John? Is that you? How wonderful to see you. My, it’s been years, brother. I agree, we just live too far apart and should see each other more often. Brothers shouldn’t be apart for so long. One of the joys and blessings in our lives is to have a sibling with whom to share life’s events and memories.
Yes, I know, I know… I’ve changed, haven’t I? My hair used to have a deep reddish tint, yet now it’s all white. And I carry a few more pounds of weight than when I was playing football in junior high. You’re looking good; that’s nice to see. I recall you had several bouts of illness when we were children. Sometimes you were in the hospital or went to see doctors and I never understood. Those illnesses must have been very hard on you. However, since you are a year older, there were lots of topics that I never understood, like when you liked that girl, Janice, when you were in sixth grade. Mom used to take you to her house to play and I couldn’t figure why any boy would want to spend time at a girl’s house.
Remember when we experimented with cigarettes? You were the ring leader, for sure. When was it? Sixth grade? All I can remember is that we stole a pack of Herbert Tareyton cigarettes and you insisted we smoke the whole pack because you were afraid Mom and Dad would find any remaining cigarettes. Looking back, I’m sure they instantly smelled the nicotine on our breath and saw the stains on our hands. They must have known this would pass; they never spoke of it – but I was dizzy for a day. And I still feel guilty about stealing the cigarettes.
Look at these old photos of us! I swear we wore identical cowboy outfits every Christmas, and we must have seen every John Wayne movie that came to town. The fun part was arriving back home and getting our cap guns and cowboy hats and playing in the woods behind our home. We were fortunate to have that place to escape from the world and chase imaginary bad guys. Dad eventually gave us BB-guns, but they weren’t as much fun as when we just used imagination. Dad gave you the one with the wooden stock and I got the plastic one, but that seemed the norm in our lives.
See that photo of you, holding the model airplane? You were always good at building them; you tried to teach me, but mine always looked crude. You were also the family artist, able to reproduce any cartoon character flawlessly. I never grasped how you were able to see and draw so well. I give you credit; you taught me how to draw in perspective and that knowledge earned me first place in a 2nd grade art contest.
You were always the reader, I recall. Many nights after we were in bed and the lights were off I would see a light emanating from under your blanket when you were reading, often books by Jules Verne. I learned that from you; using a flashlight under the blanket at night was a means to have my own little universe. Life was simple then, wasn’t it?
There was a heavy snow in January, 1954. Remember that? We must have been playing in it because when we finally got to school (it was a one-mile walk as I recall) we were sent to the principal’s office for being over an hour late to school. That was scary; we had never ever been sent to the principal before that.
What Christmas was it that you received the telescope? 1953? No, not the hand-held one, the big one that used a tripod. That was awesome. You showed me Jupiter and the rings of Saturn and I haven’t seen them since. You always loved studying astronomy and that always impressed me. You saw your future where I did not.
There’s something I should tell you: for years I felt angry toward you, feeling you had been indifferent to me, a younger brother. I was wrong, so wrong. I later found some of your writings that mentioned me and, in looking at old photos of me, I realized it was you who had taken the photos. You did care, but I was too young to realize it. I have wanted so long to tell you that, so I’m especially glad to see you today. Let’s talk again soon.
John died December 21, 1955, just nine days after his 16th birthday. I thought he would always be there for me. I miss him. I miss him a lot.