02.04.09

Dead Babies

Posted in Excerpts at 11:15 am by admin

EXCERPT  – Chapter Ten – DEAD BABIES

Brazilian Coqueiros Cemetery

Coqueiros Cemetery

When my father volunteered my services as pallbearer to the locals, I willingly obliged. So it was I who carried babies to their graves. …

There were so many dead babies. Sometimes it was the sugared coffee in their bottles that did it-or coffee mixed, for the lucky ones, with a touch of powdered or canned milk when the privilege of the breast was passed over to a newborn sibling. Other times, parasites chewed the babies up from the inside, leaving them hollowed out by diarrhea and dehydration. With no medical care, baby funerals were as common as rain and salt.

About one mile from my house, the winding road passed a small Catholic church. There, we turned west, and continue another two miles or so over very hilly terrain, with only a few houses and mostly open fields. Finally, we arrived at the cemetery, where the freshly dug grave gaped beneath a cloudless sky. Each member of the funeral procession tossed a shovelful of dirt onto the baby’s coffin.

No one was embalmed in our neighborhood. Bodies were buried within twenty-four hours of death. Since the cemetery itself was small-only about seventy-feet long-and deaths were constant, graves had to be re-used every few years. Any shovelful of dirt was apt to include a bone or two from a grave’s previous occupant. At one baby burial, I turned over my rusty shovel to set loose a cascade of dry earth and a full set of human teeth, clenched….At the far end of the cemetery, a aquat,stucco building housed a jungle of annonymous skulls and bones.

Graceann’s Comments

I really did not mind being a pallbearer for those babies of Coqueiros. It seemed to me an honor to do my part in carrying the baby casket. However, at times it was very difficult because of the long dusty road, under the hot sun, and I always had the heaviest load to carry. The other children took turns carrying their side, but I carried my load the whole distance. I’m sure they felt I was strong enough and did not need help and I was too embarrassed to ask. I would be out of breath and exhausted when we finally climbed the last very steep hill and arrived at the cemetery.

I never thought it had any lasting effect for me, but I’m sure it did. The smells are very vividly pungent even today. Quite often the flowers of choice were Calla lilies, or carnations. To this day I do not like either of these flowers. When I see them and especially when I smell Calla lilies, I become nauseas and think of those babies.

The most distasteful thing was having to throw dirt on the casket and being so close to death, by seeing discarded bones in the dirt. Five years ago I visited the Coqueiros cemetery and took the above picture. The small stucco building which held the anonymous bones is now used as a tool shed. The cemetery is only slightly larger than years ago, and the graves are still re-used every 4 or 5 years. The cemetery today is surrounded by houses and it is also near the main freeway which goes from Florianopolis to Porto Alegre.

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