June 13th, 2019
When I first wrote about my brother’s Alzheimer’s and my memories of him, Harry Freeman, a very thoughtful friend, sent me a Nellie Fox baseball card. My first glove was a Nellie Fox model, given to me by my father and brother, Frank Sr. and Frank Jr., when they taught me to play baseball.
I wrote about that memory, and as I write this, I’m looking at that card and remembering.
Published in The Daily Memphian
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS
A couple of weeks ago, we made our way down the steep hill behind my brother’s house in the southern Adirondacks, winding our way through the many trees guided by the roaring sound of the stream below, water over falls, gathering as we did at a pool at the bottom.
On what would have been his 83rd birthday, my brother Frank’s family spread his ashes across the fall above that pool.
On his 82nd birthday, he and I shared birthday cake on the screened porch above the stream, and we shared stories and laughter that could have been shared on the porch at 491 South Highland where we grew up. He was clear and focused – his hands gracefully sculpting the story as he told it, casting words as he did the line from his fly rod thousands of times on hundreds of rivers and streams. He was enjoying himself – his laugh, sudden and big, rewarding me for something I said. The moment erased decades and the weight of their passage. He was my big brother and I was a little boy, and he was all mine on that porch – a rare moment in both of our lives.
The next day, he wouldn’t remember any of it.
When Frank was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago, I wrote about remembering him, and I’m remembering again today. He was13 years older, the blond guy in the living room reading books and blowing smoke rings, off to college when I was five, married and off to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop when I was 12.
The summer when I was six, I was playing with a stick in front of the house, pretending it was a Musketeer’s sword. I waved it at some young man passing and he yanked it away, broke it, and pushed me onto the sidewalk. Frank saw that from the porch, caught up with the guy two doors down, and knocked him through a hedge.
Frank wouldn’t remember that, but I do.
The summer when I was seven, I came home in tears because everybody knew how to play baseball and I didn’t. Dad and Frank knew this was a crisis and spent the rest of that day and most of the next out in the yard with me throwing, catching, swinging, running and then rubbing my brand-new glove down (Nellie Fox model) with neat’s-foot oil, sticking my brand-new ball in it (Rawlings), and tying it up with string.
Frank Sr. and Frank Jr. wouldn’t remember that, but I do.
Alzheimer’s insidiously took our father, and I think our mother, too, the constant pressure of caring for him causing the aneurysms that eventually took her. Frank’s Alzheimer’s was a quieter monster than the one Dad lived with but still hell’s own invention. The strength of my sister-in-law, Terry, and the devotion of their friends were powerful weapons and the medications to keep the monster at bay weren’t there for Dad 30 years ago. But still.
In the last years before he died last November, Frank lived in the moment. When the moment had no pain, and there was laughter in it, sharing in it, clarity and light in it, it was truly fine. When the pain and the anger came there was blessed irony in the knowledge that they too will be forgotten.
I still haven’t spoken to my other brother, Jim, or my children about hereditary implications of Alzheimer’s, or being tested, or other things in the closet or under the bed and maybe we’ll get to that, and I don’t know what’s coming, but I do know this.
It is up to us to make sure that those we love are reminded of that love and remembered.
It is up to us to make the most of our moments because they are fleeting.
I’m a Memphian, and my big brother is remembered.
Join us. Subscribe. dailymemphian.com