It’s ironic that I have to follow up my last post, “When the Curtain Grows Thin”, which was about messages we receive from loved ones who have left their earthly shell and gone to what Jon would call the Happy Hunting Grounds.
Jon is my brother, the oldest and undoubtedly the wisest, wisdom gained through the cracks and chisels of a rough-and-tumble life that at times left crumbles of personal devastation in its wake.
At 6 foot one and I don’t know how many pounds, he seemed immortal. He was a wall. A big, sometimes scary wall, ham-handed but with an intelligence that ran deep and cut through the stereotype of a backwoodsman. He grew up in Northern Michigan, where the loons wailed and freighters chugged through the St Mary’s in our backyard. He joined the Navy and served on the USS Ticonderoga, sailing to Singapore and parts unknown, and his ship even picked up one of the Apollos when it splashed down. (No, not THAT Apollo.)
He moved on to Whidbey Island and was stationed there and made a career as a Naval air control officer. After retirement, he went to work on the irrigation systems in the high desert east of the Cascades.
He was 11 years older than me, and even though he left home when I was young, he was still an indelible presence. He was loud, funny, with an inherent kindness. He gave me my first very own dog, a black Lab named Lucia, when I was twelve. What twelve year old girl wouldn’t adore a brother like that?
He adopted the Pacific Northwest, melting into the mountain lifestyle as naturally as one born there. Over years, and decades, he hiked miles up through high country and killed elk every fall. He would pack the meat out and cook it, making elk stew and steak and ground up patties. From the antlers, he made me a whip and a kitchen knife, the handles carefully crafted and smooth as silk. Later he adopted a couple of horses, and used them to trail the elk herds up into the rocky heights. He said if he had realized how easy it was, he would never have spent all those years climbing on foot! He had a natural way with animals and always owned Labradors. We argued over what was better; the Lab or the “stupid G.S.Ds”.
I could go on and on about him. The times we went horseback riding. The day he got on my sturdy little Morgan, Clifford, and admitted with surprise as he strode right out, “Hey! This is a great little horse!” The time, for my birthday, he drove me all the way from Washington up into the Idaho panhandle because I had always wanted to see it. Our shared love for the Larry McMurtry miniseries, “Lonesome Dove.” (We often recited the lines back and forth to each other. I can’t watch it without thinking of him.) The many times he stood up for me against crazy, mean-spirited siblings. The times he listened carefully when I had a problem, and gave me advice in words that cut with truth. The time, during one of my book signing events, he got up to the podium and talked about me. He told how I had always been a writer, and how I was trying to write, making marks and dashes on the paper, before I had even learned the alphabet.
He told me things about myself I never knew.
“Life is a roller coaster, Nancy. Some days you go up, and some days you go down. On your way down, remember that you are just about to go up again.”
His greatest gift to me, besides his sons, the handsome and charming, eerily smart Blaine and the tall and silent, eerily insightful Erik, and Lucia the dog, was his wife Judy. His choice surprised me. She was short, natural, quiet; more pleasant-faced sidekick than sex symbol. But she complimented his big, flashy self perfectly. She loves wolves and animals, and he told her shortly after they met that of all his siblings, she would get along best with his sister, Nancy.
He was completely unpretentious in his wisdom. As he said, he was, “Part Grizzly Bear, Part Wildcat.”
Of all my siblings, he had the deepest understanding and respect for my sister Amanda, the best knack for teasing her and the best insight to explain her motives to someone else.
“He’s a rootin’ tootin’ boy.” Amanda summed him up perfectly.
I am not sure what life is going to be like now. I am pretty sure I don’t really want to think about it yet. I am dumbfounded. I don’t know he is gone. I am not sure how I will react when I figure it out. And this is all stream of consciousness; there is so much more to say about someone who took up so much space.
He stormed through life, stomping into a room, filling it with his presence. And yet he managed to leave no trace. How did he do that? I only know that he lived… Voraciously, fiercely, and with vigor. Of all the brothers I could have had, even though he left too soon, I am so glad I was awarded this one.
…Been quite a party, ain’t it, Woodrow?