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  • Karen Terhune Duncan


If you have ever had the experience of being at a Bullfight you know that you are not really at a "sporting" event, because that would suggest there is a fair competition going on. The bull is often drugged and has been badly weakened by the lance of the horse-bound picador early in the match. Bullfighting is more of a spectacle, an art, some would call it. But that suggests it is beautiful and in my opinion, it's anything but.

In 1969 my family traveled to Spain for several summer weeks. We visited Madrid and the Mediterranean coastal area of Malaga and Torremolino. One evening, we attended a bullfight. I was just 16 and curious. My younger brothers were giddy with excitement. My father was very much looking forward to the event.

At the appointed time, the three matadors, each followed by their assistants, the banderilleros and the picadors, marched into the ring to the accompaniment of a traditional paso doble (which sounds eerily like the Monday Night NFL tune) music. The matadors (the term toreador, popularized by the French opera Carmen) are the stars of the show. They wear a distinctive silk jacket heavily embroidered in gold, skintight trousers, and a montera (a hat) and a sensational red cape. This costume can cost thousands and at this point my mother is enjoying the show. There are gorgeously dressed and adorned senoritas all throwing roses at the matadors. There is no bull in site. It's colorful and even a bit glamorous.

Eventually the actual "show" begins and the bull charges into the ring. He's already got several colorful spears in his hide, and he's bleeding. So much for a fair fight. He's been wounded before it begins. My mother is appalled. My brothers are thrilled. My father is amused. Within 10 minutes, maybe less, my mother leans over to me and says, "You and I are leaving." And we did. I was very happy to go with her.

There were interesting small shops all around the arena, selling colorful items, and we wandered for a bit before going in one that sold pretty silver jewelry. After looking over their displays my mother chose a pair of long dangling earrings with intricate silver etching and tiny pearls hanging from a loop. She didn't wear them often, but when she did, I thought she looked like a movie star.

It was Father's Day, 2014, right after my mother had passed away. I was going through all her belongings, helping my father donate, dispose and disperse. Truthfully, my father (and those who knew him will attest) wasn't doing much of anything to help. When I opened the box with these earrings, I sighed, and was swept back to that excitingl evening in Madrid. I quietly sat next to my frail and tired father, showing him the earrings.

"Do you remember these,"I asked him.

He looked up at me. "No, should I?" I could see him searching his brain for some occasion that he should remember and a worry came over him.

"Remember the bullfight?" I asked, grabbing hold of his hand.

He smiled broadly and laughed, "Your mother hated that!"

"Indeed she did, "I said. "She and I left and went shopping." He laughed again.

He then touched them, examining the detail carefully. "They are pretty," he said wistfully. "Do you want them?"

"Of course," I said. "I'm taking them." He chuckled.

He died just a few months later and I wore the earrings to his memorial service, as inappropriate as they were for the occasion. Since then when I have occasion to wear them, I think of them both and all that my brothers and I experienced because of them. Fearless, curious, adventurous, remarkably fun Joan and Ralph. How I miss them every day, and especially on a day like today. But I'm still glad I missed the bullfight.

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