Today my little brother turns 50. He’s one of a kind.
When we were kids our parents got divorced, then both remarried. We had new siblings to get to know. We went through it together. We moved to a new place, started a new school. We went through it together. We built forts, learned to swim, rode his mini bike, rode our bikes all around town, fought, made up, fought for each other and went through it together. A few years later we moved to a bigger town and learned to adjust to being in a much larger school. We went through it together. We lived on a small farm, hauled hay, played in the barn, visited our grandparents, put on plays, romped the woods. We went through it together. We visited our dad, step-mom, and younger brothers and sisters in Montana, drove there once with an aunt who nearly drove us insane, but we did that together. We swam in airplane shaped pools, waded the ocean, learned to fly fish on family vacations. All of it together. When I was 16 I went to Germany/Austria/Holland for three weeks and right as I was getting home, nearly the same day, he left for a trip to Alaska for a couple of weeks. It was the first time we’d done something separate, without each other. We each had a great time, but I can honestly say I missed him and wished I was sharing the experience with him. It didn’t quite seem complete without him. We got a tad older and got jobs at the same place, alongside some good friends. Then he moved away for college (I’d stayed at home for it) and we were, for the first time, truly apart. It was strange, and hard on us both, I think. When it was time for him to move back I flew down, helped him pack up his things, and we drove back in his tiny car stuffed with all of his belongings and had an adventure when the car broke down near Sacramento. We went through it together. Later, we rented a house together with friends. He joined the Naval Reserve and went off around the world for various exercises. I got a job and he got a job and he was nearly deployed to Desert Storm (had the orders and a date, but ended up not going because that particular conflict ended right before he was scheduled to leave). When we told me he was being deployed I hugged and cried and told him to please be careful, try to stay safe. Luckily he didn’t have to go. Later he got married, I was his best “man”, and then he built a house, while I was first living at the beach and then working in Southern Oregon. When I changed jobs and moved back up North I stayed with him and his wife for a few months, until I got a place of my own. He got divorced and I was there for him. I told him I was gay and he didn’t flinch, he was totally supportive. I met K and they, K and my brother, loved each other instantly. I got sick and was bald from the chemotherapy and he shaved his head. K and I moved to Illinois and in preparation, my brother helped me drive a car from Oregon to Illinois filled with household goods, survived a tornado in Colorado during that trip, explored Chicago together, ate some good pie, stood on the ledge, and laughed a lot. We’re good at that, laughing together.
And on and on. So many life experiences shared.
Life has moved forward, huge changes and small ones in our lives, and we support and love each other, always. We have had fights, of course, and disagreed sometimes, but what matters and remains constant is our love for one another and our ability to be silly and laugh together.
My little brother turns 50 today. And though I can’t be with him, I know he knows I’m thinking of him, and in my heart, we’re together.
Happy birthday, Little Big Brother. I couldn’t love you more.
This is her descending
in a hidden photograph
taken when I was
an infant and Mother held me
at arm’s length. I look back
for her, unsurprised
still questioning why she doesn’t return
my gaze. Her eyes
fix on a spot between
her face and my face. For the infant
there is no distinction.
Her disaffection stains the intimate
objects found years later
among her things of everyday:
a thimble embroidered with a single petal.
a slim gold watch-stopped.
Brushes held to
dry in a bamboo roll. A tiny lime
and fuchsia dress sewn by her
hands for my hundredth day.
His wedding band, scarred
a muted gray. In the gap between us
a vacancy swells and bellies
the air where her eyes avert mine
to slide off where? I wish I could see her
engage and ignite
these traces of the ordinary,
the minutely particular
totems of our daily life: holy.
In an old dream, I plot a little boy’s flight.
Like a fighter pilot, I drop
a homing device back in time to spy
into the landscape of my infancy
before she turned her face away-
before my need was extraordinary.
~Eleanor Chai, Standing Water Poems
As people begin to change their Facebook profile photos to pictures of their Moms I felt, this year, I needed to do a bit more than that. Yes, I’ll be changing my photo too, but that just doesn’t seem like enough. I needed to say a bit more about my Mom. She’s a good one.
Where to begin. What to say. She is a woman of many talents, of many depths, of many experiences. She is a helper, a champion, a sounding board, and a fantastic example to follow. Her heart is big and holds so many of us in it. She’s independent and fierce when she needs to be, sometimes stubborn, sometimes tough, always up for an adventure. She smiles easily, looks you in the eye, and gives a great hug.
I have stories. So many stories.
When I finally told Mom I was gay she cried. Not because she was upset I was gay, but that it took me so long to tell her, that I had been conflicted, afraid, unsure. She ached for me, for my struggle, because I had been scared. That’s love. That aching for another person with no thought of herself, that my friends is unconditional love.
She was just here visiting us, we had all this stuff planned, but plans change and in the middle of her visit we, she and I, ended up driving 6 and a half hours one way to drop off our trailer at the factory, we hung out for a couple of nights in that area, then drove the 6 and a half hours back home. She’s a great travel buddy, plus she took it all in stride. Was totally up for it. Her adventurous spirit fully on display. She is literally up for anything at any time. She once ate a fish eye in Guatemala and crickets in some other place I can’t remember, for goodness sake. I wouldn’t do that. Mom did.
Our family history is complex and beautiful. There have been additions throughout the years and through it all, she opens her arms and her heart to everyone. My step siblings, half siblings, friends, my wife and her family, and on and on. Her heart is big.
I grew up with Mom’s whistle. It’s an amazing thing, birdlike and stunning. She went through a period of time when she couldn’t whistle (she had braces) and it amazed me how much I missed it. Luckily it’s back. Seriously, it’s a great whistle. Some of my fondest memories are of doing the dishes with Mom when I was younger and listening to her whistle, or make up songs.
Making up songs. Mom can be silly, she knows how to laugh, how to have fun. When we were doing those dishes I would throw out some or other thing, a topic, an item, whatever, and Mom would make up a song on the spot about it. She might not even remember this, but I got the biggest kick out of it.
Mom is a jack of all trades and contrary to the saying, she’s a master of many of them. In fact, I literally can’t think of a single thing she’s attempted that she didn’t end up being able to do. Kids always think their parents can do anything, I know mine can. It’s not just me that thinks this. When anyone has a problem to solve, a thing to build or construct, some gardening question, whatever… she can help. She usually just knows, but if she doesn’t she has a great mind for problem-solving. She’s a fantastic problem solver.
She also pitches in, helps out. All the time. Whenever she’s needed. It’s above and beyond. When I was sick she helped out at our house. When K had to go to England for a month during my illness she would only go if Mom agreed to stay with me. Mom agreed, even though she had her own life going on. And that didn’t mean just staying with me, she took care of me. Got me to appointments, stayed with me in the hospital when I spiked a temp and had to go in for a week while they shot me full of antibiotics, helped me through some bouts of anxiety and panic about leaving our house during that time, cooked for me, helped me shower. And other times, before I was sick, and since as well, she’s helped us so many times. Painting and dog sitting and yard stuff and working on our Oregon house before we put it on the market and with the rentals and on and on and on. I don’t have enough room here for all the times she’s helped us, all the things she’s done. I am forever grateful and beyond lucky.
She is full of grace. As in she handles very tough situations with a grace and depth of feeling I admire. Unfortunately, Mom’s lost two husbands. The first she was a caretaker to for nearly a year before he left us, and the second suddenly, without warning. Both times, handling it with such grace. There was emotion and great sadness, both times, but through it all, she never acted bitterly toward those around her, she never took anything out on anyone, she kept going, stayed strong, and never gave up on herself, on us, on life. She impresses me every day.
Mom’s a great human. Of course, she has her faults, don’t we all, but she is fully a fantastic human. Loving, forgiving, open, honest, full of integrity, fun-loving, smart, feisty, adventurous, kind, and just plain nice. She’s a genuinely nice person.
I don’t pretend to know all the depths of her. No one can know all things about another person, but in my nearly 52 years I can honestly say that she is one of my two most favorite people to spend time with, the other obviously, if you’ve read this blog, being K. Which puts Mom not just in the Mom category, but in the friend category. I enjoy being with her, am a better person for the time I’ve spent with her.
I wouldn’t be who I am without her, wouldn’t have the life I have without all the help and guidance and love she’s given and continues to give to me. I say this all the time because I have that Mom, the one all the friends like and everyone wishes they had, and I have her, so I say this all the time… I am lucky. Beyond lucky. I was blessed and lucky to have her as my Mom. I know this. I’m fully cognizant of the fact.
I wish I could somehow bottle the feeling I have right now, this feeling of being overwhelmed with love and joy and pride and gratefulness for having this wonderful person in my life. I wish I could give it away, let other people experience it too. I can’t pour it into this page so that it emanates out to everyone who might stumble across this post, but I wish I could. It’s a great feeling, this feeling of overwhelming love.
It’s a great feeling because I have a great Mom. A one of a kind, in her own class kind of Mom. I can’t really, fully, describe it, but I guess this attempt will have to do. Until that is, I can give her a hug.
I love you so very much, Mom.
Now, excuse me while I go and change my Facebook profile photo.