Growing up in Phoenix, we had a rather large Ash tree in the front yard where birds often nested. When I was about 8 years old, Camie (my sister), Jonathan (my God-brother) and I found a dead bird that likely fell from the higher points of that 20ft. tree. Being kids, we were sad to see the dead bird. We decided it had to be buried. We look around the house and found a shoe box, some flowers and a RIP cake topper. My Dad just turned 40, and he had an over the hill party (not sure if those are still a thing) and he had a cake topper that was in the shape of a headstone that said, “RIP.” We snagged it and used it for the bird’s headstone.
We placed the bird in the shoe box, and dug a little hole. We said a prayer. I really wanted to light the shoe box on fire, because that’s how I seen our cremation ceremonies go on the rez. But I also knew that we lived in the city, and I wasn’t sure if PETA would get mad at us for lighting a dead bird on fire. So, we just buried the bird. We said a prayer and offered as many kind words as kids could offer. After the bird funeral, I wondered if we needed to smoke (I’ve only heard the term “smoke” used as opposed to “smudge”) ourselves. It was because one of the times I was in our Big House (where we hold the wake for funerals) I overheard some older Quechan men talking. They said, “we need to cleanse ourselves of these spirits.” They proceeded toward a basket that was filled with hard candies and packs of cigarettes. I watched them load their pockets with Marlboro Reds, and head out of the Big House. I could see them through the clear windows, and watched the orange glow of the cigarettes as they started smoking beneath the awning. I didn’t really think about it much at the time, but now that I’m a little older, I keep wondering…. when did Marlboro Reds become sacred? Or if not sacred, when did they become apart of cleansing ourselves of spirits? I get the smoking part, but if we are trying to be traditional, why not grow your own tobacco to use instead of smoking tar and arsenic filled tobacco? Either way, I think people would of frowned at me, my sister, and God-brother if we decided to light one up to cleanse ourselves of that bird’s spirit… I mean we were under 11 years old.
But I often wondered the same thing in the Christian church. I remember as a kid going to Walmart with the pastor to get grape juice to serve communion the next day. Occasionally someone whipped up some tortillas and I would help serve it to the congregation. When we were done, my God brother and I would go in the back and drink up all of the rest of the grape juice and eat the rest of the tortillas. I don’t know if that makes me extra sinful or extra Holy. I just know those tortillas were awesome. But I wonder when Walmart grape juice and tortillas became a part of communion?
Anyways, I guess someone could make their own juice from some vineyard in California. And I’m not complaining about those tortillas, because they were by far better than those wafer crackers that I had in White churches. There’s been a few times I’ve taken communion with stale crackers. And sometimes those crackers were stale, old, and dusty. When you took a bite, it felt like you just bit the tip of a piece of chalk. And then it felt like that chalk blew up in your mouth like baby powder. Except it didn’t taste like baby powder, it tasted like dirt.
But all I’m saying is, it’s good to think about the things we’re doing and remember why we’re doing them.