There are five of us kids so I have a fair number of nieces and nephews. It was a rather remarkable Christmas in that I was able to see them all.
Brother Mike: three daughters. Some of the smartest people you’d ever want to meet. Straight As. Tight knit. Lovely voices that spontaneously harmonize a song, riffing off of a single word. Will talk trash about anybody with the slightest provocation. Love their uncle even though he can be a bit harsh himself and may seem distant at times, and seek him out at family gigs. They miss and grieve the loss of their father in very different but equally profound ways.
Sister Cindy: A daughter and son from her womb, a considerably younger adopted Chinese daughter, and now a Chinese boy on the docket. (My Dear Mother worries that the new addition will be too much for my 50 year old sibling.) The oldest girl and her younger brother are quiet kids. The girl watches others or reads; the boy fiddles with a toy he has brought in his pocket, or waits until his mother is not watching in order to nab a piece of candy. The littlest is the family doll, all amazed by her petite frame and coal black hair. She pretends to be shy much longer than most children.
Sister Kim: Two older teenage sons and a younger girl. The boys play poker and ask their uncle about Las Vegas and strategy. The girl has said seventeen words to her uncle in as many years. They are very close to each other and share quirky body movements. The oldest is a bit of a loner, the middle one a straight-A jock and the youngest a magazined beauty.
Sister Chris: Two daughters and a son. Preacher’s kids. But still devout. Go figure. Smart too. Motivated. The girls want to know what makes their heretic uncle and his jewish DW tick. The boy takes after his father, aloof but maybe not as self-amazed. The oldest girl knows how to appeal to men and has out-matured her mother. The middle one must see angels. They all have healthy appetites.
As I watched these kids, I saw how close they were to their brothers or sisters, rarely away from each other’s side, often lounging upon one another as they read or took naps. I did not recall doing the same with my siblings, at least not with my sisters.
I have wanted to write about my brother, Mike, for some time. When he was killed 4 years and 11 months ago, the family was ripped asunder. Many of us, myself included, have had a very difficult time dealing with his death, which must happen when someone bigger than life dies. I say I have wanted to write about him, but to merely describe him, his interests, his love for his family, seem so inadequate. Let me just say this: he was a used car salesman and owned his lot. There was a 3 1/2 hour receiving line at his wake and standing room only in a church that sat 500 for his funeral. His clients came to pay their respects; his fishing buddies were his pallbearers; and the District Attorney personally prosecuted the case against the drunk who hit him while speeding down a snow-covered country road and eating fried chicken gizzards.
The guy never stopped, hid his truck after washing away almost, but not quite all of the DNA evidence, and gave himself up two days later at his father’s insistence, quite sober. Neither the guys he had been drinking with for seven hours, nor the bartenders who had served him would confirm that they had seen him drinking, so he is already out of prison. My brother was helping a friend of his middle daughter pull his car out of a ditch.
I spoke at his funeral. As I walked to the front of the church, I stopped to kiss each of his daughters and his wife on their foreheads. I introduced myself and gave a little half-wave to those in attendance. I didn’t speak long for fear of crying. I told a joke about his passion for fishing and moved on to the impact he had on our lives… everyone in that church. I gave the mourners instructions: At the count of three, I wanted everyone to yell “Thanks Mike!” so loud that the lights would rattle. The lights rattled.
Later someone told me my affect was just like my brother’s. No surprise there. He and I were inseparable as young kids. We spent entire summers together on our grandparent’s farm and were often our only playmates. This Christmas I saw the same closeness in my siblings’ children, and I missed my brother that much more.