Thursday, September 18, 2008
He was Lee. He was seventeen years-old, dating Mom’s housekeeper, and working as a wrangler at a local stable. He was super handsome – James Dean handsome – gorgeous thick slicked back hair and a perfect duck butt in the back. He was built like a brick shithouse and could turn heads from nine to ninety. He’d seen more in his short seventeen years than most screenwriters can dream up in a lifetime of imagining awful drama that happens to other people’s kids. I’m going to write a little about his childhood, but I may edit it out later. He had been born to a woman who had a knack for choosing lousy men – of course she came from a long line of lousy men – and lousy women. They were from the poorest Irish neighborhood in Denver – and folks who knew of their family said there was lots of violence, beatings and incest -- no one from that part of town had much respect for the family. I don’t even know if she was married to his father. All I know about his father is that when my brother was old enough to still have memory of it as an adult, and little enough for no one to think anything of it – he watched his father shoot a man in the parking lot of a bar. He was supposed to be sleeping in the car when he woke up and saw his father shoot another man. His father went to prison for murder and he never saw him again. His mother married a man far worse. He had three sisters, I think they are all half-sisters, children of the second marriage, but I am not certain about that. The man drove a truck. They lived in the mountains – rural, away from folks. That man was abusive like something out of a book – I know there are stories that I have never heard because they are worse than those that I know. He tore into the mom on a regular basis, beating the hell out of her and the kids. I’m sure from things I’ve heard, and having met the man, that he wouldn’t have blinked twice at doing the unimaginable to those kids. While my brother was still too small to attend school, he would play with his toys outside – often under the big truck/trailer that the old man drove. Like most kids, when he was called inside for supper or chores, he would forget his toys and leave them where they were. The old man was furious, and sent the little boy under that truck to retrieve those toys – then he intentionally ran over his hands, mutilating his young growing bones. He locked him in a tin shack on the property and beat the hell out of his sisters for sneaking food and water to him – I don’t know what prompted him to feel that punishment was warranted. There was a neighbor down the road who was somehow aware the boy was locked in the shed – he would let him out and feed him whenever he could without the old man finding out – he saved my brothers life, I have no doubt. He hated that man, and was gone as soon as he could earn a living on his own, at about 13 years old – strangely though, he could never completely break that tie with his sisters and his mother – he hated her too, for allowing the abuse – but he never lost touch with them. And so he met my parents – and they treated him kindly, trusted him, loved him, and respected him – he blossomed into another kind of man than what he probably would have become. He joined the Navy shortly after my parents were married – he served aboard a ship during Viet Nam. I don’t know many details of his service, I just know that he doesn’t like to talk about that either. I remember him always always being so excited for family time – so into the holidays, the gifts, the meals, the sharing and the love. He would find that one gift that no one else could find and make the biggest deal out of not just the gift, but the whole experience of giving and receiving a whole separate memory worth holding in your heart forever. He made reindeer hoof prints in the snow, and sooty santa boot prints on the hearth when I was little. He hid easter eggs in the most exciting places – you would have to talk him into a shoulder ride to find them all. It wasn’t just for me though – one year he was certain he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving – mom was very upset, she’d never had a Thanksgiving without all of her kids gathered around her. It was awful weather in Montana, and he didn’t think he could beat the highway closures. We were all sitting down to eat when we heard the jake brake coming down the hill – my mom ran to the door and ripped it open – tears streaming down her face. He jumped outta the truck clear down the hill and across the street and shouted – “hey ma, I brought some pie”. She ran out to meet him and he took her up the hill and behind that huge trailer and whipped open the doors to reveal two pies sitting right there in the back of the empty trailer! I had pet rabbits when I was growing up – rabbits were my thing. I had this wonderful rabbit, Jacques for years – my Jacques stories could fill an entire entry on their own! – Jacques was probably 3-4 years old the morning that my father found him dead in the yard – having been attacked by neighborhood dogs. I was heartbroken, I thought no pain could compare to my grief for my beloved pet. JL (he was JL by then, having changed his name to ours – the J for my dad’s name and the L for the Lee that his mother had given him) had come home a few nights later after a long trip of driving. I didn’t know my mom had even told him about my awful loss – I was pouring my heart out to him as he sat at the kitchen counter eating something. All of a sudden he was certain he had left his sunglasses in his car and could I run out and get them. I didn’t want to go, I wanted to keep talking to him, but he was really insistent, he needed those sunglasses right now. So I ran out to his car… and there on the seat of the car was a little tiny white baby bunny – hopping around and pooping – just like bunnies do. I couldn’t get up the hill and into the house fast enough. It was the perfect medicine for my broken heart – and he thought it was so funny sending me for sunglasses in the dark of night. He did equally passionate, loving or funny prankster things nearly every time he came home. He married a lot – too much. He had a hard time finding women who could be good enough for him and still put up with his baggage – no matter how much healing you find, there’s still some baggage from a life like his. His longest relationships were those that he had with women he didn’t marry – they became important parts of the family also. He has one son – named after my dad and another of my brothers – spitting image of JL. We danced, we were dance partners. We had so much fun, dancing Country swing and two-step and triple and whatever was required to compete in the competitions at the local country bars. We were good – very very good. We had so much fun hanging out in the bars together – oldest brother and baby sister – so many years difference in age and still such close friends – and when people would ask how old he was or I was – since I wasn’t 21 and he was older than he wanted people to know – I would just say “he’s twice as old as me” – that left them wondering. The string of tough relationships with pain in the ass women and a couple of nasty accidents that left him unable to drive a truck anymore made life in a tiny town in the Texas panhandle look pretty appealing. We knew where he was, but the rest of the world would only wonder. He worked that farm in Texas for a long time, driving a tractor – when he would come home to visit he would charm my kids with stories about the farm and his big tractor and how he would take a potato in the morning and stuff it full of onions and butter and whatever he had around and wrap it up in foil and put it on the engine of that big old tractor – then he would work all morning and when he stopped for lunch he’d have a nice stuffed, baked potato. Somehow my kids took to calling him Spud – the name stuck, darn near everyone calls him Spud now and all those other names are forgotten. His biological mother and her husband are dead, and he sees his sisters only for brief visits every now and again. So his new life as Spud, rotten childhood behind him, crappy marriages all but forgotten, and just Uncle Spud to the kids has him as contented as is imaginable.