A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road.
- Alexander Smith
He was the best-natured of all my brothers, but he won no scholarships, earned no athletic awards, and was the only one in the family to leave school without a diploma.
My mother wept at his choice in friends - and wives. The former took him down roads our family usually didnt go, like smashing all the windows in a vacant house and convincing his younger brother to come along. My parents handled that one with impressive aplomb. Mother fed and befriended the friend while Daddy supervised his three-boy crew in an all-summer job, reputtying new windows throughout that monstrous house.
Wife no. 1 was considerably older than the 21-year-old airman 1,000 miles away from home for the first time in his life, and she already had five children. He felt sorry for her, he said. Compassion, another of his finer but unrefined traits. Some time after her sixth - his first - child was born, she left him and the four older children for a richer man.
Wife No. 2 was a necessity after that. My brothers cleverness trait emerged in the thematic naming of their five children: Sandy, Dusty, Stony, Rusty, and Rocky. He has enough grandchildren to incorporate a village, if not build one.
His employment wasnt as steady as his progeny, though its doubtful with that many children they could have made ends meet on a CEOs pay. He tried filing saws, hauling waste, rebuilding Vietnam, and playing drums in a weekend combo for tips. Finally he settled on the career that has consumed the last 25 years: long-haul truck driving. To date, this clever, good-natured, compassionate brother of mine has logged more than 3 million miles on American roads without a single accident, and taught dozens of less-experienced drivers how its done.
By comparison, I finished high school, earned a college degree, traveled to 15 foreign countries, chose two professions (music and writing) that require constant study to maintain, and gave myself a pat on the back after raising two sons. The largest vehicle Ive ever driven is a pick-up truck, and Ive had at least a half-dozen accidents driving my little car(s) less than 500,000 miles.
One incident in particular, however, convinced me there are many yardsticks by which wisdom and achievement are determined.
Our mother had been in failing health for years, and was hospitalized (at St. Josephs) for what we feared was the last time. My compassionate brother was the one who came to cheer us both. I needed the break; she needed to see him smile.
I was unprepared for the long, mental deterioration that accompanies physical decline, so when I heard my mothers off-the-wall comments like, Is Daddy home yet? I thought it was more loving to remind her that Daddy had been dead for 13 years than to play along.
And when she told me, over and over again, that a truckload of children had been driving through her room every night, I relied on my verbal skills to explain, as kindly as possible, why that story couldnt be true.
Did you tell him? she asked, soon after my brother arrived.
Tell him what, Mother?
About the children.
I had, and was about to remind her for the umpteenth time that no truck could fit through the door of her room, when my brother smiled his good-natured smile, leaned close to her ear, and said, You see them, too?
I placed another adjective beside my brothers name that day: gifted, top-of-the-class, especially in common sense.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local, free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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