These things are always hard to write…
My younger (by a year and eight months) brother always seemed to do a lot of things before I did. He was into comic books first. Some cool 45s were in his possession way before I heard them — Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine readily comes to mind. He even worked at the movie theater of our youth prior to my arrival in the mid-70s. It was he, in fact, who taught me the fundamentals of projecting a movie on to a theater screen using the museum-piece carbon arc apparatus found there. He helped hire me, for chrissakes. But then again, I think mom made him do it.
The list goes on.
Found the wonderful woman he’d settle down with, had kids, and married, all years earlier than… well, you can guess the rest. In most cases, he was just plain ahead of me. I try not to hold it against the guy… sorta. He is my brother. Still, it’s that ‘had kids’ first thing that brings back a memory. Especially today. Centered around one October night in ’82. Our mother had been buried four years by this time. Her mother, our grandmother, having just left this mortal coil the previous annum. And bro was going to be a father. Me an uncle.
At least we’d both be first for once.
I’d gotten a call from mom’s youngest sometime after 9 PM on Saturday the 2nd. I’d asked him to let me know when Cheryl went into labor. This was that call. “Wow”, I think I said. Then I recollect the “Where?” question came next. For the delivery, that is. “St. Jude Medical Center”, was the response. Succinct as usual. Being older and more familiar with our L.A. hometown (plus, I never got lost going to Disneyland and ended up in Pomona, like someone… hint, hint) than he, I asked, “Where’s that?”
“Fullerton.”, I responded incredulously. “Like in Orange County Fullerton?” “Yeah”, he said. Mom popped that spiritual elbow of her’s into my ribs and the next thing I knew, “I’ll be there.”, came out my mouth. I think my brother said something like I did not have to go to the trouble and he’d keep me posted. A certain ghost would have none of it. “See you there.” may have been my last words for the phone. Wasn’t going to miss this.
A ‘Thomas Guide’, for those too young to recognize the term, was the title of a series of paperback, spiral-bound atlases featuring detailed street maps of various large metropolitan areas in the United States. No decent voyager of L.A.’s streets ever left home without it.
Gave my goodbyes to she-whose-name-must-not be-spoken, the woman I was living with at the time, and took off for the Orange County line. Thirty-five miles later, ironically having left from a location that’s a mere two minutes drive from where I live today, after a few inquisitive glances of my trusty, well-worn Thomas Guide, and I was there. A little over an hour before the 2nd cranked over to the 3rd. It’d be here, in what seemed a cavernous and dark chamber, I met my future sister-in-law’s parents.
Jack and Marge.
When I initially arrived, I asked the OB nurse to point me to their waiting area. After giving you-know-who’s name, she’d guided me here. She added that the future grandparents were already sitting there. “Really?”, I said. Suddenly the concept of ‘future’ took on a whole new meaning. I needn’t of worried.
Although, I’m sure they wondered, “Who the heck was this guy?”, as I headed their way. Who could blame them? I look nothing like my brother. He favored Dad. Tight-lipped as always, I was sure he didn’t even share he had a sibling with this pair. You get use to such things from this guy. Kinda.
I believe we were the only ones there in the room that night. I introduced myself to both like I was some shipwrecked survivor crawling onboard their occupied lifeboat. Each smiled pleasantly and returned the greeting. Marge keeping a wary eye on this interloper (back when I had dark hair… or even hair for that matter), I recall. She was always the keen one. Jack on the other hand almost immediately began treating me like some old friend he’d bumped into after years of separation. He was like that.
In no time, we started exchanging old stories about the two who were the reason the three of us were now clustered. A strangely predetermined quality took hold. So friendly whilst the witching hour approached. As Saturday night clicked over into oh-dark-thirty Sunday.
Hours passed quickly, based purely on the company. Jack and Marge made it so. Unbeknownst to me, they became family somewhere during that October night when Cheryl and my brother’s first son, my nephew, was born in a room nearby. It was the intro to the future times our unlikely trio would gather. An improbable rendezvous in some faraway waiting room that sprouted numerous marked birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and everything in-between extended families are wont to do over time as children grow up.
Back then, it was strange to think of my kid brother as a dad — or even me as an uncle — but this seemed to celebrate it all.
A happy and treasured birth in the Fall of 1982 commemorated the first meeting of a pair of strangers who quickly became anything but to me. Sweethearts from the same high school stationed on another coast and era, there for their daughter, my brother, and new grandchild. They were indeed special. An overly used term for sure, but perfect for these two. Meant in the warmest of ways. Credit Jack and Marge for bringing about that reaction in others, and this remembrance. Every single time I saw them from that point on, there were smiles all around. And stories to be shared.
Besides the chromosomes I have in common with my brother, I think the one thing that strikes me today was the coincidence we each married so very well. We were lucky that way. Furthermore, we were blessed with the gift of great in-laws. No family is perfect, but some are favored with this elusive attribute. Learned that lesson through the years. We only truly realize it when they’re no longer there. As usual, my brother received his set, that of Jack and Marge, before I. Unfortunately, I’d lose mine before he did. Being first has its downsides sometimes.
More than thirty years ago I said hello to a wonderful pair of folk. Two people I’ll have nothing but everlasting fondness toward as I creak down the road. They gave it back tenfold every time I saw them. To me and mine. Bar none. I learned I could never say only one of their names. ‘Jack’ would always follow ‘Marge’, or vice versa, when spoken or referred to. They were and always will be a single loving entity to me. So close. They left this world within days of each other this February, in what would have been their 70th year of marriage. Today, I go to give my final goodbye to these two. Together once again as when I first laid eyes on them. As they were almost always.
And I will miss them dearly.