Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Brother, My Friend

My Brother and Me

I’ve shared many things with my little brother over the years – a room, a car, an apartment, friendships, adventure, and even a pair of matching flowered pants when we were three and four.  (Yeah, you heard right, Matching – Flowered – Pants!)  In these belongings, we shared something far more significant – Our story. Only thirteen months apart, we were always close, even when we weren’t.

I'm Sorry!

I closed him up in a bottom drawer, then turned the chest over while trying to climb into one on top. 
He taught me how to tie my shoes. 

I held a cloth to his head after racing him, “To the stereo and back!” 
He said he was sorry, when he broke my Snow White music box.  

I punched Earnest in the stomach at the bus stop when he wouldn’t stop saying mean things.
He held my hand and said, “You want me to break his knees?” 

I sat by his bedside when he needed me. 
He did the same. 

I love his children, as I love him. 
He loves mine, all three. 

I think of him often, far away. 
He calls me almost every day. 


Our story has taken many turns, weaving in and out of happiness and pain, darkness and light. Here today, I’d like to share one of Absolute Joy – A story of Travel and Adventure – A story of Friendship.

June 1999 ~ Happy Birthday, Jamie!
I flew from St. Louis to Des Moines to meet him. Said, ‘Good-bye’ to two kids under the weather and a baby, leaving them in their daddy’s most capable, loving hands. I think Jamie hardly recognized me in the airport. No diaper bags, no toddlers attached to my hip, just unencumbered little ol’ me.

We loaded the bike into the back of his truck, Honda Nighthawk 750, and headed West to Colorado. We hadn’t made a trip together since we were kids, seventeen – eighteen. Frankly, I am surprised he would have ever climbed into another car with me in the driver’s seat, after I’d fallen asleep at the wheel in the one we shared so many years before. It was Christmas – I am still sorry. A thirtieth birthday would be the call for this occasion. I guess I am forgiven. Well, off the hook for now, anyway.

It had been so long since we had been alone with each other, just a brother and a sister.  We talked about what we knew. Jamie shared stories of school, working his way through. I fessed up about babies, and how beautiful, though thoroughly draining, it was being a parent – life changing really. Both of us had struggled to find a story of our own and now, here we were – wounded, though not broken. It is in that struggle that we share our story with all of those who have lived the good, the bad and the ugly, and then told their tale anyway.

Chris, a longtime friend of my brother’s, welcomed us to Boulder by the days end. He opened his home to us, shared his beloved city in the mountains with us and fed us his delicious cookies. I felt like one of the boys in his company and have not forgotten his hospitality and his friendship.

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, CO

Tulips bloom in Boulder

Russian Nesting Dolls

We strolled through the Pearl Street Mall on a sunny afternoon. The outdoor storefronts invited us in to a small world all their own. Street performers sang and danced and played among enthusiastic crowds, tourists and locals alike. We stepped in and out of the unusual shops that followed the sidewalks, handling Russian nesting dolls, which I bought for my children and shared a laugh over a t-shirt shop’s display,
“Mistakes… Ever think maybe your entire life was meant to be a warning to others?” Ouch.

Cafe Antica Roma

We shared a bottle of wine, drooling over homemade bread and zesty sun-dried tomato dipping sauce in the Café Antica Roma and enjoyed our dinner at a small table beneath hanging vines and beautiful hand-painted murals on the walls. I have never been so close to Italy than in that moment, sharing a warm and happy meal with friends! My mouth waters just thinking about my plate of bay scallops, jumbo shrimp and clams and mussels in the shell, all on a buttered bed of fettuccine.

The next morning we slept in (*Big Sigh*)  and fed ourselves once again at the North Boulder Café, before packing the bikes with our camping gear. It was a lesson in trust the moment I swung my leg over that two-wheeled rocket behind my little brother. Nervous excitement swirled in the pit of my stomach when he pulled out onto the road behind Chris. I breathed a little easier in the knowledge that I was wrapped up like a fat little burrito and settled into the seat with my arms wrapped around his waist like bands of steel. If it was to be our fate, that we plummet over the face of a mountain on this thing, then I would at least go with a warm backside and a full stomach.

West side of the Rockies

Trail Ridge Cafe

Looking lovely as ever!

We drove into Estes Park just ahead of the rain and began the long climb, weaving our way up Trail Ridge Road into Rocky Mountain National Park. The road, recently opened again with the warm June weather, carved a path through the side of the mountain, the snow plowed to the sides in great banks, snowy peaks stretching for miles. Canyons and rushing mountain streams, full with Colorado’s spring thaw, invited us up for a look-see. Reaching the top was momentous, though both the joy and the reward were in the journey itself. The Trail Ridge Cafe opened its doors to us, roughly 11,796 feet. They offered us nachos and cold drinks and we offered them cash. The trade was made – and we were happy.

Indigo Bunting

Bull Moose

Warmed and lighter in our wallets, we headed back down the West side of the Rockies into Grand Lake. We pitched our camp at Elk Creek Campground, excited over our moose sighting and our visit from an Indigo Bunting along the way. Suppertime called us back into town, in the form of Pancho and Lefty’s chimichangas. Later, on this eve of Jamie’s thirtieth birthday, we sat around the campfire, surrounded by tall, thin evergreens – knotted and twisted along the side of the mountain, just the three of us, and shared stories in low voices.  Jamie and I wandered into a clearing together sometime much later, searching the sky for constellations and remembering outdoor adventures from our childhood, in the smell of darkness and smoke. He drew my attention to Scorpius and Cassiopeia with a grown man’s eye. We found old friends in The Big Dipper and in the planets, Mars and Venus – and smiled at a shooting star as it burned out over the horizon. Never have I been more proud or more in love with my little brother than standing there next to him on that starry night.



We woke early on his birthday to the sun on the mountain. Hummingbirds and Goldfinches hummed about our campsite, thirsty for our chocolate milk, I suspect. Our ride back over the mountain was much faster in our efforts to make our dinner reservations. The wind against our faces was bitter cold and seeped in through any openings, no matter how small, in our overall gear. The guys drove us through the stinging rain, like the wind, thrilled with the challenge. Heavy storm clouds, dark and swollen, waiting in the trees, mingled with chimney fires nearby, as we drove on through Roosevelt National Forest. It was Christmas in June driving alongside the mountain stream. Water rushed beneath a footbridge and the smooth, round boulders scattered among the pines. I tucked my head against Jamie’s shoulder to warm my face, a little homesick with the familiar sights and smells flying past.

A Beautiful Rush

A straightaway opened up against the mountain. Neighboring cars on the road seemed to be traveling in slow motion. Jamie turned his face to me, his voice rising above the bikes racing engine. “Ready,” he hollered. I followed his lead, tucking my body into his, melting into the bike, as we flew past the convoy – warm and safe on the inside – me, having the time of my life. It took seven hours to climb that mountain and only two to soar with the wind all the way down. If my kids ever read this, I will deny, deny, deny.

The Gold Hill Inn

Home again in Boulder, rested and cleaned up a bit, the three of us drove the truck up the mountain following the old dirt road to a small town, called Gold Hill – Population 840. Established in 1870, it was originally an old mining camp. Standing alone on the top of a mountain under the stars, the people there still felt no need for streetlights. Chris had made reservations for the three of us to celebrate Jamie’s thirtieth at the Gold Hill Inn. Open spring, summer and autumn, they served great food, wine, cheeses and desserts to die for! Exposed wood beams crossed overhead, low lamplight and candles glowing against the weathered oak. Three, floor to ceiling fireplaces set in huge stone boulders, surrounded the dining room, breathing warmth from their hearths, as we ate. Smoked trout with herb stuffing, soup to comfort, salad – all on the heels of two amaretto sours from the bar – Delicious Love. Thank you, Chris, for a wonderful memory.
And Jamie, Happy Birthday, Little Brother!

We woke early, our last morning in Colorado with a ten-hour drive back to Des Moines to catch my flight home. We grew nervous about five hours in, hauling the bike in the back, trying to avoid a ticket on the highway. With twenty minutes to spare, Jamie delivered me to the gate. Our weekend had come to an end, standing there with no more time together – just a little girl and her baby brother, saying good-bye again. Once I had settled into the small prop plane, I felt sick with missing him. Since birth, his heart had somehow melted mine – my Gemini twin, my friend.


On take off the sun turned orange against the sky. The flight was quiet. I ate my five salty peanuts in a bag and downed a Coke with much pleasure. I had to run to meet my connection in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport – this being something I never want to do again for as long as I live.

As I stepped off the plane in St. Louis, I saw my smiling husband waiting for me at the gate – back when a person, free of fear and restrictions could do so. As difficult as it was leaving my weekend of freedom behind me, it was good to lay eyes on him again! The time I spent with my brother would never be equaled, and even though it felt good to breathe in open spaces, it quickly felt even better coming *Home* to my family.

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