Wow, a lot is swirling around my head. My son's birthday is coming soon, so is my brother's, and with Easter's celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection so fresh, I have life and death on the brain. Specifically, how they're so intertwined. It may take more than one post to get this all out. I hope you'll hang in there with me.
I've been thinking of Jeff lately. Maybe it's because I miss Wayne, maybe it's because I'm watching my son become so much of what Jeff was. Maybe it's just because I miss Jeff. Whatever the reason, my thoughts bring me back to long ago when Jeff, Wayne and I were kids at Easter time.
It was during our parents' bitter custody battle of us kids when, I think, Jeff took it upon himself to become the one who held us all together. He succeeded, too. Many a high school friend noted that the three of us were uncommonly close for siblings, and it was true. No other brother and sister danced together at prom that year.
I remember that particular Easter Sunday we spent in a hotel 3 states away, when I think it all began. We felt betrayed and alone, and in some ways, kidnapped.
While we were busy enjoying our weekend visit with Dad, Mom, Grandmommie, and Paw Paw were entertaining the movers and readying our every belonging to be hauled cross-country. When we returned home that extraordinary Saturday, they greeted us kids in the kitchen and corralled us into the car. They wouldn't tell us where we were going, and we never saw the boxes all over the house.
We guessed that because it was the Saturday before Easter and we were headed in the direction of the mall, that we might be on a shopping spree for Easter outfits. About that time, Paw Paw sped by us in the other car. Things were beginning to not add up, so Mom finally confessed, "We're moving to Mississippi."
That night found us in a lonely hotel somewhere in Connecticut, feeling betrayed by our grandparents and our own mother, the life we loved torn from us, discarded some three states away.
Jeff, the oldest, a mere seventh grader, managed to stay awake until after all the adults were asleep. There was an Easter egg hiding in his shoe when he quietly dressed for his secret rescue attempt. I think the Easter eggs were an attempt to keep things normal for us kids, but they did the opposite. Mom actually expected us to wake up the next morning and hunt for Easter eggs, just like usual. But there was nothing usual about that Easter. That egg in Jeff's shoe was as misplaced as we were. Jeff crept down to the front desk, and, with a collect call to Dad, made known our secret flight.
The next day Dad, in anger, sold everything we owned in an impromptu garage sale from the back of the moving truck. We never saw our stuff again. It seems everyone was doing what they must to survive these dreadful times, and that was true of us kids, too: we clung to one another.
I think that was the first time Jeff took ownership of Wayne and me in a fatherly, protective way. But it certainly wasn't the last. He steered us through court-appointed social worker interviews, took me out to eat with his first paycheck from his first high school job, shouldered the blame when we got in trouble. Before you think I see him only through rose-colored glasses, he also taught Wayne how to climb out the window after curfew.
There was a time when I lived with Mom while Jeff and Wayne lived with Dad. Then two of us lived with Mom, before the last hold-out finally came home. Perhaps that's another reason we were closer than most: absence makes the heart grow fonder, indeed.
Jeff and I shared an apartment in college. He once chased me through it with a pair of scissors, begging me to give him the haircut he couldn't afford. I assured him he didn't want ME touching his hair. I don't even remember how that turned out.... I do remember the heavy conversations we had on the drives home and back to school that year. We talked of what we wanted in life, what was important to us, how we were going to achieve our lofty goals, and how we would never let each other down, as so many family members had.
He worked overtime as Cupid to get Mike and me together. His hard work paid off in the end, and my marriage, and thus my children as well, are a few of the beautiful things he left behind.
He was a musician and an athlete.
He skipped his own college graduation to play in a softball tournament. So he stole my thunder at my graduation and took his cap (no gown) picture then.
It was one of the last times the three of us were together.
He was a groomsman at my wedding, something I regret to this day. He should have walked me down the aisle and presented me to my groom, because he really was the one who gave me away that day.
Little did we know that in a few short years, we'd be giving him away.