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.