How did I land here?
I ask myself this question almost every time I hang around my crazymessydelighfulloving family. How did I end up among this truly stellar, undeniably awesome, generally hilarious, and always big-hearted crew? If you are reading this, you probably know me and my cranky ways and therefore reasonably may ask the same question. It is surely one of God’s miracles that I managed to attach myself as the caboose of this family considering (a) they had an excellent train to begin with and thus no need of another rail car and (b) I’ve got a couple of ill-fitting, wobbly wheels from another manufacturer so I’m often messing up the works of the rest of the train.
How did I land here?
The question had even more weight last week at my eldest brother Mike’s funeral. Surrounded by people who reflected the enormous love my brother radiated—love so massive even death couldn’t shut it down—I didn’t know whether to curse God for taking my brother so damn early or rejoice because I had been so blessed to know him at all. I still haven’t figured it out.
Mike graduated high school and moved away the year I was born, so as a kid I only knew my brother from the photographic evidence left behind: faded black and white Kodak prints of a bundled cherub, often in a group of equally bundled and equally cherubic cousins, playing in the New Hampshire snow; his high school yearbook, which chronicled his prowess as an athlete and a scholar; and one washed out Polaroid of him looking over me at my baptism, his serious visage bespeaking his trepidation about yet another sister and his role as godfather.
Because of college and his service in the Air Force, I didn’t really get acquainted with my brother until nine years later, when he brought his bride-to-be to meet our family. Mike and Janice were the most glamorous people I had ever known: young, good looking, well-traveled, and in possession of a sports car with red leather interior. In what is surely one of the most positive influential experiences of my young life, Janice would let me shift the manual transmission of this sporty beast from the passenger seat as she drove and pressed the clutch. What a thrill!
I can’t separate my love for Mike from my love for Janice, and by extension, their glorious children, and now the generous spouses and shining personalities of their children’s children. So, while I feel sad and angry at my brother’s death, I also recognize how profoundly and palpably his love is still present. Here’s one thing I will miss, though: every time I saw or talked to my brother, he would end the conversation with, “Love ya, buddy.” In person, he always added a hug, a kiss, and probably another hug.
When I was 13, I was babysitting Mike and Janice’s eldest daughter, Meagan, then an infant. It was a Saturday night in the spring of 1979 and I counted on them getting home early so I could catch a new movie called “Roller Boogie,” starring Linda Blair and Jim Bray. I really wanted to see “Roller Boogie.”
Admit it, after watching this trailer you kinda want to see it, too.
Unfortunately for my temperament at the time (but with great fortune for my aesthetic development), Mike and Janice arrived home too late for me to make the movie (NB: I never actually saw it, but I understand it lives in its entirety on YouTube, so I guess there’s still time for me). When they came through the door, well past 10 PM, I was watching Saturday Night Live with arms crossed tight around my chest and my foot tapping very judgily in a Church Lady type of way.
“I missed ‘Roller Boogie’!” I whined.
“’Roller Boogie’?” Mike asked. “Why do you care about ‘Roller Boogie’ when Rickie Lee Jones is singing? She’s amazing!” He pointed at the TV.
Sure enough, that episode of SNL introduced America to the Duchess of Coolsville. I listened with Mike and Janice to Rickie Lee sing about some guy named Chuck E, and eventually I, too, fell in love with her weird cadence and her limp beret.
The song is filled with interesting word play and slightly uncomfortable timing. The truly tasty drum fill at 1:59 comes, as I am schooled by The Unit, from Steve Gadd, a drummer’s drummer if ever there was one. As a whole, this song still sounds fresh and innovative thirty-eight years later.
A lot like my brother’s love, which will continue to inspire and comfort for the rest of my life.
Mike, to me, you’ve always had this kind of cool and inspired sorta jazz when you walk.
Love ya, buddy.