Stories, Thoughts, and Evacuations

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70’s Childhood Mischief: A Brother Who Died

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When I was 6 years old, my brother Daniel (who was 9 at the time) accidentally died. When I think back about my childhood and specifically my introduction into the life of excruciating shyness and my embarrassing involvement in “The Great Clown Incident of ‘69”, I also think and wonder to what extent the emotional strain my brother’s death had on me. I’m not saying it’s something I think about all the time or fault these events in my life for what I’ve become. It’s just the opposite; I rarely if ever think or talk about these episodes.

Its bizarre having more of a memory of the pain of standing in a room full of kids and being the only one dressed in a Halloween costume than that of losing a brother. My brother’s death left as much of an emotional wound as such an event could; but being so young (as shallow and callous as it sounds) the actual internal ache I felt – fully clad inappropriately as a circus performer – hurt more than the emotional catharsis I must have released after my brother was taken.

I was about the same age at the time of both happenings: late October for the Halloween clown affair, and on or around July 4th of the following year when I witnessed my brother’s misfortune. I pin-point it around that time since the accident was partly due to the celebratory nature of the holiday.

There were 5 of us playing with fireworks in my father’s lumber yard. My dad’s side of the family owns a large city block of land in Ensenada, Mexico which includes a corner store, the main house, 3 apartments, and the large lumber yard.

This being the lovely third world country of Mexico… “un-safe” & “un-sane” fireworks run rampant and were sold on every dirt street corner at the time as I’m sure they still are. I can also recall them being passed out with every third taco sold at the local taqueria. Really… it’s true. I read it in a blog somewhere.

My 2 older brothers, accompanied by our 2 cousins, (all of us within 4 years of age from each other) were lighting fire crackers in an open area of the lumber yard. We were having a good old honest to goodness unsupervised fun time like all kids should have been doing and *were* doing in the 70’s.

Unfortunately my brother Daniel decided to drop a lit firecracker into the open spout of a large metal trash-can like container full of highly flammable paint. The ensuing explosion rung my ears like a sonic boom and shook the ground with the intensity and force of an 8.0 earthquake. The top lid of the giant can was later found over a block away.

I have a very selective memory and only hold specific past recollections. I’m sure I could hold more, but by my preference I retain or choose to hold on to very little.

But, even to this day, I clearly remember at 6 yrs old turning around after the explosion and seeing my 9 yr old brother on fire running and screaming out of a giant 50 ft mushroom cloud of flames. From that point I’m pretty sure I was in deep shock as I again do not recall much. My older brother was far enough away and was unhurt. The younger of my cousins was also spared but the older one sustained deep scaring burns on one of his legs.

Daniel took the brunt of the fiery blow and had burns covering most of his body. I have a basic recollection of some or all of us rolling him around on the dirt trying to extinguish the flames as best we could.

You hear of people dying quickly and unexpectedly and you hope to go this way, too (a long way down the road obviously). This was quite the opposite. My brother held on for about a month enduring ice baths, painful bandage changes and cleanings, and excruciating pain that I don’t know of any adult let alone a child could ever endure. Until finally… his 9 yr old mutilated body and soul could no longer take the suffering.

Here are my only memories of my brother Daniel after this tragic accident:

  • That knowing burn smell and charred sight of his green sweater after it was cut and peeled off his smoldering torso. You would recognize and know the smell if you cut a tiny piece of your hair and placed it over an open flame… now multiply that odor by 100.
  • His 3rd grade elementary school picture with the same green sweater on; his short light brown hair and innocent childlike smile intact.
  • The horrific screams from down the hall of the burn ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital. I knew they came from Daniel because I was told of the ice baths he was being put through for whatever God awful reason. This *was* the 70’s but to think that form of treatment could have ever helped… I don’t know.
  • And finally, hearing the dreaded phone ring in my parent’s bedroom that fateful night. This time the screams I heard from down the hall were from my mom as she was told her little boy was no longer alive. Losing complete control; showing and releasing the feelings only a mother could; her cries confirmed a piece of her was now forever gone and lost.

I don’t remember the funeral and I don’t remember ever talking about the situation with anyone. I don’t remember a whole lot about my childhood life afterwards except for tiny bits of memories that regrettably don’t include my brother Daniel.

There were 4 of us kids in my family back then: My oldest brother (Pelon); next came Daniel (Nenito); then my sister (Bebita); and finally me (Bebito).

Let me tell you something about Mexican families – no matter what your given name is, guaranteed, you will be called by another name. My older brother was nicknamed “Pelon” for a lack of hair when he was born. My brother Daniel was labeled with “Nenito” or “Nenny” because my older brother couldn’t pronounce Danny. Or maybe it sounded like “Nenny” coming from the mouths of my Spanish-speaking parents. My sister was “Bebita” because she was the youngest girl and I was “Bebito” because I was the youngest boy.

Not long after my brother’s passing my parents decided to have another child. I say *have* instead of *try* because, come on, we’re Mexican and having babies is as easy as going down to your local super market and plucking one right off the shelf. (Just look for the aisle marker that reads: Baby food, Diapers, & Infants. You’ll also notice the condom aisle is all the way at the opposite end of the store.) Lets be real – I just have to *look* at my wife and she gets pregnant. “Shooting blanks” is a non-existent expression in the Mexican culture.

No longer the “Bebito” of the family, my younger brother came along (Pachie – nickname of course) and replaced me as the youngest child. No doubt his arrival was a planned immense help in filling a void my mom must have felt.

My family doesn’t speak about what happened back then. To this day I’ve never spoken to any of my family members about what took place and I don’t think I ever will, or at least I won’t be the one who brings it up. It’s an unfortunate happening that we’ve kept to ourselves.

I know in writing this, it’s a form of therapy… but actually speaking of such things? I have no interest in retrieving painful memories in the physical sense. That’s just me…

I think of Daniel from time to time and wonder… what if?


Written by REscarcega

April 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Posted in Stories

Tagged with , , , ,

8 Responses

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  1. I wish I would have known him and I wonder how you would have been had this horrible event not occurred. Would we have even met?! Still, while I never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, he is still very much a ‘silent’ part of your family that I love so much. I love him too…just because he is part of you! And in almost 18 years of marriage, this is the most I’ve heard about it. You should write about your memories more!

    Has the event itself played a part in who you are?! Consider this…
    You fall asleep within minutes of your head hitting the pillow, you worry less than anyone I know, you can’t remember what you did 10 minutes ago. I think the answer is a bit fat YES!! You have perfectly crafted a way to forget. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s good. All times, it’s because of this!



    April 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

    • Yep… I agree. And I do hate it for the times that it’s bad to forget or more to the point, what I make disappear. But I also love having my beautiful blondie memory kick-starter Lala at my side filling me in on the cool stuff we’ve done! It’s like watching a great movie (for the first time)! Where’s the popcorn?

      And, we would’ve still met… Daniel being the *playa* he was would no doubt have tried to steal you away! But, being the superior dancer, I would’ve thrown down… Step Up style! 🙂

      It could happen?! :-/


      April 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm

  2. An incredibly honest account of such a tragic event and loss. It made me cry. Really, really powerful writing.

    Jenny Torres Sanchez

    April 27, 2011 at 6:01 am

    • Yep, as my wife mentions above… I’m unable to audibly convey my feelings and memories so writing them down helps in more ways than one. Thank you for reading.


      April 27, 2011 at 6:18 am

  3. I am weeping. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother, and sorry for the suffering that he endured. As a nurse, I like to think we’ve made some great strides in our treatments and pain management in the last 40 years, but not always sure about it.

    And to think that I came here to give you a hard time about the caption contest!!!


    October 21, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    • Thank you for the kind words… sorry I made you cry. I just re-read it again and got choked up thinking of what my Mom must have felt. Life is something, ain’t it?!

      I hereby give you permission to deliver all the razzing you’d like regarding the caption contest. I love Paul’s site… he’s so funny and inspiring. And, I do like your caption a lot! 🙂


      October 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm

      • Yes, Paul’s site is a daily fixture in my life – I can always count on a good laugh, usually from his content but often from the comments as well. You are beating me roundly today in the stats, guess I’ll have to pay some folks to go vote for me!!!


        October 22, 2011 at 3:37 am

  4. […] even visited the blog of REscarcega (currently in the lead until my paid voters show up – maybe I shouldn’t have recruited […]

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