or mean or indifferent. I don’t remember what it felt like to hug him or whether I was scared of him whenever he’d focus in on me for a conversation. I don’t remember any of that. Mind you, I can guess at answers for each of those things based on context clues (small voice; angular motion; nice to me; an above-average hugger; awkward in conversation, though likely that would’ve been on account of him being old and my being an idiot). But those are just guesses; hazy ideas formed from hazier halves of the haziest quarter-memories.
But there are two things about him that I have at the front of my brain, and I know they will live there forever.
The first is what he smelled like.
It was a coalescence of OLD MEXICAN MAN MUSK and MOTOR OIL. He smelled that way because he worked as a mechanic. Or, more accurately than that: He smelled that way because he lived at his mechanic shop. And I don’t say that in the romantic sense, as in, “Oh, man. He really worked hard. He spent a lot of time at the shop. He basically lived there, haha.” I say that in the literal sense. He literally lived there. Because his tiny house was attached to his tiny shop. He would wake up and be at work. And he would go to sleep and be at work. And he would eat his dinner and be at work. And he would have a day off from work and be at work. It was all one compound: living room, bathroom, brake lathe, bed, engine hoist, kitchen, strut compressor, etc. It was all right there, jumbled together. And so since his professional life and personal life were mushed permanently into one, so too was his OLD MEXICAN MAN MUSK smell and the MOTOR OIL smell.
The second is the pan dulce.
If I hold my eyes closed long enough, I can see the glass container sitting on the counter; the various conchas and campechanas protected away neatly inside of it. Were I a more industrious child, I’d have perhaps been interested in all of the tools and machinery spread out around his open-air garage. But I was not. I was lazy and limp and only ever concerned with what I could put in my belly. So all I ever thought about whenever we’d visit was getting to that glass container and picking out whichever sweet bread looked to be the freshest, and the biggest, and the most likely to fill my tiny body with sugar.
I don’t think about my grandpa often. And I didn’t think about him at the hockey game Saturday night. But I thought about him afterward. And how I’d allowed him to fade more and more from my memory. (This, I suspect, is because there was a large ofrenda set up in the stadium.) (More on that in a moment.) And so here we are. With you having clicked on an article to read about a hockey game and instead having found a few hundred words about what an old man in San Antonio used to smell like.
The Ofrenda, and Some Other Things, Too
An ofrenda is a display that gets set up during Día de los Muertos. It contains various objects—pictures, candles, knickknacks, trinkets, and the like—that are placed on it so as to honor and remember family members who have passed. (This was the thing in Coco that Miguel was trying to get back to so that he could put a picture up on it of his great-great-grandfather before his grandfather was forgotten forever.) They had a large one in the stadium at the Chimuelos game. It was one of several different activations that the team had in place for the evening.
There were also mariachis playing music and people in skeleton face paint wandering around and also whenever a good thing would happen in the game, clips from Selena or Coco would play on the Jumbotron or various cumbias would come zonking out through the speakers. And listen: I know that the background point of doing something like a Día de los Muertos night at a sports venue is to just get more people to go to a game so that money can be made (the average attendance for a weekend game for the Rampage is about 6,500; the Chimuelos game on Saturday had about 8,000 people there). But I don’t care. There’s comfort in the community. It feels good to see something you care about being celebrated, being championed, being regarded with soft hands. This will potentially sound silly because, again, this is all being discussed in relation to a minor league hockey game, but it makes you feel important. It makes you feel cared for. It makes you feel at ease. It makes you feel like the universe is placing a tiny bit of balm on your spirit for a while, something to, even if just for an hour or two, help you remember that not everyone is interested in putting children who look like yours in cages.
A semirelated aside: Originally, the plan was to take my youngest son to the game with me. (He’s 6, and I imagine he’d have greatly enjoyed the ancillary festivities at the game surrounding Día de los Muertos, and also I imagine I’d have greatly enjoyed making up answers to the questions he’d have eventually asked about the technical aspects of hockey as a sport because lying to children is fun.) But he wasn’t able to go because he and his brothers and my wife had plans in Houston. So instead, I went to the game with my cousin Gary. (Gary is my main Going to Places partner in San Antonio.)
An added benefit of hanging out with an adult rather than a child is that following the game, we were able to go and catch a late showing of Terminator: Dark Fate, which just released this weekend. I’d anticipated it to be very bad, as each of the three Terminator movies since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day have been. But it was not bad. In fact, it was very good. And very fun. And not only is the new Big Bad in the movie—a liquid super-terminator referred to as the Rev-9—played to great effect by Gabriel Luna, a Mexican American, but also the movie eventually centers on the formation of the new human resistance around a Mexican national who becomes an undocumented immigrant in Texas, which was an enjoyable counterweight to this past September’s Rambo: Last Blood, described by Salon as a “MAGA fever dream.”
Part of the reason that I enjoy Selena so much is because too often I have to watch movies or television shows or listen to music or whatever with my guard half up in anticipation of an eventual lazy joke at the expense of Mexicans. But that doesn’t happen in Selena. There are some jokes in there and there’s silliness in there, sure, but those things are always actually just bits of compassion and tenderness packaged as something else. I get to just exist when I watch the movie. I get to just be there.
The clip from Selena that I mentioned that they played at the game was from early in the movie. It’s from a scene where the Quintanilla family is hanging out together at a Texas shoreline (this is when Selena and her siblings are all still children). The mom overhears music playing from someone’s radio nearby, identifies that it’s a cumbia, then asks Selena if she wants her to teach her the dance she used to do with her father. Selena says yes because she is charming and wonderful and adventurous, and so the mom takes her by the hand, walks her over to an open area, then teaches her the dance. As they dance together, Selena laughs and the dad needles the two of them a tiny bit and the mom quarterbacks the situation and it all just feels very sweet, and very lovely, and very loving.
I suppose that’s kind of what the Chimuelos game felt like, too. And also there are hockey fights.