Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My Brother

Tomorrow is my brother’s birthday. The IRS knows him as Donald A. Dunnevant. His friends know him as Don, but to everyone in his family, he has always been and always will be…Donnie. He is ten years older than me, the oldest of my three siblings and my only brother. A few observations.

When I was a kid, Donnie was some kind of Greek god to me, a magical combination of Mickey Mantle, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Paul McCartney. He was this larger than life figure who I worshipped. Even though I was ten years younger, and constantly under foot, he always had time for me. He taught me how to play baseball. He would hit me ground balls until dark in the summertime. We would listen to Frank Soden’s play-by-play accounts of the Richmond Braves and recreate them in our back yard. He taught me how to switch hit, how to run the bases, and why it was so important to hit the cut-off man.

Donnie had this unnatural, freakish musical talent that allowed him to play the piano by ear. Everything he heard on the radio once he could play on the piano. Mostly what he listened to on the radio was the Beatles. He became obsessed with them. Still is to this day. He made sure that I became a huge fan too. He brought home a beat up old guitar from college one summer and bought a new one with the money he made working at a concrete plant all summer. When he went back to school that fall, he left the beat up one at home. By that time it only had five strings. He taught me three chords, then disappeared again for his sophomore year. Playing the guitar became the only thing I ever learned how to do better than my brother. Well, that and golf, and maybe I turned out to be a better dresser…maybe.

As we both grew up, the Greek god thing went away. I found out that he wasn’t perfect. Like any brother, he had knuckleheaded moments. When his first marriage ended he was devastated and was made to endure several bleak years. I watched him suffer through all of it without ever losing his optimism. I marveled that he didn’t just run away, leave everything behind and start fresh somewhere 5,000 miles and a thousand faces removed from the mess. But he stayed. He worked every imaginable job, often several at a time just so he could eat. I no longer worshipped him, but his fallibility had produced in me a deep respect. I became profoundly proud of him for his amazing toughness. He took whatever life threw at him and threw it right back.

Eventually he built a new life for himself, met a wonderful woman, and had a fourth child, a son. Now he slings mail for the Postal service in Gaithersburg, Maryland, surrounded by a bunch of worthless Marxists, the lone voice of reason in a building full of slackers.

Donnie is the only one of the four of us who doesn’t live within twenty minutes of Dad, so he isn’t able to share in the daily care. But every night at 6 o’clock, my father’s phone rings, and it’s Donnie calling, wanting to know all about Dad’s day.

If ever a manual is written about how to be a good brother, Donnie’s picture will be on the flyleaf. He always had time for me, never made me feel like an annoyance, although more often than not, I was. Coolest. Brother. Ever.

Happy Birthday Bud!