Double Barreled Birthdays


My brother was born on October 8th.  My grandma’s birthday was October 7th.  We used to go out to my dad’s house every year and celebrate them together.  In 1997, I bought my grandma a set of steak knives and a new cutting board.  David came in as I was getting them ready because he had no idea what to get her.  He was thinking about coffee, but we’d both bought her cans of coffee at Christmas (my grandma was a difficult person to shop for).  He said he was going to Wal Mart to look around. 

My grandma called me as I was getting ready to drive out to my dad’s house.  David hadn’t picked her up yet.  I said I would come by as soon as I could.  When it came to being on time, my brother and my grandmother were like matter and anti-matter.  When we were having a party at two o’clock, we’d tell my grandma to come over at four.  She’d still be early, but at least we had a fighting chance to be awake when she arrived.  As for my brother, it was enough he was gracing us with his presence.  Being on time was something other (read: less cool) people did.  However, David was running late because he was stumped.  He didn’t find anything to get Grandma at any of the stores on the way to West Dundee.  He finally arrived and asked me if he could buy one of my presents!  I let him have the cutting board at cost. 

We sat down to a “traditional” dinner at my dad’s house: canned ham, beans, and potatoes.  I was surprised to read in my journals my grandma brought bread; normally we had a can of biscuits instead.  I didn’t write it down, but I’m sure my dad toasted the meal with the words, “If we could eat like this every day, we’d be doing all right.”  After dinner, we opened the presents.  My grandma oohed and ahhed over everything.  This was to be expected.  She loved everything we gave her though often times the presents spent the rest of their existence in a closet somewhere.  Then it was David’s turn.  He had three presents: one from his fiancée Amy, one from Dad and one from me.  Dad’s present and Amy’s were the same size and shape.  David opened Dad’s first and discovered it was Nicotrol, the drug patches to help him stop smoking. 

“This is a refill kit,” he said.

Amy smiled, “Maybe you should have opened my present first.”  I could tell David was less than thrilled with his gifts.  My box was a bit larger than theirs.  He opened it up to find… a smaller box which also contained Nicotrol.  So, the party ended up turning into an intervention.  My dad went on and on about the dangers of smoking until I was ready to light up myself (not a cigarette necessarily; just set myself on fire to change the subject).  Amy struck more of a nerve by pointing out he spent something like $700 on cigarettes every year.  To David, that was the price of half a dozen cars.

David was killed in January, 1998.  We found the boxes of Nicotrol – unopened – in his things.  The picture I took at his birthday intervention ended up being used in his obituary in the newspaper. 

Too much time has passed.  It’s hard not to idealize my brother and in so doing, forget who he really was.  However, I do have my journals.  Every day, my 27 year old self sat down in the morning and wrote down everything that happened the day before.  I am forever grateful for those unvarnished words that let me relive and remember the complete character (believe me; David was a character).  I couldn’t have written this account eleven years later without that help.

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