Friday, January 29, 2010
Letter to My Brother
Mom discovered she was pregnant with you when we were still living on East Crescent Avenue. She had taken me to the doctor’s for something and I overheard her discussion with Dr. Botta. They probably figured I wasn’t paying attention. The doctor said something about the fact that when women get older they may ovulate at a different time than normal. Giggling as if she were a teenager, Mom’s reply was, “That explains it.” The “it” was the suspicion of you.
Though we were still living on East Crescent Avenue, Mom and Daddy planned to move to a bigger, brand new house on Beatrice Street. Of course, none of us girls wanted to move. We loved our home and were secretly overjoyed that our house had not sold. In fact, I remember moments in the old stone church when I would pray that we would never, ever move. I remember regular sessions, I think after weekly catechism class, where I whispered my urgent prayers and breathed back in whiffs of the holy water, the cool scent of the stone floor, the warm, melting smell of the candles and hoped. For months the house did not sell.
One evening after dinner we were called to the living room and Mom and Daddy announced that they were expecting a baby. From the first moments, they were overjoyed and excited. Gloria burst into tears and revealed that she had been praying for a little brother. At that moment, I knew that bigger plans than mine were unfolding and that we would indeed move to the bigger house where that would accommodate you and the riches you were about to bring to our family. Together, the five of us anticipated your arrival with increasing joy.
Mom was happy in her pregnancy and during it we moved and got settled on Beatrice Street. We three girls decided to rotate rooms so that each of us could have her own room for a year, then switch. So I was rooming with Gloria across the hall from Stefy and the ready nursery. One night in October I was awakened from a sound sleep. It was dark in the shadowy way that it is when there is some light coming from the hall and from outside the window. Daddy stood beside Gloria’s bed and she was propped up on one elbow. “It’s a boy,” he murmured, his voice astonished and full of awe. “We had a boy.” Gloria started screaming and crying for joy. I was happy too, and went back to sleep, having no idea how your terrific little brown-eyed presence would change my own dreams, for as you know, once I met you, I wanted most of all to have my own little brown-eyed boy.
Though Daddy never made us girls feel as if we were unwanted because of our gender, we knew he was especially delighted to be blessed with you – a son. And, why not? You were his namesake, a special and unexpected gift. He spent time rocking and feeding you, read to you and walked around with you. Not that you were fussy, because you weren’t. You were wide-eyed and delighted with the world and were an interesting and lovable child that both your parents and your three adoring sisters loved.
During the time at Beatrice Street, you were christened, learned to walk and began to talk. Stefy gave you rudimentary piano lessons, we fed you wonderful food, delighted in every new thing you did and saw and said; you were the brightest spot in everyone’s day. I remember that Daddy was protective of you around older, visiting children. He suspected that you were intelligent and liked to read to you. He was always concerned with people telling the truth, behaving decently and honorably and with courtesy. He tried to instill these qualities in you through his example and through dinner table discussions and talks in the evening of what was right and wrong, good and logical. Though you were too young to understand these, Daddy was trying to set the standard for how he wished you to behave and we were to all see to it that this happened. I particularly remember the care he took to give me a list of logical and scientific evidence that proved the existence of God and the truth of the Scripture. In the arrogance of my thirteenth year, I told him that I didn’t need proof. His response was that he thought it was important to use your mind as well as your heart in matters of faith and that he had needed some proof. I understood then that his faith was somewhat hard won. He had struggled with his father’s alcoholism, with his own individual way of thinking about things and had come to profound conclusions. This is your heritage, too, Dave, one he purposed to pass on to you.
One summer in Allendale before you were born, we went to a party at the Job’s house. I think they lived near the fire house but you know how I am with directions. I think it was an after-the-fireworks 4th of July party, but it may have been the Allendale’s Centennial party. Anyway, it seemed as if the entire town was there and the kids played outside until well past midnight. I remember finally going home and being in bed; sometime toward dawn I heard a horrible thud. I must have gone into Mom and Daddy’s room and there he was flat on his back on the floor – eyes closed, arms slack beside him. The next day we were called into the living room. Daddy explained that he had too much to drink the night before at the party and had passed out on the bedroom floor. He was not emotional or crying; his demeanor was serious and determined. He said, “I was wrong to drink that much and I want to apologize to you girls. It will never happen again.” Later, I understood that his grief over his own childhood where he had to carry his drunken father home to bed was the force that inspired him to change the world with his own little family. Before that incident he was never drunk and after the apology he kept his promise, making this memory one of my most cherished. His apology and his honesty about his own fault took me from terror and confusion to acceptance of him as a human being I could trust and emulate.
Daddy was a friendly, loyal and intelligent man. His IQ was reported to be over 140. He was, however, a terrible student. He was restless in school and liked to have fun. Though in life he had a wide variety of interests, in school he could not bear to study things that did not interest him. Therefore he would approach a class with the attitude that he’d devour every bit of knowledge about the aspects of the subject that interested him and to hell with the rest—even if it was to be on the exam. For this type of student, school is confining and so it is no wonder that he chose to go into the Army after high school and delay college.
All of his life, Daddy had armfuls of friends. He loved parties, community gatherings and talking to people. He was a respected volunteer, a hearty participator and welcome member of every community in which we lived. How often I have wished to have his friendly face at one of my gatherings! And now as I write this, I can picture his happy, interested face – there was an eagerness to be with people that was calm and steady and ready to enjoy. I think that you (and Stefy) have inherited this genuine ability to make people feel comfortable, the great love and thoughtfulness to keep connections with people alive and the kind of fun personality that makes any event enjoyable. Grandpa was different because he was charming—like a rainbow. Daddy wasn’t charming; he was dependable as the sun.
As you grew into a toddler, you became even more fun. I remember that Daddy did a lot of things with you, showing you things, taking you with him when he worked on projects in the house. You had a special, joyful relationship with him where you learned constantly and had fun doing it. You identified with him and I can still picture you walking with him, Daddy leaning over slightly to hold the hand you held up for his. After he died, I kept a picture in my mind of one of your favorite activities. When Daddy was sitting on the sofa, you liked to climb on his lap and play with him. One of your favorite things to do was to stand on his legs while he kept you steady. You would grab his ears in both your hands, put your forehead against his, press your nose onto his nose while your eyes stared into his. Then you would growl or yelp or scream. I think you were trying to scare him but it was all so funny everyone laughed.
But now that I think about it, I know that you were testing him. He stayed steady despite your fiercest antics. That’s essentially who he was and one of the most tragic things about his death is that it was so unlike him to be ephemeral. It was against his nature to be short-lived. But I also know that you were memorizing him. He was your example, your best buddy and you wanted to align yourself with him, to be his mirror. In your unknowing but earnest way, you meant to grasp the standard he had set for you in his own life, in his cherished hopes and in all he loved and believed. And somehow I think it worked. Were he with us in the body today, he would still be delighted with you.