I don’t know the much about history and tradition of the dumb supper. I’ve been to a few communal suppers and really enjoyed them. A few years ago I decided I’d like to add this to my own family’s traditions. Finding some balance to the commercialized candy-fest of mainstream Halloween and creating a container to discuss death and ancestors with the kids is important to me. This was our third dumb supper – and it certainly wasn’t all that dumb (and by dumb, I mean silent).
My ideal dumb supper is a beautiful meal, containing favorite foods of those we are honoring, laid upon a beautiful table/altar, with a place set for our ancestors, eaten in silence as we meditate on those that have passed and listen for their voices.
What typically happens is the children make a lot of noise, I realize too late that I don’t actually know what any of my ancestors liked to eat, and the dinner is chaos. Just like if we had guests.
Here is what our table looked like this year.
Dumb Supper 2012
From left to right, back: A picture of my friend Tim, who chose to leave this world five years ago, sitting on the Mendenhall Glacier; a picture of my maternal grandmother and namesake; a shot glass of water; some rocks from Alaska and Ireland; a black glass votive from my ancestor altar; a shot glass of wine; a green candle for more light; a picture of Victor and Cora Anderson, founders of the Feri tradition; various decorative gourds.
From left to right, front: A peacock feather; a Dia de los Muertos skull; a piece of peach pie for Cora on a china plate I inherited from my paternal grandmother; a cup of hot buttered tea for Victor in the same china.
Dinner did not go as planned this year. It’s been an emotionally stressful week and I was just not feeling my best. I was planning on making cottage pie with mashed sweet potatoes, but the potatoes never cooked (did I forget to turn on the oven? I still don’t understand what happened). I ended up serving the family a mish mash of various leftovers.
Once the altar was set and everyone dished up at the table, the baby was crying, desperate to eat and go to sleep. I turned off the lights and we said our Holy Mother prayer, invoked our ancestors and Mighty Dead, some by name, inviting them in. We sat, not in silence at all, and ate our meals. We began in chaos, and ended in chaos.
I left the candles burning and the table set with the altar all night long. In the morning my son wanted to eat the pie for breakfast, but Adam said his ‘magician’s eyes’ revealed to him that the pie was not meant to be eaten, that all the nutrition had been eaten up by Cora. My son wanted to know what kind of powerful god Cora was that she could eat pie.