Monday, October 30, 2006

Fanfare for the decent man

Mills of the gods

All of us have early childhood memories. Flashes of scenes involving parents or pets or friends, unconnected to anything else. I have several of these that go back to before I was three. My first complete memory, however, is just about 50 years old. I remember much of the day 50 years ago when my new born brother was brought home from the hospital. I remember my grandmother bathing me to get me ready. I recall looking over the back of our couch as he was carried in, and my first glimpse of him. I recall asking my mother if I could put a toy in his bed and then selecting the toy and watching him while he ignored it. The ingrate. It was the best day of my three and a half year old life.

The problem with fifty year old memories is that they happened fifty years ago, meaning that if you have such memories, you are no longer young. My brother turned fifty yesterday and I guess he is going to have to "finally concede that", in the words of my first legal boss Charlie Barrow, "it is probably half way over." I think my brother has a shot at 100. Which is good, he can attend to all the fuss of burying me.

In my whole life, my brother Clay is the most thoroughly decent man I ever met. You don't hear the term "decent" much anymore. Usually people say that he is a "good guy", or a "nice guy". Those are fine attributes, but it is not the same as being "decent". Decent connotes not just what you see on the outside, like nice or good does, but what you are on the inside. Decent means that you are not the kind of person who stays angry, or hold grudges, or is in any way mean spirited. Most Americans are mean spirited. It is a by product of capitalism and competition. Most people are different in their "business persona" than they are , say at Sunday School. My brother is not like that. He is what he is,wherever he is, and what he is, is decent. I have never met anyone who did not like him. I have never met anyone who did not speak well of him. How many people do you know who you can say that about ? I don't know any others. And no one who knows me would ever put me in that category either. One to a family is about the best you can expect.

I don't see Clay as much as I'd like to, although I am going to remedy that. I feel bad that we had not slept under the same roof for thirty years, until just the other night. I feel bad that the brother that moves away always does so much less for the family than the brother who stays nearer to home. Althought the truth of it is, he's better at that than I am. He is just about the best family guy you can imagine. His kids had the benefit of a father who always put family first, not only in his thoughts, but in his actions. No children could ever ask for anything more from a father. No father could ever ask for anything more from himself.

So I am going to spend much more of the next fifty years of my brother's life, seeing if he will rub off on me a little more. There is no sense in having a thoroughly decent brother, unless you can learn from him. Half a century is a long time. A real long time. But at least my brother can have the satisfaction of knowing that he never wasted any of it. He lived it in a manner that anyone can be proud of, even an older brother. Especially an older brother.


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