Thursday, January 6, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Boy - The Scout

He sat in the back of the bus…the cherished seat. Surrounded by his friends Daryl and Dan…and a few others, his words and laughter would occasionally find their way forward to where I sat about half way back. His brown, curly hair didn’t show the signs of the regular crew cuts that dad would give us in the same way mine did. While the “sidewalls” around my ears seemed accentuate the size, his face was well proportioned. Dressed in a brown, paisley shirt that he and Debbie had picked out and the wide corduroy bell bottoms and wide black belt, he was the epitome of fashion in 1968. My own blue jeans and button-up shirt were nice…they were new this year, but didn’t have the pizzazz that his did.

The bus stopped in front of the old brick building…three stories tall with the flag pole standing proudly out front. There was laughter and pushing as we all rushed to get off the bus. It was the first day of school…and for me, my first day of Junior High. I really had no idea what to expect what I certainly had my reservations. I had always liked school and my early elementary at the Old Farmin School had been filled with wonderful memories. However, the two years at New Farmin had been difficult. My assimilation hadn’t been smooth and the friendships that had been nurtured during my first four grades had all but disappeared. Kids from some of the other elementary schools had joined us during those two years and it seemed I didn’t fit. I didn’t realize until Junior High that part of the reason that fifth and sixth grade were difficult socially is because “he” wasn’t there.

I don’t think that he knew the anxiety that I had about another school. We didn’t have the same kind of relationship that Geoff and I had. He was two years older, while Geoff and I were only thirteen months. Frank had already found himself working away from the farm by the time he reached his freshman year and had begun to “grow up”. While he still occasionally took the time to play with Geoff and me at this point, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. He still shared the same bedroom with us, but he no longer slept in the bunk beds. His bed was set on one side of the bedroom as a single, while Geoff and I had a double bunk.

I watched as he and his friends walked with ease up the front steps in a manner that let you know that they had been here before. This was their school and they were comfortable. The heads of the ninth grade girls turned to watch as he made his way to the front door…a burst of giggles and heads wagging as they watched him disappear. I walked with uncertainty, following the other kids as we made our way inside to find assigned lockers and classrooms. The hallways were crowded and I was greeted with bumps and shoves and the dreaded “Hey Sevy…get out of the way!” as I scurried to the edge of the hallway to accede to their demands with the other seventh graders.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but it was early in the school year. It was down on the first floor…on the gym level and one of the ninth graders on the football team with Frank walked by me and gave me a kidney punch. I don’t think I had ever felt anything so painful in my life! Even the spankings and willow switch never felt like this. Tears immediately welled in my eyes as I hunched over…gasping to catch my breath. I tried to straighten up and keep moving, not wanting him to see my pain and my fear. A moment or two later, he saw me and could see that something was amiss.

He walked over and moved me to the side of the hallway and asked what was wrong. At first, I just stood there quietly…trying to hold back the tears and accomplished it with some success. I didn’t want to be a “tattle-tale” and stood there with my eyes on the floor. Again, he asked what happened. I finally told him what had just occurred in the hallway and after some prodding, gave him the name of the kid who had hit me. I could see the anger flash in his eyes as he stood there and listened. It was almost as if I could see his mind saying “this is family, and no one does this to my brother!” I don’t have any idea what Frank did, but the kid never bothered me again. Even when I passed him in the hallways, he seemed to move away from me instead of closer and his eyes would look furtively around…perhaps checking to see if he might be watching.

As I moved through junior high, it seemed that Frank was there for me in one way or another. By the time my eighth grade year ended, he had his own car and was able to drive at night. I was still without my driver’s license and it seemed part of his mom-assigned “job” was to occasionally be a taxi. It was the last day of school before summer vacation and I had been invited to my first “party”…and there would be girls there. While I didn’t have a “date” date, I was going to be meet a girl there and mom and dad had graciously allowed me to go. The only caveat was that Frank would need to pick me up at 10:00 at the end of the party and bring me home. He told mom that it would be no problem and it was all set. He would come by the place of the party and pick me up.

The party ended as planned and parents began to arrive at the large house and pick everyone up. Everyone that is…except me. I waited for a little bit and Holly’s dad asked if I had a ride coming and I assured him that I did. I wasn’t sure where Frank was, but I had complete confidence that he would be there to pick me up. The minutes passed and I began to walk out toward the road at the end of the driveway. This place was set back a few hundred yards and it was possible that Frank had passed it by and I thought it would be easier for him if I got out on the main street. I stood there for a few minutes as I watched for a headlight, confident with the knowledge that behind a set of one of those lights, my brother would be coming for me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Frank had forgotten. He had been out on a date of his own and had gotten all the way home and had gone in to tell mom that he was home. It was only when she asked if I had fun at the party that he realized that I was someplace about ten miles away and not down in the bedroom where I belonged. He told her a quick “yes” and quietly opened the front door and went out to his car. Taking the car out of gear and leaving the lights off, he pushed it to the end of the driveway and let it coast to the bottom of the hill before starting it and waited until he was at the highway before turning on his lights.

I had walked several miles by the time he finally pulled up beside me and told me to jump in. His apology flowed from his lips and came more than once. I wasn’t greeted with a feeling of putting him out or of being an inconvenience. He was genuinely sorry that he had let me know. We talked about the party on the way home and I shared that I had my first “real” kiss. We pulled into the driveway with the lights out and quietly walked to front door. We were somewhat shocked to see mom standing there and she kissed me good night and talked briefly with Frank before he too went to bed.

As I look back on those days, it’s easy to see how often he was there for me. Frank opened many doors for me that I know were closed to him. And it seemed that whatever he did, I wanted to do as well. I followed in his footsteps in football as well as wrestling. The classes that he took, I wanted to take too. He wrote for the school newspaper so I enrolled in the class my sophomore year. It was the only class that we shared in high school. His participation in student leadership encouraged me to try it out as well. I will always be grateful for his presence as a part of my life, for his generosity and for his support.

This is one of a series of stories written for my family - Christmas 2010

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Boy - The Daredevil

The sun was warm as I sat on the front steps, watching the activity in the dust that was taking place on the edge of the driveway before me. The look of concentration on his face was a marvel…his short hair still blond and his back and arms a golden bronze from the many hours spent running around the farm shirtless. Light brown freckles decorated his small, upturned nose. His hands were dirty and covered with grease and oil and he would occasionally use his biceps to wipe the light layer of perspiration from his eyes. The gas fumes from the old coffee can that sat off to the side made my nose and eyes burn as they were carried on the breeze as it moved across the yard.

My little brother was in the process of tearing apart an old carburetor and putting it back together again. Even at age 10, I marveled at his ability to take things apart and always manage to reconstruct them. It didn’t really seem to matter what it was that he wanted to take apart…whether something off an old car or lawnmower, or an old motor off of a worn out washing machine, he always seemed to have a knack for anything mechanical. And while he also occasionally removed the legs or wings off of the grasshoppers he would chase across the lawn to catch, that was one thing he wasn’t able to put back together.

Aside from being mechanically inclined, Geoff had another characteristic that I was envious of even at an early age. He seemed to be completely fearless. Whether it was climbing the log walls in the old barn that stood on the homestead property or climbing up the trees in the wooded lot that was situated near the south end of the farm, he always seemed to climb the fastest…and the highest. There was no hesitation on his part to jump from the branches of one cedar limb to another as we would play out games out in the woods.

Speed was never a deterrent to him as well. As kids, he and I spent countless hours on our bikes. We both had “Stingrays” that were fairly lightweight and were easy for both of us to ride. I can remember the occasions when Geoff would take off on his mike pedaling as hard as he could, generating maximum speed, and then stomp on the pedals to slam on the brakes. He’d shift his weight, almost laying the bike and its side and come to a screeching halt just inches from potential harm. He would set up ramps and jumps to fly over on the bike, trying to gain as much air as possible. If he began to lose balance in the air, or even fail to make the jump and crash on the other end, he was never deterred. He would simply pick up the bike, brush off the dust and gravel…maybe lick the blood off of his bleeding elbow and simply get back on the bike.

Nothing seemed to faze him…even the dark or strange noises. The old barn had become our “fort”…a place where we would often play and sleep in the summers. He and Frank and I had walled off a portion of the upstairs loft in the old barn made it ours. It was strewn with a plethora of toys…mostly guns or swords that we had accumulated over the years or made out scrap pieces of lumber. Hours were spent either defending or attacking the 100 year old building and many choruses of “gotcha” and the predictable “no you didn’t, you missed” echoed across the fields during those summers.

But when we would sleep down there in the summer, it was always late at night when we would finally leave the house for the short walk down the hill to the old barn. Even with the outside light on the pole near the garage, by the time we were half way there, the light was gone and we were walking from shadow to shadow. I would often times feel my heart in my throat and the light sheen of perspiration on my skin by the time we reached the barn. I think Geoff knew that the walk down often scared me. There were times when he would take off a moment or two before me and by the time I turned the corner of garage, he was nowhere in sight. My hope was that he had run down to the barn and I would soon see the light from the loft area come on. But that usually wasn’t the case. Instead, he would find a hiding place and hunch down…waiting for me to pass by. And then with a banshee shriek, he would jump out behind me and cause me to nearly wet myself. The loud yell would be followed by his gentle laugh and he would take off down the hill followed by my screams and seemingly scamper up the wall into the loft and I would soon see the light coming from the doorway.

The night sounds that crept through the old hay loft would still have me on edge by the time I climbed up the ladder and into the “fort”. It might be the sounds of mice scurrying along the walls or the night birdsong…but there were always noises. Old boards have a way of creaking and old hinges make strange noises as they are moved ever so slightly by the evening breeze. Sometimes, there were sounds from below where the old milking parlor once stood that would be carried on the wind up to us. But for Geoff, never a flinch…never a “I wonder what that was?”…never a “Mark, I’m getting a little scared here.” Those were the voices in my mind but not from the mouth of my little brother.

Without the words finding their way to paper, he might never know the influence he had on my life as a young boy. Too often, stories are never told. Feelings never shared. Memories are lost. In my eyes, Geoff was always strong, brave, creative…the sibling who was always willing to go out there a little further than the rest of us. A brother that I feared at times because of his fearlessness…both for his safety as well as mine, and wanted to emulate at the same time.

This is one of a series of stories written for my family - Christmas 2010