We buried Paul Gribling in Matamoros, Mexico, November 1st, 1975, the day after All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween). That was 41-yrs ago . . . Paul was only 29. When we arrived at the cemetery, the area was full of road-stands selling foods and souvenirs. There was quite a crowd costumed colorfully . . . like it was Carnival.
Asking the funeral rep accompanying us with Paul’s body, “Is the cemetery like this all the time?”
He replied, “No. This is Día de Todos los Santos [All Saints’ Day]. It’s believed that the souls of children return to the world of the living followed by adult spirits on Día de los Muertos–tomorrow.
“The children are known as angelitos, so today is called El Día de los Angelitos. The graves of children are cleaned and decorated with candles, paper streamers, and seasonal flowers such as cempazuchiles [Marigolds]. Shops and stands throughout Mexico sell toys and candy in the form of symbols such as toy skeletons, coffins, and the personification of La Muerta [Death].
“Many families have special gatherings at home and cemeteries to honor dead relatives today and tomorrow. There’s a belief among some that those buried today will rise back to life tomorrow…”
I turned to my associates, Dr. Robin Barraco and Jim Kennedy, “Maybe we outta stick around and see if Paul comes back?” Bad joke…
The author, Donny and Paul. Our own Plan Colombia…1974…
Paul Gribling was my friend and partner in the drug trade at Wayne State University, Detroit, where we were both students. We had graduated from reefer…
In ’74 we put together an op to smuggle kilos of cocaine from Colombia, South America. A key down there cost $3,000. It flipped in Detroit for $50,000! In today’s money, that’s $275,000! One duffel of coke could make us all $millionaires. We weren’t alone in this market.
Criminalization (prohibition) drove the market. Back in the 1960s and ’70s there were few moral concerns regarding the recreational use of reefer, coke, LSD, peyote and the like. The university scene was relatively open to drug experimentation. Clients included students, faculty and professionals; doctors, lawyers, judges, businessmen, cops . . . you name it.
This was some 10-yrs before the CIA-Contra connection created the crack market ($5, $10 and $20 rocks of cheap, smokable coke) that devastated black and poor communities. (After 1983 the “politically correct” market for coke changed significantly.)
Paul & friends off the Florida coast, 1974…
Included in our main Carib crew were Donnie, a key-grip who provided gaffing (lighting, electrical, etc.) for the movie-film industry, and Mike, a former decorated Navy SEAL in Vietnam who commanded an oil company capping-sub in the Gulf. In addition to school, I was a criminal investigator for area law firms at the time and a pilot.
(Years later, as a collaborator to the author Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, I provided a number of these vignettes for use in his novels. Dutch’s novel, Freaky Deaky (1988) includes part of that period.)
One leg of the op included renting a yacht in West Palm Beach. It wasn’t supposed to go all the way down to Colombia (the coke would be air-dropped to them off the coast), but after some 3-weeks-or-so, Paul became quite ill from the sun and exposure.
After a couple of weeks land-side, Paul felt well enough to continue the journey back to the US (two of the crew were skilled scuba divers, which took care of the delivery end). Paul again became quite ill. It later turned out, having the kind of pale skin he had, he was especially susceptible to the sun.
Visiting a Palestinian base in Syria, ’71…
By the time Paul was diagnosed w/melanoma cancer, it had metastasized throughout his organs. Despite our Hail Mary’s at certain Mexican clinics, within the year he succumbed.
I’ve always associated this time of the year to the memory of Paul. He started his academic career seeking to become a CIA analyst. After his graduation with a BA, he became expert in the Koreas. Paul was on his last leg to obtain a master’s degree on the subject.
Paul and I traveled a lot, including East Africa and the Middle East.
His Southern California upbringing, long hair, political independence, veggie-diet and abiding interest in numerous coeds always struck me as a rite of passage. I could never get a handle on what he was truly serious about. Where he might have ended up is anyone’s guess. But that was true for many of us in the generation born during World War-II and immediately thereafter . . . and coming of age in the Cultural Revolution of the ‘60s.
East Africa, ’73…
Like myself, Paul was a secular universalist. We especially enjoyed Halloween. I’ve studied Halloween for its historical context. It always seemed to me to be the one pure Pagan holiday that Christianity had not usurped, but not for lack of trying.
In the US and Canada, the season is also nationally celebrated as a harvest Thanksgiving (Jour de l’Action de grâce in French Canada), as a holiday of giving thanks for the bounty of the preceding year’s harvest.
Halloween started out in the Gaelic version as Samhain (SAH-win), about halfway between the Autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Its theme was to use “humor and ridicule to confront the power of death.” Clearly, Pagans loved to invent reasons to party-down.
Santa Marta, Colombia 1974
Once the Christian church achieved partnership w/the Roman Empire (circa 300 CE), they engaged in a series of usurpations of other holidays in order to co-opt such celebrations. Why bother trying to invent new ones when they can simply take over those already in existence?
Sometimes the takeover was not complete. The Pagan holiday of winter solstice, for instance, was always a big event. The sun seems to stand still and then return for another year of growth in the world.That was certainly cause for celebration.
Christians celebrate the Birth of Christ (even though he was not born at that time of year) as one of worship and fasting (at least initially). A week later we can all celebrate the event as New Year’s, partying down in a drunken orgy.
A 10-yr Anniversary to Paul. Greektown, 1985…
As we were burying Paul, we had attracted quite a large crowd. We were told that people do not normally bury bodies on that day. While there were no problems, it did make us somewhat wary. I suppose that some paid particular attention to that grave over the next couple of days….
All in all, I prefer the harvest festival . . . Halloween, of all the holidays. The Gaelic guising (trick or treat in various disguises) as a child was an added bonus.
Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD), October 2014…