Friday, July 11, 2008

Have I ever told you about my older brother?

Jeff is older than me by 18 months. He figures into the earliest memories I have of my life, including what is likely the earliest thing I can remember. My Dad had a motorcycle way back then. I was very small, I don't even know how old. Apparently for whatever reason on this particularly day he had lifted Jeff up and let him sit on the motorcycle and I began to throw a fit, wanting to do it too. And my memory at the time was Jeff's retort to me that I would just pee on it. It makes me smile every time I remember it. I absolutely worshiped Jeff growing up, and we were close when we were little. He would put my necklaces on for me before church or tie the bow of my dress. If I wanted to dance or play house, he often would oblige me. If I wanted to play Barbies, he got out his Six Million Dollar Man action figure, who would go off to work doing Six Million Dollar Man things while Barbie kept their house and tended their babies. He could definitely be a big bully and he was very secure in his position as the "head" of our little sibling threesome, ruling us with a fascist iron fist. He controlled the music, sat in the most comfortable seat available whenever it was available and controlled the remote when television watching became that advanced. I can't imagine though what it would have been like to grow up without him there showing me what came next. When he began to eat more, I began to eat more, wanting to emulate him. I was desperate to keep up with him. When he reached puberty, suddenly our 18 months of age difference became a millenium of division. I was no longer tolerated or even particularly liked. Suddenly I really was the proverbial little sister, and the teasing and making fun that came with him finding his way in the world absolutely crushed me. My personal hero wanted nothing to do with me, and I watched with bitter jealousy as he was nice to sisters of his friends and to my cousin Paula, who was so pretty. I realize now he had his own journey of growing up to do, figuring out the differences between the sexes and how to handle attraction and life, how to become a man, and that I was not to have a role in those discoveries. At the time all I knew was he had turned against me, and I bled inside with missing him. Things did not improve for a very long time. The injuries I felt by his rejection in puberty lingered long into adulthood. We did not communicate well and I always assumed he still felt the way about me that he had when we were teens. A softening took place when Alexander had his brain tumor. I was shocked and moved when he told me he could not concentrate at work the day of Alexander's surgery from pondering and worrying, and when he came up to see him carrying a stuffed animal from a fellow at work he'd told about Alex, my heart melted. It was slow progress, but it was progress. And as Joseph fell ill and traveled the long road to heaven, walls crumbled further. The day Joseph died, I have a wonderful memory. Joseph had been pronounced dead shortly before, and I had gone out to make the call to Joe to tell him Joe-Gi was gone. Jeff simply came up behind me and placed his hands heavy on my shoulders, squeezing me, patting gruffly, his throat seemingly closed up and locked. I do not remember if I even acknowledged him. I had not been able to shed a single tear until his touch freed me somehow. I don't know to this day if he even knows how burned into my memory that is. He has his own family and has done so well for himself. His boys are beautiful, as is his wife, Stacey. He had his own health issues while Joseph was sick, ones that were serious and severe, but I was unable to worry the way I would have if my attention had not been drawn to Joseph. Since then things are softer. My heart is softer. He is a fantastic father, a good provider. I am proud of him. I don't see him as much as I would like. Our lives are close in that we live just minutes from one another, but far in that we are at very different stages of child raising and have extremely different interests. But I admire him. His mark is on my life in the kind of music I like to listen to, the type of logic I use at times and in the way I relate to men. I have fantastic, happy memories of combing through South Dakota streams on vacation looking for gold, of him riding a horse that tried to knock him off of it, of days spent piled on his bed with Ryan (our younger brother) and a tape recorder, saying silly things and then playing ourselves back with a vast sense of entertainment. Of him hooking the clasp on my necklace. Of dancing crazily in the living room with him while Mom played her accordian for us. After Dad died, we found a tape in his things that had Jeff's voice at about 11 years of age recorded on it. I was stunned to hear that his voice and Joseph's were identical. When Joseph was born, I named Jeff as his godfather. And Joseph was growing up to have a resemblence to Jeff that was uncanny.

Jeff with Joseph at Joseph's First Communion:

This is Jeff and his family now:

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