Tag Archives: brother

Home for Christmas

The windows were filled with the morning’s frost, and the red and green lights twinkled among the 20 year’s worth of handmade, grade school Christmas ornaments which filled our tree.  Not a creature was stirring……except my 28 year-old brother.

Well beyond the years when people begin to be jaded, Sean was still filled with Christmas Spirit, and I could always expect to be jostled awake at 5 a.m. to let me know that it was time to see the bounty which awaited us.  Or, time to wait until a somewhat reasonable hour to wake our parents.

With everyone moderately conscious, we would begin our Christmas tradition of taking turns opening gifts, my Mom telling us the story of how she got bought each one of those gifts (“I had to push a woman at Venture to get that He-Man figure.”), and my Dad cluelessly saying “You’re welcome” when we thanked him for gifts which he was obviously unaware that my mother had purchased.

Unlike my brother, I was always more than willing to sleep in late, since I had begun the process of finding hidden Christmas presents in Mid-August.  A cat and mouse between my mother and I.  She, always searching for new and unique ways to hide gifts, and me, always finding new and unique ways to locate them.  I went so far as lowering my little sister Megan into the narrow opening of a locked cabinet to retrieve gifts.  Things finally reached a tipping point when Mom hid a Nintendo NES in the home of our elderly neighbor, who then died shortly before the holidays.  My parents had to convince her next of kin that Ann was not, in fact, a big fan of Duck Hunt.

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Posing in front of the tree, and the world’s most uncomfortable orange love seat.

 

Sean had led me down the path to become North County’s most prolific Christmas gift spoiler when he fulfilled every big brother’s duty of ruining the mystery of Santa Claus.  I can still remember he and Jeff Lewis matter-of-factly letting me know that it was all a big lie as we strolled past the Electronics Department at Target.

With my world shattered, Sean and I began scouring the house for gifts.  But he never had the stomach for it.  When a previously discovered race car set was a no-show on Christmas morning, Sean caved almost immediately when our Mom simply said, “Looking for something?”  He would have never been cut out for a life of crime.

Our Mom always made Christmas special for us, and my Dad always let my Mom make Christmas special for us.  She took such joy in making us happy at Christmas, even when we didn’t make it too easy.

Like when my Dad had to hold my Mom back after I almost kicked the tree over because “Stupid Santa” brought me the Bat-Cycle instead of the Bat-Mobile, or when Sean launched a plastic Godzilla hand through a hand-painted Christmas ornament purchased on a trip to Frankenmuth,MI.

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Godzilla may have defeated Rodan, but he was no match for Eileen McMullin.

 

After, the wrapping paper had stopped flying, Sean would don whatever Generra sweatshirt or Swatch that my Mom had gotten for him and we would head to St. Martin’s for mass.  Our favorite Christmas homily remains Fr. Marty’s “Christmas is about the three F’s.  Food, family and fun.” sermon.  We really thought one of those F’s was bound to stand for Faith, but he really threw us a curveball.

Then, after a few more hours of enjoying our gifts or possibly napping, we would head to our Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Lou’s house.  Even though I now realize that they lived maybe 30 minutes away, it seemed like it was the other side of the planet.  We would play, compare Christmas gift notes with our cousins and sit down for a fancy dinner.  Or at least my idea of fancy.  All of the plates, glasses and silverware matched!

Even though, at 43, I still don’t think I would have graduated from the kid’s table, I miss those days.  Falling asleep in the back seat on the way home as my Dad drove, and knowing that everything was right with the world.

This will be our first Christmas without Sean.  When I type those words, it still doesn’t feel real.

We all have our own families now, and we have created our own traditions, but the Original Five coming together has always been a part of that.

I take solace in the fact that the Christmas Spirit, which was so alive in Sean, lives in on in his children and all of his nieces and nephews.

I love you Sean.  You will always be home for Christmas in my heart.

jjj

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10 Miles to Lebanon or How Al Bundy Scared the Hell Out of Me

 

They often say that the most exciting part of a trip is the journey and not the destination.  I’m not sure who “they” are, but they probably never broke down in the middle of nowhere late at night.

In the Fall of 1992, my brother Sean and I were both attending Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, MO.  I was a Sophomore, and Sean was taking a “bonus” semester before he graduated.

Sean and I had plans to take the three-hour trek back home to St. Louis for the weekend to do laundry, eat something other than Cashew Chicken and visit our family.

Sean was working as a shuttle bus driver around campus and wasn’t set to get off of work until around 9 pm, so our plan was for me to wait for him in the disgusting basement room he shared with two of his fraternity brothers and head home late that evening.

But fate, and the clutch in a 1982 Datsun B210 with 150,000 miles on the Odometer, was against us.  Driving through the Ozark Mountains outside of Springfield, it became apparent that we would not be making it home that night.

The exit at Phillipsburg, MO now boasts The World’s Largest Gift Shop (I’m not sure how official those ranking are), but in 1992 it was home to a single gas station which closed at 7:00.

While the Datsun could still drive in reverse, our plan to drive backwards on the highway to the next town was deemed “unfeasible.”  So the decision was made to walk the 10 miles to Lebanon.  A town which looks like Chicago next to Phillipsburg, by flaunting both a Long John Silver’s and the Walnut Bowl Outlet.

Using the payphone at the gas station, we placed a collect call from “It’s Sean and Scott, don’t hang up!” to our parents.  The one casualty of the cell phone that I truly miss is the late night collect phone call.  What better way to scare the hell out of your parents while also costing them a fortune.

So we were on our way.  Armed with the tire iron from the Datsun for defense and a Hostess Fruit Pie from a vending machine for sustenance.  Just like the early settlers.

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How long could it possibly take to walk ten miles in a pair of Bass loafers?

 

With ten miles ahead of us, we started things off right, with me slipping on a beer bottle in the grass and immediately injuring myself.  But luck was still on our side as I didn’t smash the Fruit Pie in the spill.

While the prospect of a motorist slowing down to pick up a guy wearing a trench coat and another wielding a tire iron seemed slim, Sean made it clear that he would not accept a ride from anyone even if they did stop.  “How do we know that some guy that pulls over to help us isn’t Al Bundy?,” he said.

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Fictional shoe salesman Al Bundy.

 

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Prolific 1970’s serial killer Ted Bundy.

 

 

 

Despite Sean’s reluctance to get into a stranger’s car, that did not stop him from cursing out the occupants of cars which sped past us for their lack of human decency and compassion.

That anger led to some minor vandalism, as I’m sure many of the mile markers along the route still retain dents from the Datsun’s tiny tire iron all of these years later.

We spent the next several hours walking and talking about all of the things that life had in store for us.  All the while being cruelly mocked by billboards which advertised the Walnut Bowls outlet only eight miles ahead.  Seven miles.  Six miles….

When we finally got to a hotel well after one in the morning, Sean waffled on whether or not to spring for two beds, since the credit card he had came with strict instructions from our parents to only use in case of an emergency.  I let him know that despite the lack of locusts, this would definitely count as an emergency.

We were exhausted, we were sore and we had only a handful of hours before our Dad would arrive to tow us home.  Despite all of that, as was mine and my brother’s way, we turned on the TV to find that “The Outsiders” had just begun.  So instead of going to bed like sensible people, we spent the next hour and a half watching Dallas and Soda Pop.

In the morning, my Dad arrived in exactly the way we would have expected.  With a plan to tow the Datsun home hundreds of miles with an old rope he found at a junkyard tied to the back of our Malibu.

I immediately volunteered Sean to take the wheel of the powerless Datsun, which he was happy to do as long as he could still listen to the radio.

I can still see him drumming on the steering wheel and singing at the top of his lungs as the Datsun got smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.  The first of only three times that the junkyard rope broke before we made it home.  Who would have guessed?

I don’t get to Springfield very much anymore, but any time I am on that stretch of road, I always remember our long walk.  Just walking and talking without a care in the world (aside from passing serial killers).

It was an experience and a story that I only really shared with one person, and now maybe I can help it to live on here.

I miss you Sean.  Stay gold, Pony Boy.

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Now what am I supposed to do?

As a kid, I followed my brother Sean in everything I did.  He made up the rules to all of the games we played, I listened to the music that he liked, and I followed him to the same grade school, high school and college.

Sean had already blazed a trail in pretty much everything I did, and he was always there to show me the ropes and act as a safety net.  So, when he left home to go to college, I famously said to my Mom, “Now what am I supposed to do?”.

Three weeks ago, I lost my brother at the age of 46.  And now more than ever, I am left to ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?”.

Sean was not only my brother, but my best friend.  Even though I was three years younger than him, he never excluded me from anything.  If he was playing with his friends, they had to accept that I was going to be included.

To be honest, I can never remember fighting with my brother.  A fact that, now that I have kids of my own, boggles my mind.  I believe there was a disagreement once over me reneging on a Han Solo for Greedo action figure trade, but that is the worst I can come up with.

For me growing up, Sean was the coolest kid I knew.  He was stylish (for the 80’s), he listened to “cool” music, he had tons of friends and girls liked him.  He was everything I wasn’t.   I would never tell him that, of course, but he was the kind of guy that when we walked into someplace together I was proud to say, “I’m with him.”

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Even though I am Batman, I am most definitely the sidekick here.

So much of what I am, my likes and dislikes, were shaped alongside Sean.  We both loved movies, TV, comic books and music.  Supposedly, being a nerd about all of those things is cool now, but it was anything but cool when I was growing up.

Knowing too much about “Star Wars” or being able to talk at length about something like the British TV show “The Young Ones,” was something that I kept to myself when I was younger in order to fit in.  But with Sean, all of those things that we loved were like a secret language that only he and I knew.

We could have entire conversations in obscure movie quotes and we would be so excited to share a new song or band that we discovered.  I could hear something and immediately think, “Sean will love this.”

It is that relationship that has caused his loss to leave such a hole in my soul.  There will never come a day that I discover something new in which sharing it with Sean will not be my first thought.  Hiding just out of sight behind all of the things we loved together and all of the happy memories we shared will always be a twinge of sadness.

As we got older, and started our own families, our contact with each other became less frequent.  Life always seemed to get in the way.  So much so, that my last contact with him was barely a blip, weeks before his death.

I will forever be filled with regret for not forcing our relationship to remain strong, and for not looking after him and being the best friend that he always was to me.

Maybe the sadness and regret I feel every time I think of him will gradually turn into something new.  I don’t know.  But I will never forget him.

“What am I supposed to do now?” I have no idea.  But I will start by keeping my memories of him and the love that he showed me alive for the sake of his family, my family and me.

I love you Sean.

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He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

Looking good and feeling good in leisure suits that couldn't get too close to an open flame.

All of us have friends that we have made because we shared a class or a neighborhood,  but there is nothing like a friendship with someone with whom you have shared pair after pair of hand-me-down pants.  For me, that friend is my brother Sean. 

There is an old saying which states that you can’t choose your family, but somebody up there was sure looking out for me when they chose my brother. 

Like most younger siblings, I have followed Sean in just about everything I have done.  I followed him as we walked to grade school.  I followed him to high school and college.  When he started wearing parachute pants…..well, I stayed behind on that one.  

This Sunday, he is leading the way to a place that the little kid in the picture above never saw coming.  He is turning 40. 

Last week, I wrote about watching Sean’s two sons, and while I was with them I couldn’t help but look back on my relationship with my brother.   While most kids can’t wait for their younger siblings to stop pestering them, there was never a day on which Sean wouldn’t make time for me.   With his friends, it was always understood that his weird kid brother was part of the deal.   (And I was most definitely weird) 

Why would the 6 Million Dollar Man have a picture of himself on his chest?

He is someone who I always looked up to, even if he would change the rules of Freeze Tag mid-game if he was losing or always make me play Tonto to his Lone Ranger.    As kids, he was the good one, and didn’t always make the greatest partner for youthful shenanigans.  He would roll over on himself (and me) in a second if our parent’s discovered that we had peeked at the racecar set they had bought us for Christmas.  I played dumb, despite the fact that there were really only two possible suspects in the house. 

This may be damning him with faint praise but, of the two of us, he was most definitely the cool one.   Whether he was going through his preppy “Sweater Boy” phase or his skater look which led to my Dad sending him back to the barber when he came home with a feathered mullet, Sean was the Theo Huxtable (or insert a current cool kid reference) of 622 Lynn Haven Ln. 

He has always treated everyone like a friend.  When he was young,  he would ask kids that he met in line at the store if they would like to come over to our house. As a teenager, he brought over kids who didn’t have any family in town to join us for Thanksgiving. As an adult, he makes his living by helping people. 

My brother is a devoted father and husband, a great friend and the hardest working person I know.  As he turns 40 this weekend, I can only hope that I can continue to follow in his footsteps. 

You are my brother.  I love you.  

Happy birthday Sean.

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