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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dad, you would be proud of your son

At seven I couldn't decide if I wanted a pony or a brother.  Every night I would wish upon stars in rural Ohio skies, for ponies and/or brothers. Maybe I thought the baby brother would come galloping in on the new pony. That way I wouldn't have to decide. 

The Ohio skies are,  in 2012 as they were in 1964,  still black as the undersides of closed eyelids. Stars twinkled like the flashes that are also on the undersides of eyelids.  

At seven years, I was an only child.  I had a lot of cousins. I had Mike and Chris and Joe and Bill, my mother's twin sister's children.  They lived down the street in Mt. Cory.  Kim and Terri and Traci lived in Lima. They visited me and Mom and Dad or we visited them every weekend.  Mark and Rick lived far, far away in Illinois.  

Older cousins--John, Sharon and Dick--lived on a nearby farm.  I wasn't much interested in John, Sharon and Dick nor they in me; except they had a barn and we younger kids liked jumping in the barn's hay loft.  Quick note (and it has nothing really to do with my reminiscing in particular) I remember from the hay loft once at Thanksgiving, surreptitiously watching my HANDSOME Uncle Jim coming up and out the fields carrying a just shot pheasant. He'd been hunting. 

Some memories are sharp.  This one is for me.  Uncle Jim, my mother's younger brother and the youngest of 11 children, smiling triumphantly--pleased he'd bagged a bird-- as he crossed the road to my cousins' house.  How to relay to you my fascination at six or seven with that young man, my Uncle Jim?  How his smile; his white teeth and crinkled eyes would have me turn away in embarrassment when he would directly greet me.  How that same smile and crinkled eyes from my hay loft vantage point, and without my uncle's knowledge  of my voyeurism, entranced me.  

Uncle Jim died in 1993 of a heart attack.

Eric, the brother I'd wished for--who did not gallop in on the pony of my star wishing-- wasn't yet born when I and our cousins would frolic in my Aunt Margaret's, Uncle Cecil's and cousins John, Sharon and Dick's hay loft.

Eight years separate Eric and me; more than eight years.  Those years felt like a chasm to me when I was thirteen with friends over "to my house."  We were giggling and gossiping friends; all girls.  I remember being in my bedroom with Carol and Dorinda...and Eric. "Mom!!"  I remember crying out in exasperation at his presence, "get Eric out of here!"  

My teen years were so full of "K-I-M", properly written in capital letters, and my teen angst: the unfairness of pimples and parents moving too many times; preoccupations with diets and John Travolta; spending chunks of time trying on clothes for school the next day--oh if only I'd "stuck to my diet!"--that I missed out on Eric.  Except for the occasional game of "21" at our driveway's basketball net,  I didn't much contemplate Eric.  More than anything, he was a sigh heaving burden with which I existed.  I imagine I was much the same for him.

Our mom and Eric, over time, developed a close relationship.  That relationship was more than son and mother closeness.  It was more like soldiers in bunkers who become more than friends, protecting each other in wartime.  That's a lot of responsibility  for a nine year old boy.  A 45 year old woman, our mother, however, needed him to be all of that. 

Eric was the strongest of those two soldiers.

Nine moves; nine schools; Dad's job losses and new jobs to replace lost ones;  jobs found in other cities in other states--always states with possibilities of frozen winter pipes, never a "take-the-dog-for-a-walk-in-flip-flops-in-January" state, glued the two of them together.  Dad's migraines and emergency visits to hospitals in all of those water pipe freezing states assured that the two of them were the "us against the world" pair of which my dad would ruefully laugh.  

Dad, known as Wheezer because as a child he looked like an "Our Gang" TV show character, used to say, " It's you and me against the world, kid....and I think we're gonna get creamed."  Eric and Mom worked hard at not "getting creamed."  It wasn't easy.  They needed reinforcements and replacements.  They didn't get many. I was the best they had and I was the mostly fretful and worried voice on the phone from Florida.  I wasn't much help.

After our father's death during heart bypass surgery--"please Dad, please! DO NOT have the operation on Eric's 18th birthday"-- Eric and Mom were on my radar.  I unconsciously thought I had to "help them;" maybe even "save them."  Never mind that Eric really didn't need saving; that he had been the soldier who'd seen our mother through the bleakness of our father's joblessness and illness; never mind that now he was to see her through the worst of it:  the first days of her life without Wheezer.

It's taken me awhile to admit that Mom and Eric did it without me.

I think now of how my mother's and Eric's relationship; their picking up again and again to follow my father and his hopes for fresh starts; how the cycle of despair and then renewed hope formed and strengthened my brother; how he now rebounds from his own disappointments; how he delights in his current successes.   

I think now of that irritating five year old obstinately sitting on the floor in my bedroom; And then I think of a fourteen year old boy calling 911; sitting beside his unconscious father as he and our mother waited for the ambulance.  And of a fifteen year old driving his mother to hospitals when she was too nervous to take the wheel. And of an 18 year old young man whose father died on his birthday.  I think also of a 22 year old West Point graduate. 

I think of a man who loved his mother; who protected her.  They, in the end, did not "get creamed."

I think of my brother now, a 47 year old man who encourages me to pursue my dreams and who is living out his own dreams.

I marvel at how what I'd perceived as an insecure growing up was really the firm foundation from which Eric now lives his life. 

You, Dad, would most definitely be proud of your son Eric. 
4:59 am edt          Comments

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