It had been my plan to submit two columns to run while I would be on vacation.
I have a self-imposed policy of taking only one week off from “What I Know” on roughly a quarterly basis, lest readers or, even worse, the folks at the Home Page, decide life can go on at this publication just fine without me.
I don’t believe I have ever missed two consecutive weeks.
I had taken one of those breaks not long ago and, since I had some ideas swirling around in my head, I figured I could crank out a couple of installments before leaving town for ten days. But life took an unexpected turn.
On Monday morning, Aug. 21, the day of the eclipse, after an early morning workout at the Y, I saw my sister-in- law’s name in my missed calls. I did not have to listen to her voice mail message to know the reason for her call.
My older brother in south Arkansas (my only sibling), who was diagnosed with lung cancer in January of this year, had passed away a few hours earlier. After a trip to see him in late July, I strongly suspected the ultimate outcome would not be a good one, but I thought there was still plenty of time. I was hoping, along with him, that once he finished his aggressive chemotherapy regimen, he would enjoy some better days.
But that was not to be. As much as I hated to do it, I sent Kelly Gilfillan an email telling her I would need to take a brief leave of absence since I would be going to the memorial service in Arkansas and would still be leaving for vacation later in the week. Writing those columns was not going to happen. She was, of course, very kind and gracious.
Some three weeks later, and after a vacation that numbed reality a bit, the acceptance of his passing is just beginning to take hold.
I have gone through this with both of my parents, so I am somewhat familiar with the grieving process.
This time is a bit different, though, as I was always in contact with my folks. Until his cancer diagnosis, my brother and I talked infrequently, sent each other occasional text messages and saw each other about once a year.
I don’t need to go into the reasons our relationship was not closer than it was in our adult lives. It improved some after our father died in 2006, during which time he and his wife made several visits here, making some memories for which I am thankful.
I am also thankful we talked more often during his illness and that I got to spend some time with him a few weeks before he died.
I have already had a couple of occasions where, for a split second, I have made a mental note to tell him something the next time I talk to him. This is something I experienced after each of my parents passed away.
As it was with losing each of them, what I have found most comforting is remembering.
Less than a half hour before the memorial service was to begin, the officiating pastor introduced himself to me and asked about any memories I might have that he could share during the service. I appreciated this gesture, but I so wish I had had a little more notice. He caught me completely off guard and I had very little time to think about it.
Since then, more memories from our childhood have come to mind.
As a youngster, my brother had a keen sense of humor and a creative side.
We both loved the TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” hosted by Monty Hall, where folks dressed in ridiculous clothing and tried to be selected for the chance to win fabulous prizes by picking “Door Number One” (or Two or Three), or choosing an alternative behind a stage curtain.
He decided to create our own home version, using the kitchen cabinets as the doors, on which he would tape the numbers. He would portray Monty (using a hairbrush as a microphone) and I would play the roles of multiple contestants.
He put “prizes” behind the doors, although I don’t remember what they were. I do, however, remember his makeshift “Monty’s Cookie Jar” (a prop used on the show that, as I recall, contained money) which in our version was a sugar jar that sat on our family’s kitchen table.
There was a time we either got distracted or failed to put everything back in its place after playing, and the sugar jar went mysteriously missing from the table for a couple of days. My mother was not amused when it was found in the cabinet with Monopoly money inside.
My brother loved sports, especially baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals. I remember going to sleep at night to the sounds of the radio playing in his room across the hall from mine, with Harry Caray calling the games and my brother mimicking his voice. On a family trip to St. Louis where we attended a couple of games, he caught two balls, one during batting practice and one during a game, which he cherished for years. He would happily describe the catches to anyone who would listen. I don’t remember who hit each ball, but I’m certain he knew.
Unlike me, he was blessed with athletic ability, and I went with my parents to countless football, basketball and baseball games to watch him play. Even though I lacked his skill, he taught me to play “H-O-R- S-E” on the basketball goal in our driveway and would sometimes include me in neighborhood pickup games.
He loved popular music of the day, and would call in to the local radio station to make requests and song dedications. Although he tried to sing along to the tunes, he was hopelessly tone deaf. From time to time I would try to help him, but was largely unsuccessful.
One of the most distinctive memories I have of him from our growing-up years is how much he loved to drive. I don’t know why, but he did. I think our dad first started letting him behind the wheel in big parking lots when he was about ten,
and it gave him a huge thrill.
All of the memories are not good ones. He had his share of struggles and some demons that, sadly, followed him into his adult life.
I am, however, choosing to remember the good things, the memories of which bring a smile.
Even though we were not as close as brothers probably should be, I will miss that connection and the occasional reminiscing — things only he and I knew – about our parents, which in a very real sense kept them alive for us.
But as I have learned through the years, they are always with me. Just as he now will be.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.