For many, Gene was a friend. For some, Gene was family. But for three privileged kids, Gene was our big brother. So if you’re wondering, “What’s so great about a big brother anyway?” well, let me give a brief glimpse into my big brother.
My big brother could babysit while our parents were away. Which was both good and bad. On one hand, he would threaten to lock us in a closet if we didn’t behave, (and you must know that threats like that are only pertinent if he followed through on it at least once.)
On the other hand, he would bear the retribution when things went awry. But my big brother could quickly come up with alibis and schemes to ward off our parent’s wrath. Like when we were wrestling in the Living Room and broke the glass door of momma’s bookcase. My big brother quickly connived a scheme whereby we could blame it on our little sister since we all knew that being the youngest and the only girl meant that she could get away with murder. That was my big brother.
My big brother could take a bicycle with no chain (and thus, no brakes) to the top of a hill in our backyard and coax his younger brother to ride on the handlebars while the other one (me) rode on the back fender all the while stating how much fun it would be and besides, “what could go wrong?” Ah! Pine trees. The driver’s inability to see where he’s steering. Did I mention, no brakes? And me riding barefoot and letting my toes get caught in the spokes. Yet we survived with minimal injuries and credited the “fun” to our big brother.
My big brother could help keep the house rules like “No jumping on the bed”. By sneaking up to our bedroom window from outside and screaming at us while we were, yes, jumping on the bed. Picture two small brothers tripping and climbing over each other as we stumbled down the hall screaming and seeking the safety of our parents. Picture a laughing older brother walking back into the house satisfied with perfectly executing a life lesson. Picture how fast his smile went away when he saw our dad with two boys wrapped around his legs.
My big brother could encourage our athletic abilities. Like allowing me to run alongside his car while he measured my speed and distance with his speedometer. And in true caring fashion stopped for me to get in after the exhaustive run, only to speed off as I grabbed the door handle leaving me no option but to scream and hang on for dear life as I was dragged along the road – a dirt and gravel road. I think I picked gravel out of my head for a week.
My big brother was good to teaching survival skills. Like leaving our cousin tied to a fencepost inside a cattle pasture to determine how long it would take to escape before the bull saw him. He escaped surprisingly fast.
My big brother could make the Holidays memorable through classic music and interpretive dance as no Christmas was ever complete without his animated version of Elvis’ Blue Christmas. In fact, he could make any gathering more enjoyable with his quick wit and uncanny ability to make everyone smile. Even as he struggled with his last few hours among us he made us laugh out loud and feel somewhat at ease. My big brother always brought out the lighter side of everyone and you were sure to be drawn into a conversation with him whether you wanted too or not. When I was around my big brother I was sometimes mischievous; sometimes brash; but at all times happy and a better person because of it. And I’m quite certain that everyone that has come to know my big brother has had similar experiences and just as many stories to tell.
But the most important thing about my big brother is that he always led the way for the siblings coming behind him. For me, this was never more true as I watch him interact with; and open his home and heart to; countless young lives that the world saw as disposable. I remember watching in bewilderment as he cried when he was forced to relinquish custody of a young girl to a family member in California. I did not understand at the time how a heart could break like this for someone that he had only known for a short time … until it happened to me. You see, my big brother led the way from my wife and me to open our home to foster children as well. And when we were forced to surrender custody of a precious young man that had stolen our hearts to another member of his family I called on my big brother to show me the way through it. I remember sitting in my office crying into the phone, and as I walked through that episode of my life I was comforted by a big brother. A big brother that understood firsthand what I was going through. And in that moment the heart and soul of my brother became alive to me like never before.
That’s what my big brother did … he led the way.
And on Sunday Nov 20th 2016, my big brother did it one final time. He left this life to lead the way – not just for his siblings, but for all of us. To lead the way home.
So what’s so great about a big brother? Everything! Especially when the heart that beats within him is as caring and loving, and kind, and gentle, and as warm as the one that beat inside my big brother.
I love you brother, and long for the day when we meet again.