The kids on this page are my older brother Chuck-or Buddy, as he was known at the time-and me. The picture was taken in March, 1970. Mom wrote on the back "The two little peas." I didn't remember the event or the picture, until I started looking through a stack of old photos after Buddy-Chuck-died a few weeks ago.
A few weeks more and two funerals later, I'm still struggling with what to write. And I need to write something if only because Chuck was the first cash contributor to The Cobra's Nose and I want to encourage that sort of behavior. I didn't even ask him. In fact, I didn't even tell him about the newsletter at first because I thought I might want to write about him some day and he could be awfully thin skinned about that sort of thing. But when he was in town for our grandmother's funeral somebody clued him in so I gave him a copy. He read it and gave me ten dollars for stamps, which I blew on a bag of Rice Krispy M&Ms for him ( they weren't yet available in the town in New Mexico where he lived) and lunch at IHOP-so he was also part of the first Misappropriation of Cobra Funds. That was after he woke me up to give me the money and I snapped at him for bothering me.
I immediately wished I hadn't been so waspish. I wished I treated him better. I wished I liked him better. I would have kept him as my older brother-protector, he was always good at distracting my sister's ire away from me and to himself. They used to have these epic, house shaking battles in our living room in Maine. But when he got back from his mission, our family had left Maine and Lauren was away at BYU. We were living in a two bedroom apartment in Phoenix, and Chuck took my bed which consigned me to sleeping on the floor. I don't recall how I was sucker enough to let that happen. He was older, bigger, an adult. He had changed his name from "Buddy" to "Chuck." And between work, school, and Singles' Ward activities, he was rarely home. Unless he tripped over my nest on his way to bed, I usually wasn't aware of him at all.
We all moved to Mesa, and in terms of real estate, he became Pat's problem. When Chuck ventured out of their room, he was frequently wearing a blue skirt (he called it a "lava-lava") with a white floral pattern and a shell necklace-Laotian dress he had adopted during his mission (to San Diego, not Laos-it's kind of a long story). At fourteen, I found this behavior mortifying. Now as I near the fourth anniversary of my 29th birthday, I wish I had appreciated it. Among his siblings, Chuck had the highest regard for convention. He was a good student and devout Mormon. He not only enjoyed, but willingly participated in football, and even sacrificed a knee to the sport. His only strange talent (that I knew of) was his ability to quote Fox in Socks in its entirety upon demand. Well, he also hummed when he ate, but I don't know that that counts as a talent, per se. The thing is, there was nothing about him that would lead you to think he'd take to wearing dresses in his leisure time.
Okay, okay, I know it wasn't a dress in the Western sense, and mean no particular disrespect to any Polynesian readers who may happen upon this newsletter. But it was an unusual, even daring thing for him to do, perhaps more so than his groundbreaking use of a hair dryer as a McGovern male. Not that I think my enlightened response to the lava-lava would have inevitably led Chuck to David Bowie fandom or anything. Indeed, his wife Terry affirmed his favorite song was "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Yeah, he was mostly square, but benevolently square. (Lauren might dispute that point as he once made her push the Pinto out of a snow bank while he sat inside it and revved.) We probably would have had more to talk about if his favorite movie were Harold and Maude, but I'll always love him for taking Patrick and me to the best theater in the Valley-the Cine Capri-to see Top Gun because he strongly felt we should experience it properly. He would come home and announce he was taking the whole family to Burger King. He taped every episode of every incarnation of Star Trek, and offered use of his library to anybody who might have any interest whatsoever, plus everybody else.
And I think he picked fights mostly to get a conversation going, a practice easier to deal with in theory than in person. Chuck and I had fundamentally different philosophies of dealing with people. He would engage virtually everybody. His kids didn't like him to make any stops on their way to school because he would always dally to chat and make them late. I engage very few people, just on the off chance they might annoy me. Why make waves when you can walk away? In the last e-mail I received from Chuck, he complained about something I had written about him in The Cobra's Nose. I deleted it without replying.
I wish I could mourn my brother
in a wholly uncomplicated, unselfish way, but that could only be for the Buddy
in the photo-the one I don't remember. My memories of Chuck from the time
I started having them to this very moment are tainted with anger, guilt, and
regret. I loved my brother, but often wondered how two little peas from the
same pod could be so different. Only now do I realize how little that question
should have mattered.