Friday, July 24, 2009

brother, interrupted

My eldest brother told me that in the early days of television he and the next eldest brother would sit in front of this test pattern for hours waiting for programs to start. "Once the show came on, we were lost." All of my life I remember him watching TV, keeping it on for noise, for company. I remember complaining about how he kept it on all the time almost no matter what kind of crap was playing, sleeping through days and days of tv. I didn't know about the test pattern. I wasn't there yet.

I started out with three brothers. I was the first girl born after them, all in a row, and I'll admit, I wasn't much of a girl - that frilly stuff was left to my sister. I was a tomboy, my formative years spent in tree houses, walking along moss-lined ditches fishing for muskrats, jumping from haylofts and chasing errant cows that wandered into the endless field that was our backyard.

I admired my brothers, each one different: the architect, the vietnam vet and the fisherman. Only the fisherman remains.... A stroke nearly took him last year but he survived it. Most of him, anyway. He is/was/will always be a fisherman, a storyteller, a notorious drunk, a politico, a basket weaver and a painter.

He and his wife and the other artists from Port Orford have a show at the Jacobs Gallery at the Hult Center in Eugene. We drove down to see the show last night.

When I crossed the entry to the gallery, he did not recognize me. This is the first time in my life that this has happened with a family member. I deal with this every day at work and just now it seems a curse that I know what it means, what is required of me now, that I introduce myself to my brother as though it was the most normal thing in the world. Now, he knew me, of course, once I got closer, but it was unnerving just the same, all the more for my experience. I sat down next to him, claiming my territory, my family. I wanted to wring the old stories out of him-- me the scribe, him the teller-- as though they were so many grains of sand slipping through my fingers. I wanted him to talk and talk and talk and regale us all with tales of the sea, of pulling out of Astoria in a fifty-foot steel-hulled boat in dense fog, radar beeping so wildly he thought it was broken, and when the fog lifted, finding himself surrounded with hundreds of small boats in the middle of some kind of regatta day, and the boats wouldn'tcouldn'tdidn't get out of his way. I wanted to hear the one about the last tuna trip of the season when he almost didn't make it back in. I wanted to hear stories of my father because he's the only one who knows these things now, he is the only one with the memories of my family. And he is beginning not so much to forget as to stop talking. He was so quiet. So so quiet. I have tried to write down as much as I could, as I can, but there is so much, and I am so much younger than him.

These moments of transition, of sinking awareness that we are all little more than that box of photographs at a yard sale who nobody knows, unkept memories, unrecorded history. I am torn between becoming a genealologist and knowing this didn't save my aunt from forgetting when I visited her and she walked me around her dining room that had not changed in fifty years and we looked at the pictures on the walls, her life's work, and she said, "I used to know these people."

In the punctuated equilibrium that is my life, seeing Doug not see me was a moment of some weight. These times come, and for a short time I am acutely aware of my mortality, of the passage of time, the transient nature of it all. My brother has settled with characteristic grace into his new incarnation largely due to his remarkable wife who seems to float through life without judgment or expectation. The heaviness of the moment will pass, and I will return to my day to day passage, forgetting that I, too, am temporary.

Life is good.


asha said...

We are more than memories. If we give back, there is legacy. A word here or there. A smile when a frown would have done just a well. A moment of grace. It goes on. Circles the globe without us. Hand-me-downs the future must not live without.

someone said...

You're right, of course. Thanks.