The Long View — Long memories, a short life; a brother’s passing

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The reminders are plentiful. There is a brightly colored robe from the South Seas, his old Olympus digital camera, and a Los Angeles Harbor College sweatshirt. There are a half dozen long-sleeve V-neck pullovers that did not fit him and a few heavy cotton T-shirts in dark colors, sent just “because they were on sale.”There are a handful of snapshots taken in the first few years of my life, and a senior admission ticket stub from the theme park we went to in June. Then there is the brown leather bag I used as a carry-on for decades.

The reminders are plentiful. There is a brightly colored robe from the South Seas, his old Olympus digital camera, and a Los Angeles Harbor College sweatshirt. There are a half dozen long-sleeve V-neck pullovers that did not fit him and a few heavy cotton T-shirts in dark colors, sent just “because they were on sale.”There are a handful of snapshots taken in the first few years of my life, and a senior admission ticket stub from the theme park we went to in June. Then there is the brown leather bag I used as a carry-on for decades.

With his sudden and unexpected passing this month, my brother John will send me no new mementos.

Separated 11 years in age, we were half a generation apart. In my earliest photo appearances, it seems he embraced the role of big brother, his broad grin smiling from beneath horn-rimmed glasses and flat top haircut as he held me in his arms. 

We shared a bedroom in our Gardena home; in the garage he worked on a 1934 Ford and showed me how to turn a wrench. In the family room he played 45s, teaching me to sing along with Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, and the Supremes.

When the rest of our family moved to Detroit, John stayed; he had a good job and a nice apartment in the Beach cities. The day we drove away from the house on Ardath Avenue, John tied old boots and tin cans to the back bumper.  We laughed at his mischief, even as we cried over leaving him.  

Though we now lived more than 2,000 miles apart, my brother kept his place in our family. Thanks to his employment with the airlines, John regularly visited or met us somewhere. Using the family airfare discount, we shared a vacation in the Virgin Islands, and he took me on a trip across Asia.

After my parents retired to L.A., he looked after them. He would protest over the hassle involved, but he also grumbled about his wife, children, and friends, as well as the Redondo Beach homehe purchased in 1978 and never stopped improving. In fact, he groused about most all the things he loved.

Thing is, that grumpy exterior was a mask that protected the tender heart inside this man. We came to understand he’d complain only when he truly cared.

Perhaps because of the distance at which we lived, John treated what time he and I shared as a limited resource, treasured moments in which he lavished loving attention on me. And he never let me pick up the check. After our parents, he was the sole person who knew me all my life. His abrupt departure leaves an awful emptiness. 

John and I were planning a late February weekend in wine country. Instead I’m preparing to visit his grieving family in their home, where reminders of his presence are everywhere.

The best keepsakes my brother John left were the sweetness and generosity he showed me all my life. I will miss him terribly.

 

Pat Grimes, a former South Bay resident, writes from Ypsilanti, Mich. He can be reached at pgwriter@inbox.com

The Long View — Long memories, a short life; a brother’s passing