My Grandfather’s Altar

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(In a city in Mexico.  Clara’s Mother and Grandmother are in the living room.  There is  a Day of the Dead altar on the wall)


MOTHER: (looking at the altar) I think it’s almost finished.


GRANDMOTHER: It looks lovely!.



(Clara enters the room running, suddenly she stops and stares at the altar)


MOTHER: How many times I have told you not to come in running!.


CLARA: (pointing at the altar) Oh, what is that?.


GRANDMOTHER: This is an altar … for your grandfather.


CLARA: But my grandfather is gone, or is he coming back?.


GRANDMOTHER: In a way he is, but you will not see him with your eyes, you will only feel his spirit.


CLARA: You are scaring me, grandma.


GRANDMOTHER: Come… lets sit and I will tell you everything about the Day of the Dead altar.


(They sit on the sofa.  Clara’s mother keeps arranging the altar)


CLARA: Why did you put my grandfather’s picture… and his clothes, and all that food?.


GRANDMOTHER: Listen sweety, on November 2nd.  throughout Mexico, we celebrate All Souls Day, or The Day of The Dead.  On this day it is a custom that we make an altar to honor the life of someone who was important to our family.  Someone who is not with us anymore.


CLARA: Like my grandfather…Oh I miss him so much!.  But… what for?.


GRANDMOTHER: Because on this day it’s easier for your grandfather’s soul to come visit us, and this altar will help him in his  journey, and it will also serve as portal to guide and welcome him.


CLARA: But why does it have to be today?.


GRANDMOTHER: Because our ancestors believed that today a bridge is opened between the world of the living, and the world of the souls… so today he will come to share the food with us.


MOTHER: Come Clara, we will tell you what all these things mea, just don’t touch anything.


(Clara and her Grandmother stand up.  Clara looks at the ceiling)


MOTHER: The paper arch you are looking at means the passage between life and death.


CLARA: I like the colors!.  Do they also mean something?.


MOTHER: Yes, the paper chains should be purple and yellow, which means the union between life and death.  And the papel picado that you see on the wall and on the altar can be of different colors, just to make it colorful and joyful.


CLARA: How did you make it so big and tall?.


GRANDMOTHER: We used carton boxes and we covered them with a black and white tablecloth, and papel picado of different colors.  The altar consists of seven levels.


CLARA: No wonder it almost touches the ceiling!.


MOTHER: Let me tell you what each level means and should have.  The first one, is the floor… and there we put the Virgen of Guadalupe, and St. Jude Thaddeus picture, who was your grandfather’s favorite saint.  That salt cross you see on the floor means the fourth cardinal directions which guide him on his way, and as you can see it has four candles on each side.


CLARA: And what about that water you put on the floor?.


MOTHER: Water is the source of life.  Since your grandfather’s soul will be thirsty on his arrival, we put the water to welcome him and quench his thirst.


CLARA: Why did you put that clay dog on the floor and that stick?.


MOTHER: The  souls use the dog as company and guide, and the stick will keep bad spirits away from them.


GRANDMOTHER: The second level is for the souls in the Purgatory, who are getting ready to go to Heaven.  Over there we put the Holy Rosary and the Bible.  In the third level we put salt for the holy souls of the children in the Purgatory.


CLARA: Why did you put there my doll, and my brother’s ball?.


GRANDMOTHER: So that the souls of the children on their way to see God, can play with them.


CLARA: And there are candies and chocolates!.


GRANDMOTHER: We put them there so that they can eat them.


CLARA: What are those things that look like a skull?.  They even have our names on them!.


GRANDMOTHER: Those are sugar skulls.  You can eat yours after the celebration.


MOTHER: In the fourth level we put a special bread called “Pan de Muerto”, sugar cane, and chocolate milk.


CLARA: What is that soap, water, and towel that’s beside the bread for?.


MOTHER: Because it is believed that the souls would like to refresh themselves after a long journey.  And in the fifth level we placed your grandfather’s favorite food and drinks.


GRANDMOTHER: That’s why we put mole, tamales, tortillas, and black coffee with cinnamon.


CLARA: And why did you put that bottle of wine … and that ash tray, matches, and cigars?.


MOTHER: That’s tequila… your grandfather used to drink just a little before lunch. And when he finished his lunch, he used to sit outside in the porch to smoke a cigar.  You saw him many times… don’t you remember?.


CLARA: Oh, yes I do.  That cigar smelled awful!.


GRANDMOTHER: In the sixth level you can see your grandfather’s picture and all his personal objects.


CLARA: Oh, yes!.  I can see his glasses, his favorite book, and that blue shirt he wore all the time!.  Even his house keys!  But, why does he look so young in that picture?.


GRANDMOTHER: That picture was taken when I met your grandfather.  He was so handsome!.


MOTHER: In the last level we draw a cross made of lime and hawthorn fruit, and marigolds.


CLARA: Marigolds?. What’s that?.


MOTHER: Marigolds are the flowers that our ancestors, the aztecs, placed over the graves.  Marigolds mean the duality between life and death.


CLARA: Why does the altar have so many candles?.


GRANDMOTHER: Since the journey will be long and hard, we lit candles to help him find his way, and to guide him.


CLARA: And what’s that smell?.


GRANDMOTHER: That smell is inciense.  We put it in that small clay pot, and it clears the space of any negative energy or bad spirits.


MOTHER: It’s getting late, and it’s time to go to bed.  Give your grandmother a kiss.


(Clara kisses her Grandmother)


CLARA: Good night grandmother.


GRANDMOTHER: Good night Clara… sweet dreams.


(The rooms gets darker)




(Clara walks to the kitchen to drink some water.  She sees a light coming from the altar.  She approaches the altar)


CLARA: Is someone there?  (There is no answer). Is someone there? (There is no answer). I can see you!.


GRANDFATHER: Shhhh, don’t speak too loud.  Everybody is sleeping.


CLARA: I know that voice.  Is it you… grandfather?.


GRANDFATHER: Yes, It’s me Clarita… come near.


CLARA: What’s wrong grandfather?.  What are you doing here?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, I came to visit all of you, and to see the altar you made especially for me.


CLARA: Did you like it?.  My mother and grandmother did it!.


GRANDFATHER: Yes, it’s quite beautiful.  It has all the things I like.  (He pours a little tequila in a glass and drinks it)… Mmmm, it’s really good!.  How have you been, Clarita?.  You have grown too much!.


CLARA: I’m fine.  I’m in fourth grade now.  Let me go wake up my parents, grandmother, and my little bother!.


GRANDFATHER: No, stop!.  Nobody can see me… I don’t know how you can.


CLARA: You look very good, grandfather… only a little pale.


GRANDFATHER: Maybe it’s because of the long journey (he lights a cigar and smokes it).


CLARA: No, grandfather… it’s smells awful.


GRANDFATHER: Very well (he turns off the cigar and places it on the ashtray). Then I will eat mole (he takes a tortilla, makes a taco,and eats it)


CLARA: Did you like it?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, yeah, I know your grandmother cook it… but as always, it needs some salt!   (He takes some salt from the cross on the floor and puts some of it on the taco).


CLARA: Grandfather, you also ate some candies, and sugar skulls!.


GRANDFATHER: Oh no, I didn’t.    Some kids’ souls came with me and ate them.


CLARA: Are they still here?.


GRANDFATHER: No, they are gone.


CLARA: Is that true, grandfather?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, Yeah, I swear it.  (He takes a tamal from the altar, and eats it). Not bad!.  It only needs a little hot sauce ( again he takes some salt from the cross on the floor, and puts it on the tamal).


CLARA: My mother made the tamales, grandfather.


GRANDFATHER: They are really good… and as dessert, I’ll eat a piece of Pan de Muerto. (He eats a piece of bread)


CLARA: Grandfather, do you come from Heaven?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, yeah!.  But in Heaven I don’t get to eat all the delicious food I eat here.


CLARA: Grandfather, have you seen baby Jesus?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, yeah, He is always with us… and also His parents, Mary and Joseph.


CLARA: Are you happy where you are?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, yeah, but I miss all of you.  It’s almost daylight, I have to go back to Heaven.


CLARA: (Crying) I love you, please don’t go… I miss you!.


(Grandfather kneels down and hugs Clara)


CLARA: Oh, grandfather, you are so warm, and you smell so good.


GRANDFATHER: You don’t smell so bad.  By the way, why did you wake up?.


CLARA: I was thirsty.


(Grandfather takes the glass Clara has in her hands, and pours some water on it)


GRANDFATHER: I hope it’s cool.


CLARA: Grandfather, will I see you again?.


GRANDFATHER: Oh, yeah!.  Take good care of your parents and your grandmother.


CLARA: Oh, yeah, I swear it!.  Good-bye, I have to go back to bed.  Don’t forget about me, grandfather.


GRANDFATHER: No, I won’t.  I’m always here with you, even if you don’t see me.



(The rooms gets darker)




(Early in the morning Clara enters running to her Grandmother’s bedroom)


CLARA: Grandmother… wake up!. wake up!.  wake up!.  I have something to tell you.


GRANDMOTHER: (wakes up surprised) What happened?.


CLARA: Last night I saw my grandfather!.


GRANDMOTHER: So you dreamt with your grandfather?.


CLARA: No!.  I saw him!.  I talked to him!.


GRANDMOTHER: But that is not possible.


CLARA: Come with me, let’s go to the altar, you need to see something.


(Clara and her Grandmother go to the living room.  They find Clara’s Mother coming out from her bedroom)


MOTHER: Where are you going so early?.


GRANDMOTHER: Clara says she saw your father last night, and she wants to show me something.


MOTHER: Fine, let’s go.


(They go to the living room)


CLARA: Look!.  Look the ashtray!.  Last night my grandfather smoked his cigar and drank some tequila.


(Clara’s Mother and Grandmother see that the cigar was burnt)


MOTHER: What did you do, Clarita?.


CLARA: He also ate mole and tamales.. grandma, and he said that they needed more salt, as always.  He even took some salt form the cross on the floor!. (Clara’s mother and grandmother look surprised) Some kids’s souls came along with my grandfather and they took some candies!.


MOTHER: This can’t be possible, mother… I know that Clara did all this.


GRANDMOTHER: I believe her.  She couldn’t have gone all the way to where the food and the cigars are, without stepping over the boxes, and without destroying them.  Everything is right where we left them.  Not a single papel picado is torn out!


MOTHER: It’s true… I dind’t think of that.


MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER: We believe you, Clara.  We are happy that you saw your grandfather.


CLARA: As my grandfather says … Oh, yeah!.






Click Here to Read this Playscript in Spanish:  El Altar de Mi Abuelo


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