O Brother, Who Art Thou?
Its always nice to spend time with family, and the recent Memorial Day Weekend afforded us that opportunity. When families get together, it’s an occasion to see how much we are alike, and how much we are so different.
For example, a group of my nieces, nephews, assorted partners and friends played two drinking games at a nearby table: Thumper and BUZZ. They were so loud and obnoxious, if I had access to a firehose I would broke them up like a prison riot. I’m sure when I was their age, we played the same games but with quiet whispers and respect for our neighbors.
With that said, I would like to formally apologize to the woman who lived next door to our summer shore house in Seaside, 1979. I’m sure she lived a very nice, peaceful existence until we showed up. Just a group obnoxious, loud, assholes who played Thumper and Buzz five feet from her window, leaving dead soldiers (her name for empty beer bottles) literally on her doorstep. Even with her obvious agitation of us, she would often say, ‘I am praying for you boys’. In our gratitude we nicknamed her, ‘Sister Rose from The Church of the Perpetual Sorrow’.
We really were assholes.
Forty years later, to a spirit long gone, I offer a heartfelt apology.
Besides the assholery of youth, another difference showed itself the morning after Memorial Day.
While at breakfast, my brother Joe asked me if I would help him pick up some beds a friend gave him. Sure, no problem, how far of a ride is it, I asked.
“Ten minutes,” he said between bites of food. My sister, who sat beside us, cleared her throat.
“Closer to fifteen,” my brother amended. A glance between the two of them revised it once more.
“Worse case scenario, twenty.”
Later, during the forty-five-minute ride to pick up the beds, I noticed a few more differences. His Ford pickup was a far cry from my Toyota Corolla, a car he original forbade me to park near his house because it wasn’t American made. Only after I told him it was a used car, and no foreign companies benefited from my purchase, was I allowed back on the block. In the cab of his truck I wore my brown Skechers, six-pocketed Docker Shorts, and Izod-emblazoned collared shirt. He wore work pants and a t-shirt with a bald eagle on the front, an American flag clutched in its talons; the eagle also wore an American flag t-shirt. From his belt hung a six-inch knife, a blade he could use to perform a life-saving tracheotomy or free a baby bird entangled in litter found on the side of the road.
The only thing that hung from my belt was the shame that it was buckled in the first hole of the leather.
Windows down since he had no air conditioner, the American flag that hung in the back of the cab, agitated by the wind, repeatedly smacked me on the back of the head like I was a communist.
As we drove, my brother periodically picked up a green bottle labeled ‘Fish Oil’ from the dashboard, and spit tobacco juice into the already half-filled container. I chewed tobacco once in my life, and that was enough for me.
Years ago, as my brother sat in the car in the parking lot of the Browntown Shopping Center, I naively walked into a store and asked the clerk for chewing tobacco. Times were simpler then, all I had to do was point out into the parking lot at some random car and tell him my dad sent me in. Fifteen minutes later we were home, my brother and I climbed out the bedroom window, Tom Sawyer style, sat on the roof of the garage, and bit off a chew.
Seconds later, I turned green and threw up over the side of the house.
My brother had a different reaction, obviously, since some forty-plus years later, we sat in his truck as he spouted like a fountain into a plastic bottle.
It didn’t take a long, unexpected drive with my brother to point out the differences between us. They have always been there.
A few years ago, while a group of us sat in the kitchen, my brother stuck his head in the door and commanded “Come with me”. Instinctively, I stood up, but I was immediately dismissed.
“Danny, you come with me.” My son Danny stood and, without words, followed his uncle out the door. A few minutes later the pair emerged from the house and walked to the back yard. Danny’s arms filled with shotguns, boxes of shells, and noise-cancelling earmuffs.
As they set up an impromptu firing range, my nephew Christopher turned to me, smiled, and said, “That’s nice, Danny always needed a father figure”.
My brother is gruff and has an opinion on everything; it must be exhausting for him to always be right. At times, when introduced to people who know my brother, it is often with the caveat, “Don’t worry, he’s nothing like Joe”.
Which leads me to two questions.
One: Which one of us was adopted?
Two: Sometimes, I wonder, is it all an act? Sure, there is that personality in him, but over the years, did he exaggerate it because that is what we expect of him? Or maybe, when all is said and done, at the end of the day, my brother goes home and slips off this gruff persona? With the façade gone, he pours himself a nice glass of white Zinfandel, sits by the fire, puts his feet up on the ottoman, and picks up and reads his well-worn copy of, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”
The world may never know…
Photo by Diane DeMarzo