“My Brother’s Birthday,” column for April 12, 2016

On his birthday, I called my brother to say I am glad he was born, and to inform him that he is now older than I am.

“Sister,” Joe said, “I’ll keep having birthdays. And you’ll always be four years older.”

He is smart, my brother. Not easily fooled. He sees things that a lot of us tend to overlook. He was 6 months old the day my mother told me he was blind.

“He can’t be blind,” I said. “He laughs at my face.”

“He laughs at your voice,” she said. “He’ll never see your face.”

In years to come, I would try to prove her wrong. I’d put a chair in Joe’s path, then hide and wait to see what he’d do.  Never once did he fall for it. He’d come lumbering through the room with his cane, click, click, then stop shy of the chair, cocking his head to listen. After a bit, he’d grin.

“Sister,” he’d say, “I caught you.”

Yes, he caught me like a fish hook in my heart. I’d have done anything to protect him. But in time, he taught me a lesson we often learn from those we long to protect: To love them is to let them go _ let them stumble and fall and live their own lives.

Joe boarded at the school for the blind until he was 16, then stayed at home for a few years, forcing our mother to double up on her nerve pills. When he got a job running the concession stand at the courthouse, he moved out to live, as he said, like a grown man on his own. By then, I was out of college, raising a family in California. I remember the day Joe called to tell me he’d gotten married.

“You did what?” I said.

“I know three weeks isn’t a long time to know a person,” he said, “but I’ve been waiting for Tommie Jean all my life.”

Then he laughed and said, “Sister? Even a blind man can fall in love at first sight.”

My mother swore it wouldn’t last. It lasted 10 years, until he lost Tommie Jean to cancer.

In barely a heartbeat, Joe lost not just his wife, but our mother and our stepfather, who was Joe’s best friend. He also lost his job, a different kind of loss to be sure, but a hard blow to overcome for a blind man with cerebral palsy.

He lives alone now, sitting on his porch, listening to the radio, pulling for the Clemson Tigers. He goes to church most every Sunday, rarely misses a potluck, takes a cab to buy groceries or to eat out on occasion.

Our sister is the rock he leans on. She and her children and our cousins include him for family gatherings, driving 30 miles each way to pick him up and take him home with a week’s worth of leftovers.

I fly to visit him when I can, never often enough. We talk on the phone, if he picks up, or just trade messages. We’re close in a long-distance kind of way.

I often write about him, partly because I think he’s interesting, but mostly because he has been a gift in my life and it seems only fair to share him. Readers (those I like best, including you) seem to find him interesting, too. A woman from West Virginia sent me a WVU Mountaineers coonskin cap. She said I could keep it or give it to Joe to replace his Clemson hat.

I kept it.

When I called him on his birthday, he talked about kindnesses: The friend who gives him rides; the Meals on Wheels driver who brought him cupcakes; and our sister, God bless her, who was taking him out for a birthday dinner.

So I reminded him about the nice woman who had sent the coonskin cap and suddenly he said, “You know, Sister, I’d look good in a coonskin cap.”

“It looks better on me,” I said.

“I think maybe you ought to let me be the judge of that.”

“Fine,” I said. “You can have it on one condition. You have to give me your Clemson hat.”

End of discussion.

“Bye, Sister, love you!”

He is smart, my brother. Not easily fooled. He sees things that a lot of us tend to overlook.

But I am keeping that coonskin cap.

Comments

  1. sydney LOVE says:

    Happy Birthday to Joe, a little late. (I was out of town, so I’m just now catching up) I love your stories about Joe, of course I love all of your stories about anything. I always loved hearing you tell the ones about when you and Joe were little and you would describe things for him. You are both blessed to have one another. Thank you for sharing your life with us. You are truly amazing and so is Joe.

  2. Debbie says:

    I love your column about your brother – he sounds like a very loving man – if I lived closer I would take him out to eat!!!

    I love all your columns!!

  3. Kay Humphries says:

    Such a special column !!! Loved it !! Of course all your columns speak to me & express my feelings ! Love the ones about your precious grands‼️‼️

  4. Terry Andry says:

    It feels like we all know Joe. Happy Birthday Joe. You’ll get that coonskin hat I bet. 😉

  5. Sandy Hamblen says:

    Happy birthday to Joe! Your Sweet words bring memories of my aunt, like Joe, grew up around love and laughter in difficult physical circumstances.

  6. George Balint says:

    Another one out of the park. Don’t ever stop writing. If you run out of subjects, remember the funny and weird neighbors that used to live behind you.

  7. E. Lynne Denney says:

    I thoroughly enjoy your stories. I feel like I know your brother and appreciate the updates. Tell him Happy Birthday from me. E. Lynne Denney, RN. Born and raised on a farm in Ky, with eleven siblings. (I have some stories too)

  8. Linda says:

    Beautiful story, felt the love in your words. God sends special people into our lives to make us better.

  9. Jim Bright says:

    I seem to recall a column you wrote telling how you would describe things to Joe when you were children. I think he, in a way, helped you become the marvelous story teller you are today.

  10. Judi says:

    Yet another wonderful column. I do enjoy when you share stories of Joe! But then again, I enjoy all of your columns. Take care and God Bless you and yours!

  11. Shashi Saini says:

    happy birthday Joe ,a kind and loving brother . Long live brother ! thanks to Sharon,a loving sister .

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