ODE TO A GOLDEN CHILD
Looking back across the vast span of the past 60 years, there are visions that present themselves just as they did on the day they happened. Many of those visions are of my brother just younger than myself. While I was the “brilliant” child, he was, hands down, the “golden” child. While my coloring reflected a hint of the American Indian heritage we shared—dark hair, olive complexion, his was that of the brightest, purest sunlight flashing in the sky.
I still remember how he would look on a summer’s day on the prairie hilltop on which we grew up outside Edmond, Oklahoma in the 1950s, his golden hair bobbing up and down through the seemingly endless fields of high grass in which we played, and his sleepy hazel eyes squinting against the blazing sun above protected by those amazingly thick ginger lashes. Sometimes I found myself just wanting to grab him and hug him because he was so cute, but he wasn’t a touchy-feely kind of kid. You know, all boy. So he would have none of that. It sometimes seems like a magical time when I look back on it, as we frolicked and played in those overgrown fields for a good bit of our childhood before we left them behind in a move to Oklahoma City.
There was another brother tagging along before we left Edmond. He was cute and funny and always willing to be our guinea pig, but actually one of my earliest memories of him is coupled with that of my golden brother. Although it may seem distasteful to some, this is my most hilarious first memory of them both. My brother came to get me and show me something. For some reason, nobody seems to know why, I was the only one who appeared to be able to understand him when he was a pre-speech toddler, and since he always accepted my translation, my parents communicated with him through me, but I digress. On this particular day he tugged on my shirtsleeve, then led me into the living room where the new baby’s crib was sitting. Once there, at eye level for him was a single baby turd had somehow managed to escape the diaper of our brother. We both giggled as little boys do. Why is that funny to me? I don’t know. It just is, and it is my first memory of communicating with one and observing the other of my brothers.
There are other memories of my childhood that I could never forget and always bring a smile. There’s the time we built a tire swing in the backyard and tested it with our little brother, flinging him on the bouncing tire across the length of the yard when the flimsy rope we used snapped. He only received a few scratches and bruises, which accounts for our survival when the wrath of our mother descended upon us all. And then there is my all time favorite childhood memory when the golden child and brilliant child—now teenagers—teamed up to bust our father’s recliner chair while launching ourselves as high as possible into the air by tromping on the footrest. We escaped that one by barely propping it back up long enough for our dad to sit in it and spill himself out into the corner behind as he opened his morning newspaper. We only confessed once we were old enough to avoid a good spanking—you know, in our early twenties.
Our parents’ divorce and cross-country moves along with the Vietnam draft separated us in our late teens, but we were reunited in Houston in the early Seventies, each in our early twenties and going through our own divorces. It was a time of reunion for us both and a chance to forge a new relationship as grown men—at least, we thought of ourselves as grown. My brother had a great apartment not far from the Houston Ship Channel, where he worked, with a large upstairs bedroom complete with what every young man needed: a king-sized bed. The night I remember so well is one of laughter and mirth as we sat cross-legged in that great big bed, clad only in our underwear, passing a joint back and forth between us as we assessed our marital situations. He perfectly mugged the nagging, unhappy expression that my ex so often wore while I giggled uncontrollably, and we both admitted our worst fear about being divorced: What does Grandma think? It was one of those moments where we both realized our common link in a grandmother who loved us and that we wanted to please with the way we conducted our lives. The irony of it all is that our grandmother was also divorced and probably thought nothing about it, but she was still the arbiter of all that was right and wrong in our world even as young adults. So we laughed uncontrollably and continued passing the joint back and forth until we were ready to sleep. My golden brother, reflecting his melancholy of the period, put Jim Croche’s “Time in a Bottle” on the record player and set it to repeat over and over through the night. If it hadn’t been for the sheer beauty of that particular song, I would have gladly ripped it from the turntable and busted it against the wall.
Now, that is all at least 40 years in the past, and, yes, “If I could save time in a bottle….” I would open it up and return us to that night so many years ago so that we could re-experience the love and camaraderie that we shared that night. Why, you ask? Because 40 years is such a long, long time and so many things happen on the roller coaster of life. Lives, especially among ambitious brothers in our country, lead us far and wide and rip at those commonalities that we shared in our youth. Different career paths take us in different directions and into different belief systems. The chattering heads of our leaders and their paid spokespersons rip and tear at the very fabric of our love and acceptance for one another and make us believe that we must somehow take up their banners and follow them on their selfish marches to the halls of power. And in the end, because two brothers chose two different pathways in their adult lives, they become tossed about on the seas of political change, one being hurt by the political leaders that helped the other succeed, leading to unnecessary bitterness and division.
So since I was unable to save that time in that bottle, I have a different wish for the New Year, perhaps one that will bring us the comfort and joy that we sing about at this time of year. My New Year’s wish is that we all put down the angry signs and turn around and go back home, hug those we love and be glad they’re there to love. The infamous Mame Dennis is credited with saying, “Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death.” I have always admired that sentiment and done my best to live by it, and I see a country full of families like mine that are starving to death because of a competition between people who don’t even care that we are alive except when they need us to advance their cause. It’s time for us all to realize that our lives are in our homes and communities, not in the faraway halls of a government run by and for people we don’t know and who don’t know us, and to reject the bitterness and hatred they are selling. It’s time for some real family values, not a slogan being used by one side to beat up the other. Go find someone you love and give them a hug.
Happy New Year, and peace be with you all.