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We were still, after all, brothers

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POSTED June 19, 2010 3:06 a.m.
Sometime on Friday afternoon when I was busy planting four Japanese maples,  the earthly journey of my oldest brother Richard ended.

He hadn’t been taking care of himself to say the least so I guess the call shouldn’t have surprised me. But then again death is what it is - the curtain falling on one’s final act. There are no curtain calls, just silence.

Our relationship was interesting to say the least. Not all brothers have relationships that mirror Beaver and Wally Cleaver. And to be honest, I’m not too sure my life would have been much better if it had.

I could have done without the taunting and teasing growing up as well as the times that made such things seem pleasant in comparison. I also understand, though, that in a way that part of my childhood made me who I am today.

  Richard redefined the term “bull-headed.” It literally was his way, period. It was a part of his personality that went to the forefront a bit too much after our Dad died when I was seven.

The grass had to be cut a certain way and had to be cut twice a week. It is why - when I had a chance to call my own shots and bought a house on my own 30 months ago - the first thing I did was rip out almost every blade of grass in the yard.

You will not find my yard orderly or roses pruned exactly the same way every time. I do not see beauty in having everything fit to one form nor do I believe God sees things that way either. There is a great beauty in seeing things for what they are whether it is a California pepper tree allowed to grow as nature intended it or the stunning starkness of places like Death Valley with richness in life given by hundreds of plants and animals you won’t find elsewhere that make the strokes painted by Rembrandt pale in comparison.

But then again, his extremely tidy concept of what the world was like served him well in his chosen profession as an architect-engineer. One of his crowning achievements was the meticulous restoration of the Placer County courthouse in Auburn overlooking Interstate 80 that he did everything on from research and working plans to overseeing the completion of the last detail.

There are 101 reasons why I kept to myself growing up. Self-perseverance is key to survival. I knew I did not want to be like Richard. And I also knew I wasn’t about to let anyone bully anyone else - or me for that matter - if I had anything to say about it.

Being kicked to the curb whenever Richard or even my other brother did things with their friends such as go down near the creek actually ended up being OK with me. They told me I was too big of a klutz and would embarrass them. That was fortunate for me as I started hanging out with Catherine Gates next door. She was a school teacher who - along with my Mom - helped me to learn to read when I was 5. Catherine had me reading the front page of the Sacramento Bee by the time I was 6.

I’ve been accused by more than a few people as being too serious at times in terms of how I respond to injustices. I’ve just learned you have to have standards and strive to treat people fairly. I know what it is like to be marginalized and dismissed.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Richard and I weren’t exactly close.

It is true that you don’t pick your brothers. And, looking back, I think that is a good thing.

Life isn’t packaged neatly as it is in the Hollywood version of “perfect families” whether it is the “Waltons” or “My Three Sons.”

However, you get more navigating challenges than you do from perfection in relationships.  You can’t really succeed without failing. That is true in life in general as it is in shaping who you are as a person.

Death has now ended our earthly relationship that had become more distant, less frequent, yet more cordial over the years.

I surprised myself in hearing the news and shed some tears.

We were still, after all, brothers.
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