Tuesday, January 22, 2013


On January 4, 2013 my older brother, Steve, unexpectedly died.  He lived in Illinois in our hometown of Eureka.  He never married but loved kids and was a fabulous uncle to our three kids and his other nieces, nephews and great nieces and nephews.  He was 62; only three years older than me.  We were the third and fourth kids in our family and he was the only boy with our two sisters several years older than us.  We spent a lot of time together being the "younger kids".

Steve (3) and Deb (2 months)
We were pretty close as youngsters and played together--if, that is I wanted to play boy stuff.  He never had the patience to sit down with me and play Barbies!  We did play board games together and I'm sure he always won.   He wasn't one to let me win without deserving it. You can tell in this picture that he was probably wondering what on earth to do with this scrawny, bird-like creature.  I didn't really look like too much fun at 2 months old.

Old mementos from trips

Being so close in age, we spent a lot of time together on family vacations and other outings.  When we were going through his things after he died I found several little souvenirs that we had picked up in various places like Washington, DC, Colorado and New Mexico, to name a few.  My counterparts had long since disappeared but among all of the things that he saved were a little replica of the Capitol building, a small container of sand from the painted desert and a small vial of gold that we panned in "Gold Country"at Knotts Berry Farm in California over 50 years ago.  These along with his "Cub Scout" wallet and a few other things will go into a shadow box that I will hang in my home as a remembrance to him and to our childhood.

Maybe I started to be a bit more fun as I got a little more substance.  This is where our friendship
Deb (6 months) and Steve (3 1/2 years)
started.  I called him "Dee Dee" for a while and then it became "Stevie".  His names for me were not quite so bland. The one I remember him calling me was "Bawl Baby".  There was even a song: "She bawls all day and she bawls all night!  She really is amazing. she's a  Bawl Baby sight."  I doesn't really make much sense but I think it was a take of from a popular song of the times.  And of course, when he would sing it I would just bawl more so it was kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy!  I'm glad I could give him so much entertainment!  He really did end up having a lovely singing voice so maybe I can claim some responsibility for that.
Steve teaching me "the wave"

Our first TV
 This picture has always been a favorite of mine.  It was taken in the front yard of our big, old Darst Street house.  The lawn was huge and we spent many hours playing outside.  Just think, if he hadn't spent time teaching me how to walk (and teach me the wave at the same time!!) I may still be crawling.  At least I wasn't bawling!!!

Freshly Scrubbed
And the one on the upper right is another all time fave.  The era of the "electronic babysitter" was beginning.  We had gotten our very first television--they weren't yet common household appliances and we were lucky to get a black and white console set.  We're probably watching Superman or one of the other few choices we had back then.  I vividly remember this moment as I tried act just like him with the feet up and fingers on my face, pinkies in the mouth.  I thought he was super-cool because he was my Big Brother and we had a TV!

This one, where we're freshly scrubbed and ready for bed is another one I remember.  Notice my precision-cut bangs.  That was always an ordeal and for this picture they happen to be straight!  The little stuffed dog I'm holding was light blue with pink trim.  The couch was a scratchy red material.  I hate to say it but I think we were watching TV again. Come to think of it I have a lot of memories involving the Boob Tube.  Fortunately there were only 3 fuzzy black and white channels so I'm sure our brains had a long way to go before they turned to mush.  Getting a picture of your kids when they are clean is always a treat.  I bet we smelled just like Baby Shampoo and Tame cream rinse!  And for once he wasn't teasing me!

World Peace (?)

Here's an example of one of the great vacations we went on.  Our Dad's parents lived in Bellingham, Washington, just south of the US/Canada border.  It was always great fun to stand right on the boundary line.  No one needed passports then and we'd jump back and forth between the two countries!  I don't know if he's trying to remove the "wall" dividing the countries or not, but it could have been the beginning of his life long quest for peace and harmony in the world! We sure did have fun.

I love going through old pictures and mementos of our childhood.  Having an older brother had its advantages.  In spite of all the teasing, he always had my back.  We loved each other in that silly way brothers and sisters do--never really being serious and teasing and mocking each other out loud, but on the inside knowing that it was wonderful to have someone so close in age to look up to.

He taught me a lot of things--like playing baseball, for instance.  We'd have loads of fun and I would really have no idea what I was doing.  He'd patiently explain until he had had enough and I would go back inside to my dolls. We did go to several Chicago Cubs baseball games as a family and he had cool plastic replicas of players like Ernie Banks on his dresser.  I liked to play with them because the baseball bats were removable. He was a musician--had a "trap set" (drums) which he played constantly.  When he got his practice pad he would show me how to hold the sticks and let me pound out a few songs.  I wasn't supposed to play with the drums but I managed to a few times and he thought it was funny to watch me play.  We bonded a lot on our long car trips to Washington State.  There were so many adventures to be had at all the places we would stop for the night.  When we had a motel with a pool he'd help me swim.  In fact, when we were teenagers he taught me Senior Lifesaving at Lake Eureka when he was a lifeguard there.  I was so proud of him then because he had such an important position as manager.

When it came time for me to learn to drive Steve was right there in the passenger seat patiently helping me figure out the finer points of the rules of the road.  He'd be "Fred", the name of my student driving teacher and we'd laugh as he played the role to perfection.

He was proud of me on my HS Grad in 1971
Going back is good for my soul but one can't stay in childhood forever.  Steve and I did grow up and had our own lives to deal with.  He continued to be my mentor and my advisor for many years during high school and beyond.  We grew apart as we crossed paths less and less.  Our one irrevocable tie was my children.  He loved them as if they were his own.  His apartment was full of pictures we had sent along with cards and letters my kids had sent him over the years.  My kids seem to have the ones taken with him, but they are priceless.

If I had known on Christmas Day 2012 that when he answered the phone at mom's for our Christmas call that it would be the last time I would hear his voice I would have talked to him for a long time rather than waiting while he got mom.   I can think of so many other times that I neglected to really show him how much I cared about him, especially when he was going through tough times.  But since we never really do know, we can just learn from these times and keep doing our best.

My brother's life was not easy.  He had so many friends but never found his soul mate.  He was well educated with a Masters Degree in Divinity but was a pastor for only a short time.  He was a hard worker but never seemed to completely find his niche with a fulfilling career.  In spite of this, he changed many people's lives for the better.  He was a good man, kind and generous to a fault.  Yes, he did march to his own beat but he did it well.  He will no longer have to make decisions or  have any regrets.  He is now free from any insecurities or obstacles that he was dealing with.  All that is behind him.  What I now have in my heart and in my little memory box on the wall will keep him with me as I continue to learn from him for the rest of my life.

Thanks, bro.  You taught me well.  Peace and love be with you.