When I look back at my life I have to laugh at some of my quirky memories. One in particular comes to mind. As a child, my parents would send me to Medellin, Colombia every summer to spend it with my relatives. One of the things I would do often during my visits was to spend time at my grandfather’s business. There is where the quirkiness begins. You see the family business was and still is a funeral home. Imagine their dinner conversations. Although today the family business still performs funeral services, it has evolved into a very successful international funeral services insurance company. However, back in the 1960’s it was a modest family business helping to support a very large family.
The year was 1969. The funeral home consisted of industrial garage premises located in downtown Medellin. The front office was completely open to the sidewalk filled with people passing by and the street bustled with circa 1950’s cars and trucks. In the front room there was a desk with a receptionist, a black rotary phone, and a couple of metal chairs. In the backspace there was an office for my grandfather, the laboratory where the bodies were prepared, and what seemed like rooms and rooms of casket storage.
To my relatives, bringing me to visit my grandfather at his “office” was a very natural thing to do. I have no recollection of who would bring me or how we got to the funeral home. What I do remember is that once we arrived I would have a grand ole time. One of the employees would ask me if I wanted a snack and undoubtedly I would always say yes, because the snack du jour was and still is one of my all time favorites. The employee would go to the corner coffee shop and buy me a glass bottle of Coca-Cola (this is pre-aluminum can days) and a freshly deep-fried cheesy batter dough ball about the size of an orange called a buñuelo. Yummylicious!!!!! My mouth waters as I reminisce savoring a hot buñuelo and chasing it down with an ice-cold 1969 Colombian-formulation of Coca-Cola. There was also a method to buñuelo eating. First, I would slowly peel the hot golden crispy outside of the dough ball, and then I would eat the warm moist cheesy inside by carefully tearing small pieces at a time. (Note: Colombian buñuelos are different to Mexican buñuelos. I have included a recipe at the end of the story). I would sit at the front desk and eat my exquisite snack. But the excitement of the afternoon would not end there. At some point I would get up and skip away into the back rooms. I remember seeing the white-tiled sink body prep area. The truth is that I was probably only allowed in there when it was not in use. But where I got the most entertainment from was spending time observing the rows and rows of hand-carved heavily varnished wooden caskets lined with what seemed to me like beautiful padded velvety soft plush fabrics of jewel-toned colors. There were deep blues, royal purples, emerald greens, and burgundy reds. I actually remember saying, “When I die, this is the one I want” with amazing certainty and pointing to a casket with a deep red velvet interior. How crazy was that! So now you realize why it’s a quirky memory. I don’t know of many children aged 8 getting a tour of the back room operations of a funeral home and picking out favorite casket lining colors.
As a teen and young adult, and obviously as part of the family, it was only natural that in time I would be exposed to all of the operations of the business. Although I have always felt funny and weird saying, “My grandfather owns a funeral home”, the reality is that the business fulfills an important need. It has also given me a collection of light-hearted childhood memories. And yes “red” is still my favorite color, and yes I still love to eat freshly made buñuelos and chase them down with an ice-cold Coca-Cola, although it’s Coca-Cola Light now. The family business has also made me acutely aware that my existence on this planet is temporary, so why not try to live the best life I can and eat my buñuelos too!!
For a buñuelo recipe go to: