Death, Family & The Bull
And the red ant bread
My uncle passed away this week. He was my mother’s eldest brother, Danny was Brooklynite to the core. They grew up in Puerto Rico on a farm. During the wake, my mom told a story from when they were kids. Danny constantly teased her to hop over the neighbor’s fence. There was a bull on the other side and she was terrified but she also wanted to show her big brother that she could be brave.
One day she asked, “Where’s the bull?” Danny said, “He’s on the other side of the farm, you should jump over now.” She hiked up her skirt and hopped over the fence nervously. The minute she touched down, she asked again. “Where’s the bull?” Danny laughing said, “He’s running over here, quick, come back!” Mom flew over the fence like Superwoman. A fight ensued and she beat the crap out of her brother.
Another story mom told was about the bread ants. One day, mom, uncle Danny, and grandpa walked into town to grab a few necessities. Grandpa was holding the bread and Danny desperately wanted to carry it. He begged and pleaded but the answer was no. In a moment of frustration, Danny kicked an anthill. He tripped, fell, and was covered in hundreds of fire ants in a flash. Filled with fury, he yelled at grandpa, “You see, if you would have just let me carry the bread I wouldn’t be covered in bites!” To which grandpa replied, “No son, that is the exact reason I didn’t let you carry the bread. It would have ended up ant food.”
The funeral parlor erupted in laughter. It was a great story, one I had never heard before. A moment of levity was needed on this somber day and mom delivered in spades.
Death has a strange way of bringing a family together or tearing it apart.
It had been almost seven years since I saw Uncle Danny and almost 25 years since I saw his son, my cousin, Eric. 25 years. I didn’t realize it until he started to bring up stories of us as kids, playing ColecoVision with his brother Brian in their parents’ basement in East New York. Constructing forts with his GI Joe’s action figures. Running around the house playing hid and go seek. I hid in the bathroom cabinet (I was small) on one occasion and my aunt came in to go to the bathroom to do her buisness. Ha! Those were the days when life was simpler.
Every funeral I attend reminds me of my dad. It has been almost four years since he passed on. That was the hardest day of my life, my eyes are welling up right now just typing this. There’s a story to be told about him and that day, but that’s for another essay.
Death is inevitable, it is the weight we carry on our shoulders every second we’re alive. Even worse is knowing when a parent is going to die. Final conversations can make a monumental difference. Don’t put them off.
Instead, grab life by the horns. Leap over that fence and confront your greatest fear head-on. Show the bull who you are and if someone makes you take that leap, don’t beat them up. Just give them the warm embrace of someone who is filled with love.