A Letter from a Little Brother.

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My brother Jay and I. 1967/ Photo by KidZond.

 

I have no shame. This blog today is my birthday gift to my Brother Jay.

Just so you know.

Figured it was best to be honest.

However, I write about family relationships mostly. And what could be more family than siblings relationships?

I have three siblings, fairly spread apart in ages. Jay is my closest sibling in age, 7 years older than me. Then my brother Gary who is 13 years older and my sister Karen who is 16 years older. Till I was 11, Jay had been a constant figure in my life. Not always for the better I should say. Being the bratty younger brother was a special talent I cultivated when I was little.

It took me years to get to know Jay, many years actually. As kids our favorite pastime was taunting each other. I would always pull the ‘Mom Card’ and rat him out, which you know, probably wasn’t the best thing to do. He’d find ways to get me back.

It’s funny, but back then the taunting, teasing, being mean to each other was so dramatic and a tad terrifying at times to me. Now? That time in my life are some of my best, definitely  funniest, memories.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, being the youngest two we had a lot in common. Our childhood was at a bad time for our Dad. He was in the manufacturing industry, making screws, nuts, bolts. That industry took a dive in the early ’70’s. So he went from job to job. We, being the youngest, and still at home, moved along with our parents. I had the luck of being 7 years younger. I could make friends easier. But when you are under 10 years of age, back in the 1970’s, all you had to do to make friends is hold up a football.

During a phone conversation, we counted how many different schools we had gone to. Jay had been to 8 different schools, I had been to 7. Jay was always the new kid in High School. Sometimes twice in one school year. This instability in our lives wasn’t good for us, it isn’t good for anyone actually. Adjusting to such instability was harder on Jay than it was on me. I didn’t understand it back then, only when I was older did I get it.

When Jay was 18 he joined the army, I was living in Mexico at the time with our parents. He wasn’t allowed to come to Mexico. A fight between our father and him. I don’t know the full details. Yet that parting was when I was only 11 years old. So I had known my brother as a child, not as an adult.

Years went by, and Jay came to back to the midwest to live for a while. We actually got to know each other as adults. It was a little odd at first, I think for both of us, I know it was for me. However I think we both aged well, and for the first time, really enjoyed each others company.

Back then when he first moved back (it would only last about a year before he moved back West) we could talk to one another, as adults. We moved on from being siblings to being friends. I guess that is the best thing I can say about my brother. I would pick him as my friend even if he wasn’t my brother. Lucky for me, I can have both.

Now, we talk fairly often. Easily once a month, sometimes more. Unfortunately we live thousands of miles apart. He lives on the West Coast, I live in the Midwest. So visits are not simple. Whereas his kids are grown, I still have a young family. Not easy for me to just jump on a plane for a weekend getaway visit.

Time and distance can be cruel when it comes to love ones. I have entertained the thought of moving closer to my West Coast family, our sister lives out there too. Yet my roots are here in the Midwest. As are my wife’s. His are west of the Rockies, where he lives with his wife Leslee and their cats.

We did get together last year. It was a fun time, and that week will live with me till the day I die. Especially one night we talked and drank, talking about Everything.

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From Left to Right. Karen (My Sister) Leslee (My Sister-in-Law) Some dude whose birthday is today. / Photo by The Annoying Baby of the Family.

 

When I think about relationships, family, friends, and even co-workers. I look very fondly upon my relationship with my Big Brother Jay. He’s one of those people who fall into the Real category. If you ask his advice, he’ll give you it, straight forward, no-nonsense type of advice. He will state his opinion if he needs to, remain silent when he thinks he should. We don’t always agree on everything, but we both are okay with having different opinions. If you think on it, that’s kind of rare in siblings. People in general for that matter.

Over the years I have found a deeper appreciation for our relationship. His wit and humor that reminds me so much of our fathers (without the bite to it). His complains about his receding hairline…I just shake my bald head at him. His love of cooking, which he has perfected to an art form. His love and respect for our sister, who at very low times in his life, was his rock. And his love and appreciation for his wife Leslee. A woman, who upon after our mother met her, said to him bluntly “She’s a nice girl, don’t screw this up”.

We are also in the same business, Trucking, so it nice to get advice on matters from someone who has your back. Knows the trade and can give you pointers.

What I wish most for my brother is for him to know he’s a great guy. Not prefect, not even close. It is his imperfections that make him perfect. Life has beaten the crap out of him at times, yet he keeps going. He does what makes him happy, and keeps it real.

Life isn’t easy, nor is it close to being fair. We all have regrets, we all wish things would have been different. Yet those things, those choices we make, shape us into the person we are. Many I know would have given up if they went though half the things my brother Jay has gone though. I doubt I could have been strong enough.

I told my oldest daughter Jenelle what my father’s thoughts on my brother Jay were. That my father said “Jay alway took the harder path, even though the easy path laid before him”. I disagree with my father’s assessment, yet my daughters reply was most eloquent.

“The harder path is more interesting.”

 

 

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Everything…

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My Brother Jay fishing on the Rock river. / Photos by KidZond.

 

 

The conversation started quite unexpectedly. We had been talking most of the night yet others were present. My brother’s wife, my wife and two young children and my sister. But at around 11 p.m. we, my brother Jay and I, were alone.

We had dinner earlier, teriyaki chicken on the grill. We had also been drinking craft beers since afternoon. Then of course, being on vacationing all week at a rental house on the river, we had been drinking a lot. I think I drank more that week than I have in the last five years. Possibly ten.

Yet one thing my brother and I wanted to do on this vacation of ours, was to relax on the deck, beer in hand, and just talk. This hadn’t happen yet, we had family time, we went on a day trip to historical town, my brother and his wife toured a brewery in Wisconsin. So our conversation had been put off. I truly think we had forgotten about it.

“I want something other than beer, want to have some Johnnie Walker?” My brother asked me. I agreed. So we brought the bottle out and sat out to drink it gone. This was actually a family joke, a sort of ‘point of honor’ as our father and our great-uncle had accomplished this feat many times. So we needed to ‘be like dad’.

So we talked.

“Do you remember when…” and

“What was that guys name who always…” and even

“Really? I never knew that!” and many more phrases of the same vein. We talked and laughed. Talking about funny things and silly things. Catching up for years of conversations we should have had, but never got the chance to.

However as we continued on with the point of honor, tossing in a 25 ounce bottle of beer that we split between us, and some craft beers for fun. Thus increasing our blood alcohol level to a point where it narrowed our visual acuity. Our conversation turned more to the serious side.

We discussed our parents, both of whom had passed away years ago, our father in 1998 and our mother in 2006. We talked of our love of our parents, how we, among so many we know, were very lucky to have parents that stayed together their whole lives. Both of our spouses come from families that had went through divorce.

Neither our Father nor our Mother had a happy childhood. Both were children of the Depression. Our mother was taken to an orphanage when she was just 5. Our grandmother had died of tuberculosis when she was 5, her father, my grandfather took her and our uncle Tommy to an orphanage because he couldn’t be bothered to raise children. An irony here is that I am the spitting image of our grandfather.

Our father grew up with an alcoholic father who beat him. His parents divorced when he was young and our grandmother remarried when our father was 13. He ended up leaving home at 15 and living with our great-uncle since my grandmothers new husband and our father didn’t get along. The would become the best of friends over the years, but back then they couldn’t stand each other. So both our parents loathed their childhoods. However, they talked of the good times more than the bad.

Our parent would have four children, they would have their ups and downs yet still remained together for 53 years till our fathers death. They were, by no means, perfect people. Yet they truly loved one another and their children.

I wouldn’t call it a chiding of our parents as more of a review. All of us children are hard workers, a trait we inherited from our father. Even our eldest brother (who wasn’t present) owns his own business. Yet unlike our father, we have stayed at jobs for years.

“So, what? 2 years? maybe 3 tops?” My brother said. I nodded.

“I’ve been at my present job for 11 years, before that 13 years.” I said. He nodding, he too had worked at his present job for years.

Our father rarely stayed at one job. He would always find a reason to move on. We figured the longest job he ever held was 5 years. Yet he provided, always came through in the end. The in-between sucked, but he was good at pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

We talked about Politics, our father loved to talk politics. We talked sports, and all the events our father dragged us to. How our mother would smack us in the face for the littlest infraction yet our father never, ever, laid a hand on us. Although they loved each other immensely, my brother Jay and our mother’s relationship (especially in his teenage years) wasn’t the best. When he became an adult, their relationship mellowed. This is a common thread isn’t it? I had the same relationship with my eldest daughter. Yet I never hit her with a cast iron frying pan like our mother did to Jay. Yes, there is a story there.

Our conversation metered on to our lives, our screw ups, our triumphs. We talk families, and children. We divulged secrets of our lives. Things we would never repeat and I won’t repeat here. As we talked the conversation went to a place few get to go to. One of deep admiration and love for each other, of total honesty without hurt. Two brothers, intoxicated yes, but still able to follow each other’s words. Reaching down deep to find our moment in time where we bonded like we never have before.

I’m the baby of the family at 53. Jay is 60, so you can imagine what a total pain in the ass I was as a younger brother. As kids, our bonding was only when we needed something from each other. Yet that night, that Saturday night that I will never forget, the conversation transcended all normal conversations we had ever had. We even went so far as to chide each other, but in a loving caring way, that if not for that moment in time, it would have been taken wrong, taken as a rebuke, yet it wasn’t that night.

As my brother question my dreams, my desire to become a writer and to fulfil that dream, that I have been pursuing for over 20 years, he asked my why I had never published. Why I had never put my work out there for others to see.

“What? are you afraid? You scared that you will be rejected? That no one will like your work?” he asked me. After a long awkward pause, I answered him.

“Yeah…” I said quietly. “I’m afraid.” I admitted.

“Okay, so what’s worse. Never publishing and not having to worry about rejection, or not knowing? Never knowing if anyone will like it because you didn’t put it out there?” and that was the crux of the matter.

“So what if no one likes it, you’ll know, then just…I don’t know, do something else you love. But come on, you need to know.” He said to me.

And he was right. I knew he was. That night, that Saturday night when we stayed up till the early morning air was thick with dew, he pushed me to face my biggest fear. This blog was created in response to that conversation. Putting myself out there for the world to read. I would have never had started it if not for his loving goading of me.

We had conversations on every topic imaginable. I can’t think of a subject we didn’t touch upon. From the world and it’s messed up ways, to what bug is that? We talked. We finished our point of honor and then some. And as the sun threaten to show the first rays of dawn, we stumbled off to bed. Our tongues were literally tired. Our eyes bleary, our bodies achy and knowing the pain they will be in tomorrow. Yet our souls were refreshed.

Not a Saturday night has passed since that one, that I don’t think about that conversation. Something about it was almost magical. No showmanship, no condemnations, no boasting except for humours effects. No one but us, that deck, and the river that flowed by. I will never forget that night. Even though, in time, the conversation itself will fade in memory, exact details will be lost, as some were to Mr. Johnnie Walker, yet the feeling and emotions of that night…I’ll never forget it. Nor will my brother Jay.

The next day, as we were made fun of for our hangovers. Teased and picked on, we would just smile at each other. It was Sunday, their last day here before flying home early Monday morning, and my family and I had to go home, so we parted around mid-afternoon. My sister-in-law asked my brother Jay how long we stayed up. He said around 5 a.m. he thought. She looked at him and asked him what did we talk about for 6 hours? He thought for a moment, looked at her and said.

“Everything…”