Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How a Brother's Voice Can Echo {A Post by Tony}

I’m 5 years old, so it must be 1979. 

My grandparents purchased a giant house complete with fall-out shelter on a hill.  

100 acres.  

On the front of the hill is the Christmas tree farm and on the back end is a lake and a massive amount of woods; a boys dream.  

We live here frequently, on and off again, whenever my parents money ran out of money or the plans changed. 

In this memory I am sneaking through the woods, my cousins and older brother have left to go build a fort.  I begged to come too but my cousins said I was too young to help and no good at sneaking so I was left behind.  

I’ll show them, I’ll sneak up on them, then they’ll see how good I am at their game and they’ll have to let me play.  

It works! I surprise them but they are not impressed. They are angry and dismissive asking me to stop bothering them and go back to the house.  My older brother, he’s 9 and outnumbered, hestitates, and then steps in, “Hey guys it’s ok. Tony’s a cool kid. We should let him help us build a fort.” That’s all I can remember from that day. 

It’s a good day.   

We move again. Up to Canada.

We live in two bedroom apartment; 2 girls, 4 boys, my parents sleep on a hide-a-bed in the kitchen/living room. The apartment is only 500 square feet. 

We live there 9 months. 

We move again, to Oregon, to a parsonage, where my dad is an interim pastor of a church.  During that time my brother finds an old book in the church library, “For This Cross I’ll Kill You.”  It’s an amazing book, I am enthralled by my brother's ability to add voices and further characterize and color the people in the story.  It’s about a missionary who moves down to South America from Minnesota and walks into the jungle, discovering an unreached people group all on his own and bringing them the gospel.  

After a 9 month stint at the church, my father is not asked to stay.

Someone in the church takes pity on us and lets us move into their home that is sitting vacant outside Beaverton. 

The house is huge, an old Victorian, complete with its own pool table and all kinds of crafty built-ins and hidden closets.  In one of the hidden rooms we discover a stash of what I now realize are priceless old comic books and records.  My brother teaches me how to shoot pool and we play late into the summer nights, listening to Abby Road “Shoot Me” and pouring over all the amazing, color pictures of Fantastic Four and Superman.  In the afternoon my brother reads me all of the Chronicles of Narnia, and Tower of Geburah.  We are only there for three months, but what an amazing summer it is! 

We move to the beach.

 I never realize that we’ve been homeless for a couple years now. 

What kid does? 

According to the books I’m being read we’re just on one incredible adventure after another.  

It rains nearly every day at the beach so we stay inside and read.

“The Hobbitt,” My brother says.  

“It sounds dumb,” I say, “What’s a hobbit?” 

“It’s cool, you’ll like it.”

We are only there a month.

We move again to Idaho.

We stay! It’s a miracle!  

My brother joins High School football and even though I’m only in fifth grade, he needs, with his speed, a quarterback to help him practice the routes.

“No,” he coaches patiently, “don’t throw it to me, throw it to the tree. I might be at the porch when you release the ball but I’ll be at the tree when the ball gets there.”

I go to all the games. My brother is so fast and so quick, nothing can stop him. Once he gets the ball, he is gone.

I want to be my brother.

In my fifth grade opinion Back to the Future is the greatest movie ever made.  It’s a cold night and we are exhausted from getting firewood up in the mountains all day but there’s a reward waiting at the end.  My dad is letting my older brother and I go to the movies…BY OURSELVES!  We must be nearly grown up.  Nothing can stop us now, Not even the Libyans!

He goes to college and when he comes home at Christmas, I have missed him like crazy.  All the funny stories about dorm life and intramural football and girls.

“Girls!” I say, incredulous, “I don’t like girls.” 

This is a lie, I’ve had my eye on one all year long in seventh grade but she’s rich and beautiful and I’m invisible and poor so what’s point?

“You will,” he assures me.

I do.

My younger brother and I are standing in the restaurant facing my older brother with terrible news.
“Yes I know. I knew dad was dead when you walked in the door. I love you guys.”

I don’t hear any of this until later.

Shock will do that.  

It means so much to me now; a memory I can smile at on the darkest day.

Madison House. What a life! No regrets.  

People ask, “What would make you move to a part of the world that you didn’t know, to a culture you don’t have any affinity with, to share the gospel?”

In the rec-room, “How come you’re so good at pool?”

“Hey dad, how come you know so much about super hero’s, music and movies?”

“Tony’s on our team in snow football! He’s fast!” They smile.

“I don’t like girls,” A young man proclaims loudly for all in the Madison House kitchen to hear.

I laugh on the inside, “He will.”   

“No,” I say patiently, “Throw the ball to the end zone. Even if I’m at midfield when you release it, I’ll be in the end zone when the ball gets there.”

 “Hey, don’t leave that kid out,” I say under my breath to the older kid selecting, “Make sure you pick him for your team. He’ll feel special.”

“Dad, what’s a hobbit? It sounds dumb.”  

“It’s cool, you’ll like it.”

I pull aside the 18 year old, gently I explain, “The younger kids look up to you, that’s why I need you to be an example. 

He shrugs noncommittally, disbelief crosses his face.

“No I’m serious. You might not know it, but they’re watching your every move and they want to be just like you.  They are dying to impress you and get your approval. They might act like they don’t care but that’s just a front.  They want you to be impressed with them because they look up to you.  It’s not a contest against you, it’s a contest for you.”

He frowns but nods. 

It’s Thanksgiving 2016.

We are leaving the house in Lake Stevens to head back to Yakima and I see my older brother pull aside one of my young daughters; the one that struggles the most with self-image. 

“Hey,” he whispers just for her. “You are not a weirdo. You are a special kid. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re weird. You are special.”  

She nods and a smile breaks her frown like an ice cream sandwich on a hot day. 

The truth is, my kids freak out with excitement when they know dad’s older brother is coming to visit. They love him to death. Any compliment from their Uncle puts them over the moon and has them walking on air for the rest of the week.

I know exactly how they feel.