I don’t think it was necessarily his idea to get born between me and our next older sister but that’s where he ended up sixty-seven years ago today. I don’t recall much about the event, mostly on account of it being another three-and-a-half years before I was born. That’s a better excuse than I usually have for not remembering something.
Pressed on the point, I’d more likely than not allow that it also wasn’t his idea to be so much bigger and better looking than me, either. That didn’t keep from resenting it, though.
It seemed like he was six feet tall by the time he finished his freshman year of high school. At the time, I was about four-and-a-half feet tall and must have weighed all of seventy-five pounds. That didn’t keep me from wanting to play basketball, though.
In our back yard, there was an old goal mounted on an old plank backboard held up on two old posts set in the ground. Once I’d learned to dribble on that rough court, a smooth hardwood surface seemed pretty easy. Our games of one-on-one were pretty one-sided but every now and then I’d manage to win a game of “H-O-R-S-E.”
Looking back, I have to wonder whether he really liked playing or just figured it was something a big brother ought to do for a little brother. He also taught me how to swim and we’d sneak off to the pond together on early mornings when the water was still so cold our lips turned blue. He took me to my first drive-in movie to see Marty Robbins in a stock car racing film called “Hell on Wheels.” I think we both still miss Marty even though he’s been dead for thirty-five years.
A few years after the Marty Movie, Paul was living in Knoxville, Tennessee. He bought tickets for a Steppenwolf concert at the UT-Knoxville arena and set me up with a blind date for the event. (Of course, Paul saved the better looking girl for himself. Fair enough; he bought the tickets.) A blue haze hung above the crowd while the band maxxed out “Born to Be Wild” and a few other of their classics. They did a parody of “Okie from Muskogee” that was funny even to the non-stoned members of the audience. Then they did one I’d never heard before, a surprisingly tender elegy that started with an acoustic guitar solo. By the time they finished “Snow Blind Friend,” it was my new favorite song.
And that concert is still one of my favorite memories. I won’t explain the title of this piece or take time to reminisce about building forts and tunnels in the hayloft or skinny-dipping in a cold creek on a hot summer day with the Willis brothers. I’ll just say that Paul was a better brother than I deserved. He is a natural born mechanic with a gift for making sense out of stuff I still don’t understand and a much higher IQ than his high school geometry grades might suggest.
In the realm of things that aren’t measured by letters on card stock, things like courtesy, generosity and sensitivity, he’s on my honor roll.