Favorite Memories of My Brother

My big brother was 18 and a senior in high school when I was born; I can only imagine what an upheaval in his life that must have been. For the first couple of years, I stayed in a crib in my parents’ bedroom but, eventually, I ended up sharing a room with my sister—9 years my senior. Our room was right next door to Roger’s, and the three of us shared a bathroom.

My earliest actual memory of Roger is of hearing him come in from a date, or whatever evening activity he’d been involved in. Vera and I would have long been in bed, lights out. But when he got settled in his room, locked the door, climbed into bed and spread out his cheeseburger and fries from Knight’s Drive-In, I would tiptoe to the kitchen, get a knife from the silverware drawer, and proceed to pillage the locked door that stood between me and that midnight feast. To his credit, Big Brother always shared. (The price I paid for those unauthorized entries would be exacted years later when, as a teenager, that room became mine, and any hope of ever locking that poor mangled doorknob was long gone!)

At some point in my early childhood, my brother had a Corvette. I don’t remember the color; I only remember standing in the passenger seat, grinning, my left arm wrapped around Roger’s neck. (No seat belts required back then.) In that memory, we are sitting in the driveway of our house, so maybe he never actually suffered through having to drive around town with his chubby baby sister holding on for dear life in his very cool car. In my mind, though, I was a regular passenger. About that same time, I developed huge crushes on my brother’s friends. I was four, they were 22, so the best I could hope for was a friendly smile or indulgent pat on the head. They could have viewed me as a total pain in the neck, but they didn’t seem to, and I appreciated that.


When I was five, Roger had a bulldog named Zipper. He decided to enter him in the dog contest of the Hardee County Fair, and he said I could be the one to walk Zipper out in front of the judges and show him off. I don’t remember if he won the contest or not, but I still vividly remember walking across the outdoor stage on that chilly November night, holding Zipper’s leash and smiling at the people out in the bleachers.

We always had music in our house when I was a child: Lawrence Welk on the TV, Guy Lombardo on the stereo, Mother whistling or playing her violin, Vera on the piano or organ, friends and family gathered around singing. Things really got fun when Roger sat down at the keyboard for some rousing rock and roll, or his duet with sister Vera of “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers”—the latter an annual and always anticipated holiday event (In later years, Roger’s soulful rendition of “Ol’ Man River”, accompanied by Vera, became an equally anticipated event.)

When I was about 13, Roger put me to work one day answering the phone at his furniture store. When I protested that surely there was something else I could do because what customer was going to want to talk to ME, he gave me a stern lecture in self-confidence: “The person on the other end of that phone has no idea how old you are. Be polite, get your facts straight, and you’ll do just fine.” That advice served me well during my adolescent years.

About that same time, or maybe a year or two later, I begged Big Brother to teach me how to drive. He agreed, and drove us in his turquoise El Camino out to "Wauchula International Airport" (pretty much just a big cow pasture), where he put me behind the wheel and proceeded to show me the ropes of shifting gears, pushing the gas pedal, using the turn signals and, most importantly, how to brake!

The summer I was sixteen, I wangled an opportunity to be a stringer for The Tampa Tribune, doing interviews with country singers. I spent the summer living in Nashville with Roger and going with him every day to the booking agency where he worked. I remember us having lunch at Morrison’s downtown on one of my first days there; famous faces were scattered around and as I wondered how I would ever be brave enough to take up these people’s time, Roger gave me another self-confidence lecture: “These people put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you do.” It was a glorious summer; Roger took me backstage at the Grand Ol’ Opry, introduced me to so many talented people, and the Tribune published every interview I sent them. I went home feeling like a celebrity myself!

Our father having passed away many years earlier, it fell to my brother to give me away on my wedding day. As we stood in the vestibule of First Baptist Church in Wauchula, Roger looking handsome in his suit, me in my wedding gown thinking, “Oh, my gosh, am I really doing this?!”, he smiled, squeezed my hand, and gave me the soothing words I needed to hear before walking down the aisle.

You delivered a lot of soothing words over the years, Big Brother. Thank you for all of them; thank you for everything. I'm going to miss you. A lot.

1 comment:

Jan Hager said...

Beautiful stories and I know he would enjoy them. The pics were also special. Life is so different as we lose so many dear ones, but I think the grief gives way to permanent gratitude for their having blessed our lives. Hugs to you, JJ