THE BROTHER LODE

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THE BROTHER LODE

In Suzanne’s last home, she had a family picture hanging in the foyer.  “That’s nice.”   You may think.  “Was it her family, or her siblings and parents?”  These are questions you likely have now.

The answer is, neither.  It was a family picture of The Brady Bunch.

Suzanne was only three when Ryan was born, so she likely didn’t realize the upset he created for quite some time, but when she did, she wasn’t happy about it.

She loved—and obviously still loves–the Brady Bunch.  She probably loved her little brother too, until she realized he ruined our 3/3 boy/girl count, and with his arrival, we were no longer The Brady Bunch.

Ryan arrived in our family on Christmas Eve 1973.  In our pre-Christmas caroling spirit, we changed up the words to a then-popular Christmas song, and sang it to Mom:  “Christmas is coming, Mom is getting fat.”  She took it in stride.  By the time it was time to deliver the 7th—and last–child, she could handle just about anything from us.

Christmas Eve was typically our big celebration; Santa always arrived in his own secretive style.  He seemed to know to wait until supper was served, the kitchen was cleaned and we were herded upstairs.  Our grandpa lived in town, and he always joined our family for the holiday celebrations.  He stayed downstairs and helped Mom and Dad help Santa.

Suzanne will still beg to differ, but Dad was at the hospital with Mom that year on Christmas Eve.  Grandpa pulled it off all by himself.  She was only three, so I am not trusting her recall of the big event.  Mom didn’t drive herself 30 miles there while in labor.

I remember the phonecall around 9:30 from Dad:  “It’s a boy!” 

Ryan had arrived.

I remember going to visit them on Christmas Day.  I was seven, and I wanted a doll called Baby Alive.  I didn’t get it, but Mom joked that she did.

I was decked out in another gift from Santa, a long, red and white checked gingham dress.  Mom acted so surprised to see me in it, and I felt the glow of a new big sister with the events of the night before.  The dress was all I needed to shine.  Somewhere is a picture of me in it; when it turns up, I will post it.

I was the fifth of us seven.  Two brothers were right ahead of me; born 3 ½ years and 17 months before me, respectively.  They were my buddies.  Gail was before them and six years older, so not only was she busy with all the work I have already detailed in previous posts, I’m sure I was the annoying little sister.

David and John let me tag along, and subsequently, I became a tomboy.  I played in the dirt, made forts in the woods behind our house, climbed trees, rode motorcycles, read Motor Trend magazine and cried when Dad wouldn’t cut my hair after he cut theirs.

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Suzanne, Ryan and me wallowing in a mud bog after a heavy summer rain.  I told you I was a tomboy.  Looks like I needed a haircut from Dad, or anyone. 

David and John could—and often did—bring me to tears as I got older.  The memories of their relentless teasing and roughhousing have faded somewhat, and are now replaced by ongoing mutual respect, kindness, love and peace toward each other.   Our oldest brother Gary was eight years older than me, so I was likely the perpetually annoying little sister to him.  I don’t remember him treating me as such though, and he would likely now disagree.

My memories of Ryan are less painful.  Actually, likely because he was seven years younger than me, I think he knew better than to cause me any pain.  I don’t even recall any episodes with him, or while observing him with others that would lead me to believe that he had it in him to be anything but laid back, mellow and generally observant.  He had six older siblings to watch and learn from, so he likely did just that.

He made his own unique way, did his own thing and gave his own unique contributions to our family.

The gift he continues to give—in my estimation—is his sense of humor.  When I asked him as I was writing this, “What was it like to be born on Christmas Eve?”  he replied, with no hesitation in his monotone voice that adds to the humor, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.”

Because we had to try to laugh to keep from crying just after Mom and Dad died, we were able to find some humor in the early, most painful days.  Gail is Ryan’s godmother, the Catholic role model that not only is expected to be a positive influence as a godparent, but also the person/persons that would be most suited to take the child in the event that child loses their parents.   At the wake the night before their funeral, Ryan—at age 35 and seated next to me, leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

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Gail, Suzanne and I are the sisters we are in part because of our brothers.  We have our sisterly bonds, but we also have our own unique relationships with each of our four brothers, and that, I know for sure, makes us better sisters to each other.

In recognition of them, and in celebration of Ryan’s arrival on Christmas Eve 44 years ago—even though he doesn’t remember it—I say thank you God for my brothers.

 

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Next Friday evening, my stepson and his family will join us from Wichita for an early Christmas celebration.  Saturday and early Sunday, we will celebrate Christmas with my family and my siblings with their families at Ryan’s house.  Nine years ago on that first Christmas without Mom and Dad, we vowed to keep the Christmas holiday together with each other in their honor, and to continue to forge our sibling bonds.  Our oldest brother Gary will be with his family in Idaho, but he will be with us in spirit, and by phone too.  We will observe and celebrate Ryan’s birthday separate from Christmas, just like Mom and Dad were always sure to do.

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The stars of our Christmas Eve 1973 show at Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary celebration, October 2007.

Sunday, I will return to my home with my family to celebrate Christmas Eve.  There will be no post on this sacred Sunday night.

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We  got the tree out of the box and stood it up four days ago.  Until today, it sat bare.  I won’t deny that I still struggle to get in the spirit when it comes to decorating my home and my tree.  My boys were gone all day, and I started without them.  The momentum carried me once I got started, but much like my pre-Thanksgiving baking, I had a moment.  It still hits me during the holidays, the time of year when their absence is felt most acutely.  Just like the Thanksgiving moment, it passed quickly.  It passed through me, and it was gone.   My family came home and helped, and it was the festive occasion is should be.

I found myself putting up the same decorations in the same places I always do, the same decorations I have put up for years, mostly without thinking much about it.  This year, however, I stopped myself when something didn’t feel as good as I thought perhaps it could.

“You always put that Santa right there.  It’s where it goes,”  I said to myself.

“But I don’t want to put it there this year,” I said back to myself.  “I don’t even think I want to put it up at all.  I don’t know why, but it makes me blue.”

Fine, whatever.  Suit yourself,”  my rational side said to my emotional side.

So I didn’t put it up.  And it felt good.  I took my own advice from last week, and I changed it up.  I put Santa back in the box, and went on with the decorations that sparked joy in me, leaving several others in the box if they didn’t.  I changed my decorating traditions, and I like what I see.

Sometimes, suiting yourself is the only way to go.  Sometimes,  the smallest changes on the outside bring the biggest shifts inside.

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I wish you all the peace of the spirit of Christmas.  I wish for this peace every day of the year for you.

For those who are celebrating the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, my heart breaks for you, but Christmas hope shines on every day of the year to remind us they are still with us.  Even if seems the pain won’t lessen, remember you will become stronger with each passing year.  We are living proof.

Merry Christmas.

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Happy Birthday Ryan.  You are the Christmas gift who keeps giving.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZANNE–BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZANNE—BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

She doesn’t remember, but I remember clearly that Suzanne said: “I wish for my birthday that everyone would bring me toilet tissue.”

It was perhaps six years ago on Easter Sunday.  She hosted dinner for our siblings and all the offspring, so there were likely twenty-plus people in her home.  She stepped into the  bathroom off the kitchen to change the toilet paper—again—and I heard her say it.

The ding-ding-ding of the great idea bell sounded in my head, and the light bulb lit up too.  “We can make that happen,” I thought to myself, but didn’t say a word to her.

That was Easter Sunday in the spring, and Suzanne’s birthday is August 16th, a few days from today.  She claims it as her day before she had to share it with Madonna when she became famous, and she had seven years of that day to herself before Elvis died on the same day.

I mentioned the idea to Gail, and she too, thought it was brilliant.  We let it rest for several months.  Then, in perhaps mid-July, we started making plans to make her wish come true.

Be careful what you wish for.

Gail sent out mass emails, and if we were even on Facebook then, we probably posted it unbeknownst to her; I don’t remember.  We spread it by word-of-mouth, with the admonition that A: it was to be kept secret from her, and B: there must be a card or note attached that read be careful what you wish for.

She was still living in the small town where our parents lived; she moved to my small city only six months ago.  She worked in one of the two banks there, and she knew everyone in town.  Gail had lived there as well some years prior, but, being Gail, she still knew everyone.  She got the word spread around town, and we sat back and waited.

It was a success.  Fortunately, her boss had a sense of humor, as multiple rolls of toilet tissue were carried in the door that day by customers and non-customers alike.

Multiple, soft packages were showing up addressed to her in the post office, and the postmistress was a bit confounded, but fully appreciated the humor when she found out the story.

There was personalized toilet tissue, toilet tissue with pictures, toilet tissue with jokes, as well as the standard garden-variety toilet tissue.

Still, she didn’t remember making that wish.

Be careful what you wish for.

At the end of the day, she ended up with over 300 rolls of toilet tissue.  She loved it.  Who wouldn’t love 300-plus rolls of toilet tissue, especially if you had storage space, which she did.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZANNE—Love, Cancer.

Several years later on her birthday, it wasn’t so funny.

The generation before mine remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.  My generation remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the devastating new on September 11th, 2001.

I remember where I was and what I was doing on August 16th, 2012 when Suzanne called to tell me it was cancer.  I was pulling into the driveway of a rural home health patient.  There was no way the strong, healthy and invincible Suzanne could have cancer.  I tried to collect myself and go in.  I was visibly shaken, but the kind gentleman and his family knew something was wrong.  They listened while I explained to them, and then I managed to get on with my business.

Suzanne tells me it was all business for her from that point.  She blocked out the ugly word and plowed forward with the doctor outlining the treatment plan with her husband beside her for support.  She continues to plow through the aftermath.

Suzanne is one of the strongest women I know.  As noted in Lessons From My Sister (July 30th), she passed the five year mark, and aside from the scar, there is no visible trace.

Suzanne, and all of us, wished for healing, and she got it.

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I had the entire day yesterday to spend cleaning, sorting and purging useless stuff out of my house.  It had been too long.  Again, from the July 30th post, recall that Suzanne has inspired me to get rid of the useless stuff.   As I nodded off the night before, I sent up a little prayer, asking for bountiful energy to complete the herculean task of letting go.

Be careful what you wish for.

I woke with boundless energy, and tackled the house, but I wanted to work in every room at the same time.  I wanted to spin like a whirling dervish, getting all the work done in minutes instead of hours, so that I could move on to the basement, the garage, my car, the laundry, etc.  I found my attention splintered, so much that I had to sit for a bit and collect myself.  One task at a time.

I thought about this post I was writing, and wished I had more pictures of Suzanne in her younger years.  I had looked through a box of old pictures Friday evening, and found only one that was marginally suitable.

I did move on to the shelves in the garage, and there was a shoebox there that Suzanne had given me several months ago when she moved, but I had not addressed it since then.  I couldn’t even remember what was in it.  I took it down and took a peek inside.

Be careful what you wish for.

Inside was the mother lode.  It was a box full of pictures that Suzanne had taken from Mom and Dad’s home, and didn’t know what to do with it.  She entrusted it to me to share with the rest of our siblings.

I had to put the brakes on my sorting/cleaning/purging efforts, which were now in high gear.  I had to sit for awhile and take a trip back.  These pictures were gold.  Mom was so good about labeling pictures, and these two are the perfect additions to this post:

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Happy Birthday Suzanne, 42 and 41 years later.

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Name this tune, again it is from the same artist in the July 30th post:

“You get what you want, but it’s not what you need.”

In my several-hundred song iPod, I heard this one Friday morning as I ran.  It is the same message; the same reason the age-old adage has stayed around.

A wise woman once told me that instead of wishing for a specific outcome, we should pinpoint the exact feelings we are seeking to find in that outcome.

I am a runner with no desire to complete a marathon, but I know many runners do.  A runner friend of mine held on to that goal for years, but finally admitted with a sense of defeat that he knew, for health reasons, that it would not be possible.   His friends in his running circle had all completed one, and he felt utter disappointment in himself for not reaching this goal.

I asked him if he would have had that same goal if his friends had not met his goal.  He thought for a minute, then looked at me for a moment without speaking.  After a bit, he said, in an introspective tone of voice:

“I never thought about it that way.  I guess I was holding myself up in comparison to them. If it were only me, I don’t think I would have cared so much.”

Getting to the heart of the matter; the real meat of the goal should be our first step.  If it is not the best thing for us in terms of positive growth, perhaps you should re-examine it.   Perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

Life is too short to waste time on something we don’t really want.

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Don’t get me wrong, goals are good things.  Wishes are good things.  I am simply suggesting you step back and look at it as an outsider.  If it is indeed what you want, then proceed full steam ahead, and Godspeed to you.  Make your wish and say your prayers, appeal to the universe or whatever force you seek to enlist.

Your wish for a bigger bank account or a smaller stomach, or whatever it is should be accompanied by your best efforts.  I believe God/The Universe/The Force treats anyone with a wish much like we should treat our children with their homework.  We should expect them to give their all in their homework efforts, and then we can help them if they still need it.

We need to do our homework too.  We need to make the wish and do the work.  We need to put our backbone where our wishbone is.

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May God/The Universe/The Force be with you.

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Recall from last week’s post that fair only comes once year, so we seized the opportunity last night to savor it in our small city, complete with a demolition derby.

 

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On Wednesday, August 16th, I wish for my dear sister Suzanne to have the best birthday yet.  I may even throw in a package of toilet paper with her gift.

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Suzanne and me, circa 1973.