Afternoons with J. and Jack

I wrote the following on February 14, 2012, just eight days after losing my brother, Jared, in a tragic accident on Mount Hood.  I wrote it with little intention of sharing it, but then did share it with family at a private graveside service.  I offer it now so that others may know of just one of the qualities that made my little brother so special.

Today I thought about J. and our afternoons at home.  There was a time we were home alone after school. It wasn’t for long – our dad would come and pick us up and take us to karate lessons – but that time alone with my brother is a time I have always cherished and will so now even more. I can’t remember our walks home from school, but I guess they weren’t important. J. probably walked ahead of me, or me ahead of him. But I remember defending J. on the playground once against some punk who thought his high voice or his teeth or something else about him was funny. I was so proud to do so, and even though J. sometimes annoyed the heck out of me – and he knew exactly how to do so – I was so proud of him when he was a little boy and especially when he was a grown man.  He showed me how to be a better parent and a finer person.

What was most important after school was a snack. We’d dump our coats and backpacks just inside the front door. We’d then head for the kitchen and make cinnamon toast. I have no memory of homework or chores or anything else that as unsupervised children we had been expected to do. What I do remember is chopping a stick of butter in half and placing it in a small bowl with cinnamon and sugar poured on top. We’d put that bowl in the microwave, and with no idea how long it should warm, we would zap it for so long it would boil over. We would carefully take the bowl out and toast four pieces of toast. Then this butter with sugar and cinnamon is poured on top. Voila – two pieces of toast each. What a perfect snack!

In those days, He-Man came on at 3:00 pm. “I am the power!!!” And we made it home just in time for Prince Adam to be transformed. J. would lie on the blue couch, and I sat in the recliner in the corner. We only shared the couch on Saturday mornings for cartoons, when we’d somehow manage to share an afghan over our bare legs and feet, until there was too much kicking for cooperation.

After He-Man, we would switch to Three’s Company.  I’m not sure if our mom and dad knew we were watching this then-risqué program, but we barely caught the innuendo because we were enchanted by John Ritter’s physical comedy. When Ritter died in 2003, J. called me to offer his condolences. I still record episodes of Three’s Company … and I think of J. J. was the king of physical comedy, even at a young age. He had routines for “frying bacon” and walking with a broken hip.  If you asked him as an adult to perform one of these routines, he’d grin knowingly, we’d beg, and he’d refuse. Comedy is better when it’s unexpected.  And he did that well. I like to think he learned some of his comic timing from our afternoons with Jack Tripper. One time, J. strung up a “trip-line,” as it came to be called, across our driveway, knowing full well that when I had gotten home in my station wagon, it would be dark and I would run up the driveway to the house. It worked. I tripped and fell flat on my face; J. laughed and laughed … and laughed some more. It didn’t even bother me he laughed at my pain.  As an adult, J. would stare at me from across the room, motioning with his hands how he planned to strangle me.  Or he’d leap across a couch or a table and grab my arm, shaking furiously.  He was such a spaz.

There was “Nice Doggie,” there was the time he hit his funny bone on the table and fell on the floor laughing hysterically, and there were always surprises with cloth napkins in fancy restaurants. I called J. every April Fool’s Day. He sent me random emails or other messages, with notes of one word that would send me into hysterics. I always tried to reciprocate – to trick him or to bring a smile to his face as he did to mine.  I pretended to fall down the stairs one day and cried out for J. I cried and cried that – no, seriously, I have broken my ankle.  J. knew better.  I was never able to bring as much humor as he could, but he was still a good teacher.

I dreamed of J. the other night.  In it, he was standing and Sophia and Creighton were very young and around his feet.  I wasn’t sure what was happening in the dream except that I was observing and he was giving me instructions, I think.  He said, “I wrote down all the ways I made you laugh … so I could do so again.”  I woke up.  I smiled.  While my brother is no longer physically here with us, his spirit lives on in us – in our memories, in our times together, in the ways we make one another laugh or bring joy to each other’s lives. That was a job J. took very seriously.  J. – the funniest person I have ever known – thank you for the joy.

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