Friday, October 2, 2015

Ancestral Roots

This time of year is when many cultures celebrate holidays such as Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, or Samhain. The last harvest has been gathered. The days grow dark and the nights grow long. It is the earth’s time to rest in darkness. This is a time of trust: we believe that the light will come again. We trust that death is part of life, just another turn of the wheel. This is the time to remember the past by telling, reading, or writing the stories of our ancestors.

I usually throw a party for family and friends around this time. The party has four main features, all of which honor the dark, the past, and the dead.

The first thing we do is go on a mushroom walk. We ramble through a wooded place and keep our eyes on the ground. At first we see few, if any, mushrooms, because they are shy creatures. Then suddenly we’ll spot them, showing up in an amazing variety of shapes and colors, growing under fallen leaves and on rotten logs, bringing color and life to death. When we see them we squeal, jump up and down, and take pictures. Believe it or not, this is quite exciting.

Photo by Maryann Miller
Then we go inside and eat the dinner I have prepared. Since this is the time of year for the last harvests, we feast on roots – potatoes, onions, turnips, beets – those hearty vegetables that grow underground in the dark, and provide the food and the anchor for the greenery to come next spring. Root casserole and root soup and root chutney grace the table.

After we are stuffed with roots, we invite our ancestors, loved ones or heroes from the past, to attend the party too. We put photographs or tokens of these honored guests in a place of honor. We give each of them a plate with a spoonful of root casserole. Then we talk about them. We tell their stories. We tell who they loved, what their passions were, what was important to them, and what they taught us. And we offer them our heartfelt gratitude. We are all indebted to those who came before.

Finally, we write. We write about the mushrooms: where they hid this year, which new varieties showed themselves, who took the best photo, who squealed the loudest. We write about the food: which color potatoes are best, what spices go well with turnips, how to thicken the soup. And especially we write about our ancestors and our dead: how did Great-Great-Grandmother Hattie put up with that corset, why does Grandpa Joe scowl so much, the unfulfilled dreams of Aunt Margaret, the heroism of Zipper the dachshund.

Since we’ve been doing this for quite a few years, some of us have the making of a pretty good book. Here is a haiku I wrote about this process:

dig up the old bones
rub them til they mirror back
your own reflection

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 10 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit


  1. Very macabre, Kim ... as for me, well, let's just say the past is better off dead and buried.

    1. The problem with burying the past is that it often doesn't stay buried, and when it does return it may be somewhat rotten ...

  2. I love discovering all the varieties of mushrooms that pop up around my place. Your yearly get-together sounds like great fun.

  3. What a wonderful celebration! Family stories are to be treasured. I wish I had been curious enough to ask for their stories before my grandparents had pased. As the family genealogist, I love collecting the stories from our ancestors ... no matter how bent and twisted the family tree.

    1. Often the bends and twists make the best stories!

  4. Great grist for the writing mill, Kim. You have all kinds of wonderful elements here to grace your stories and enthrall your readers.

  5. I just want to go to your parties! :)

  6. You really need to know your mushrooms if you go mushroom picking! We used to have a Halloween party each year, but that was in our younger days. Now, the hubby and I don't entertain as much as we used to.

  7. We don't pick the mushrooms; just enjoy their beauty and take their photographs.

  8. I took a picture of one last year that was across the street. It looked like a great big flower and was absolutely gorgeous. Years ago, our newspaper did a full page on mushrooms--which were safe to eat and which weren't. Wish I had kept that because they sprout all over our yard.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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