For My Big Brother Joe


When I graduated from college at the age of 34, it was important to me to thank my brother. No, he didn’t pay my tuition, or help me with my math; but because of him I was graduating- with honors! My family had gathered for the graduation ceremony and Hawaiian party afterward. My father was there from Kentucky. I had told him he had to come because when I enrolled in college four years prior he told me I wouldn’t be able to do it- he said, “You have two daughters, you work; what are you thinking going to college?” I hung up on him, then I immediately called him back. I was the only child he sired that ever talked back to him, “‘Listen old man, not only am I going to graduate, I am going to graduate with honors, and you are going to come to my graduation!”

“We will see,” he replied. I hung up on him again.

My father’s son from my step-monster had been given a private high school experience, and was going to a private university, all paid by my father. This spawn from satan’s sister had been given every accommodation- and in college he was making straight ‘C’ s. My father and his son’s mother were proud- so very proud, and bought him a new jeep, and pretty much anything else he asked for. Once, when he was planning a wedding, my father lost a few thousand dollars on the reception site when the marriage was not called off, but the happy couple had decided to divorce as they had been married a year before. When father told me this he was complaining about the money- I got so angry I asked, no, told him to be quiet. I couldn’t stand it! My father had told me he would help pay for my reception when I got married.  At the reception he slipped me twently-five bucks. I think that was all he found in the pocket of his hand-me-down jacket.

I wish he would have found more-

Back to big bro- my hero. Like God’s David, he is a fallible guy, but he still has my heart. I am so thankful that he ended up in the same house as me, because he forged the trail. He is nine years older and I remember watching him as did his homework at the kitchen table. He would work for hours, and I still remember the smell of his eraser as he vigorously erased mistakes which shook the whole table. He was the family holy spirit. If he was in a good mood, all of us were in a good mood.  If he was in a bad mood (like after a baseball game he pitched and lost) the house became as sullen as him, locked in his darkened room, listening to am radio. He would come out to eat then go back in- we would all wait for his emergence from the cocoon. When he did poke his head back into the light he was ready for the next game- more determined, and happy again.

Joe graduated from high school in 1969 as the class valedictorian. He also was the male athlete of the year.  After another summer of picking watermelons and working as a mover- he left for college almost five hours away. I was 8, in the third grade when he left- and it was sad for all of us. When he appeared on holidays and in-between semesters, I still followed him, silently watching.

My father and mother divorced in 1969. Dad was never around any way as he chose Vietnam over us; but he was good at being a soldier- much better at that than being a father. Mom, well she was neurotic, and if the TV was on the blink we could just watch her change channels. After the divorce she became the prescription drug divorcee/housewife who entered the workforce. Her time at the sewing machine, oven and dust mop were over.

No one ever encouraged Joe to work hard in school. No one ever pushed him to be the best. No one ever expected his accomplishments. I watched, followed and got on the trail. I was going to be like him-

So I studied, played sports- I tried to copy him within the same school he had been in almost a decade before. I was going to be valedictorian-

Mom got sick, my other brother died from a car accident, my sister embraced the 60’s and 70s; she became the beautiful hippie with ‘long hair’ friends. Joe grew his hair and sang Bob Dylan songs with the radio. I watched.

I ‘left’ home at 14 and struggled- mom moved to Pennsylvania. She did not leave a forwarding address. My hopes for valedictorian were gone- my energy went to survival. After graduating high school I kept the dream in my heart to attend college and prove to myself that I was like Joe- I was smart and capable. At the age of 34 I had a piece of paper that attested to that.

Joe and I went to the store to get a few things for the party and I decided this was the time to thank him.

“I wanted to thank you for something.”

“What?” 

“If it wasn’t for you, I would never have gotten my degree. I did it because I always looked up to you and what you did in high school and college. If you hadn’t I may not have either- I know I am graduating today because of your choices. I watched you and wanted to be like you all my life. Heck, you even taught me how to brush my teeth! But I have a question, WHY did you study, and WHY did you graduate at the top of your class?”

I was waiting to hear some amazing insightful Joe-information. I wanted to know what drove him since neither of us ever received any direction from our parents.

He looked over at me. (I knew I asked a good question;  he seemed stumped!)  Then he answered.  “I don’t know, I just did what I was suppose to do.”

Whew…what if he hadn’t?

Happy Birthday Guy– You will always be my hero-

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5 thoughts on “For My Big Brother Joe

  1. You had it tough back in those days. I did not know you all back then, but Joe would of been someone I definitely could of looked up to by his example. I glad you all are my cousins. Happy Birthday, Joe! Love you all…Rob.

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