Woman’s 1930s Easter scene honors grandmother’s legacy

Dolores Kitchin shows off the Easter scene that once occupied her grandmother’s — Guadalupe Garcia — Kansas City Mexican restaurant, Las Palmas. Kitchin inherited the display after her grandmother’s death in 1977. Kitchin displays the scene in her living room each year as a tribute to her grandmother. LEAVEN PHOTO BY DOUG HESSE

by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven

OVERLAND PARK — Every face tells a story — of anguish, fear, and some even of peace — in the vintage Crucifixion scene that once occupied Guadalupe Garcia’s Kansas City Mexican restaurant, Las Palmas.

Today, the outsized display looms large in Dolores Kitchin’s Overland Park home.

When Garcia passed away in 1977 at the age of 83, her wish was for Kitchin, her granddaughter and a parishioner at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, to inherit the display.

In addition to being her granddaughter, the entire display honors Our Lady of Sorrows, and Dolores, in Spanish, means “sorrows.”

The Lenten season signals a time of sacrifice and redemption. For Kitchin, it also evokes memories of her Mexican-born grandmother and the lessons she taught about faith and God’s love.

“I think of my grandmother every day,” Kitchin said. “She was a strong woman, but a gentle teacher. She taught us that our actions have consequences, the importance of treating others with respect and that the choices we make are important in getting to heaven.”

As a tribute to her grandmother’s life and spirituality, Kitchin displays the scene in her living room each year.

And just as she helped her grandmother display the pieces when she was a child, now Kitchin’s 16-year-old son Johnnie helps position the pieces.

The wooden figures, approximately 13 inches tall, date back to 1930s Mexico. Garcia, who was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico, carried them back from visits to see her family in Salamanca, Mexico.

She and Kitchin’s grandfather Primitivo fled Salamanca in 1927 during the Mexican Revolution with its accompanying religious persecution.

“I remember when my grandmother explained what the scene meant and how Jesus went through so much pain for our salvation. In the Christ figurine,” she said, “you can see both the pain and acceptance in his face.

“I get so emotional when I set up his cross,” she added.

Some of the key figures in the scene — Mary, Mary Magdalene and John — are clothed in silk and feature vibrant, porcelain eyes. A canvas oil painting, from Irapuato, Guanajuato, serves as the backdrop. As a child, the expression on the face of the figure of Gestas, the impenitent thief, actually scared Kitchin.

The rare display has intrigued Kitchin’s friends and neighbors for years. Last year, Ascension’s pastor Msgr. Tom Tank invited her to display the scene at the church on Palm Sunday.

“This is exactly what my grandmother wanted us to do — to pass on her faith to others and to remind us all what it means to make sacrifices for your faith, just as God offered up his only Son,” she said.

Throughout the years “Mama Lupe,” as she was affectionately known, displayed other pieces from her native country in her restaurant before it closed in 1978. Each was representative of a biblical scene, including the Presentation, Annunciation and a water display of a baby Moses in the river.

However, most of the pieces were made from wax and eventually deteriorated. Kitchin has noticed the wear on her display, as well, and is hoping to find a way to restore them.

She often stops in front of the display during the Lenten season to reflect on its true meaning. On Good Friday, her grandmother led the family in a rosary at 3 p.m., the hour that Christ died, while kneeling in front of the scene.

“By displaying the scene each year, it reminds me of what the Lenten season is really about,” Kitchin said. “Our Lord died so that we might have life everlasting.”

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