Sunday Gratitude: The Toucan Story

As many of the Owl readers know, I moved to Weston from Brazil almost eight years ago now, after six years living in São Paulo. Mr. Owl is Brazilian, the Owlets have dual citizenship and two native languages. In total, I have lived nine years in Brazil, and am fluent in Portuguese after many a painful experience as I gained fluency way back in 1998. Never ever ask why the traffic is in a cucumber or why the cow went to the swamp. It’s not important.

Mr. Owl and I will celebrate 20 years married in 10 days–and along with an exciting, two-continent life, I have been welcomed into a wonderful Italian-Brazilian family. One of the things that strikes me about being fluent in Portuguese is that I have an insight into and love of Brazil and Brazilians that visitors can never have. Because, my friends and readers, there is absolutely no one in the world like a Brazilian, with their love, warmth and humor. And no one like my Brazilian mother-in-law Marisa, a biologist, a lover of nature, and a lifelong teacher, and my father-in-law, Marco, a pediatrician, a companion in everything, and also a lifelong teacher.

For the last almost three weeks, my in-laws have been here in Weston–mostly at home as Covid struck our household and one by one we were knocked down. It has not been our best visit, but will somehow be funny someday. In any case, I am grateful for every moment I get with them. And the stories we have from trips to the Amazon, the Pantanal, to the beach at Guaecá, and just being together. One of these stories remains a favorite, which is the toucan story that appears in my facebook memories every single year. Here it is.

One fine day eight years ago, a toucan visiting my in-laws’ ranch outside of Ribeirão Preto was electrocuted as it flew in search of one of the many mango trees. Marisa, seeing the perfectly preserved toucan on the ground, thought to herself “my grandkids will want to see this,” stuck it in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer awaiting our visit a week later. And so when we arrived after a four-hour trip from Sao Paulo, and grandma said “there’s a toucan in the freezer,” we actually were not that surprised. Prior to this, Marisa had kept scorpions in a jar for us to see and once grabbed a large fuzzy spider to wave in my face. Marrying into a family with an ardent lover of mini-beasties can be a challenge to one’s deepest fears.

Vó Marisa showing the toucan to Owlets

After teaching the kids all about toucans, Marisa decided I should take the bird to the boys’ private school in São Paulo to show all the other students. We packed the toucan into a styrofoam cooler and took it back to the big city. Only later did we find out that transport of wild animals, even dead ones, is a criminal offense in Brazil. Not only that, but some private school mommies were not so happy with their kids petting a dead toucan in school next day, and I got a call from the school director. Fortunately, we were moving to the US a few short months later so we escaped censure. Personally, I think it was a highlight of the kids’ day.

In the end, the frozen toucan was taken by another mom at the school, who worked and still works for a fantastic nonprofit called SAVE Brasil. The toucan was stuffed and brought to a museum that sadly has been closed for many years now. Some day perhaps we will meet that toucan again.

And it is precisely these kinds of stories that make me appreciate my inlaws, my adopted country and the crazy that comes along with both. You can’t even make this stuff up. No one would believe you.

My Sunday gratitude: toucans and in-laws. Not in that order.

Sitio Jacutinga, Brasil. Home to live and dead toucans


  • As always we love your Sunday gratitude…and your other stories too.Keep it going.

  • A wonderful story- bless that toucan and his finder Marisa. But Covid hitting the whole family? That is terrible- we send you wishes for speedy recovery. – Your faithful readers Nina and Henry

  • This Toucan story made me lol! Reminds me of the joke about the parrot with a potty mouth. They tried everything but no one could stop it’s cursing until finally the owner put it in the freezer for 5 minutes. It was very chilly but otherwise unharmed and never cursed again. Months later the owner asked it why the freezer made the difference. The parrot responded “I saw what you did to the chicken.”

  • That was the nicest story! Your mother-in-law is the best. You ALL treated that toucan w/ dignity, how can anyone fault you? Thanks for sharing!

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