Monday, September 7, 2009

Big Brother

It had been at least 30 years since I had been to my brother's grave site. I almost didn't recognize the tiny little cemetery on my right as we drove through a wide spot in the road -- a town called Lowell -- in the state of Maine. I tapped the breaks, pointed, and told Sandy that is where my older brother, Glennie, (Glendon) is buried. We drove another minute, did a u-turn, and pulled up parallel to the black iron fence that separates the resting place from the restless world. I began looking at the cemetery in sections. First the oldest stones, and then from right to left to the newer stones. At the same time I was trying to turn back the clock to a time and place in my memory more than 3 decades gone by. I was trying to remember where my big brother was laid to rest.

Glendon was born in 1953, and he died of cancer, in my father's arms, just before Christmas in 1956. I was born December 16, 1955.

I have often wondered what Glendon would be like today. The pictures we have are those of a happy little guy--even those taken in his last months--pictures that reveal his sunken cheeks and tired eyes. Would he have loved the outdoors, writing, athletics, and adventure like I do? Would I have grown up in his shadow. Would there have been sibling rivalry, or would I have idolized my big brother? What vocation would he have chosen? What would his wife and kids be like? How would I be different, because he lived?

Within a few minutes I found his marker. The spray of artificial flowers mom and dad placed there on Memorial Day were centered at the foot of the headstone. The stone itself was dappled with lichen, and had a weathered, ancient appearance. Following the top, convex curve of the gravestone were the words, "Our darling." Along the base was the single word "Baby." In the middle, in prominent font was, "Glendon."

"Our darling baby, Glendon."

Without warning, I found myself convulsing in tears as I stared down through blurry eyes at my feet. I knelt down, and then lay down on his plot. I don't know why I am like that, why I do such things, or why I am touched so profoundly with melancholy at times.

Glendon's is one of three family markers clustered together. Next to him is Barbara, my father's sister. Influenza took her--she was only 8 months old. Next to Barbara was the single stone under which lay the remains of my grandmother, Myrtle, and my grandfather. Their stone looked brand new. I was named after my grandfather. I am William Vernon Shorey II. Papa Bill died of a heart attack in 1973. He was a kind, gentle, and loving man. On Saturdays, over four-and-a-half decades ago, Dad would walk us down Center Street hill for breakfast at my grandparent's home. My cousins would be there; they lived next door. When we entered Papa Bill's house, on the kitchen table would be a steaming pile of saucer-sized flap jacks he had cooked up for all us grandchildren. In minutes, we would be covering them with real butter and maple syrup, and fiercely competing to see who could eat the most! Papa Bill enjoyed it more than any of us.

Those are some of the most pleasant memories of my childhood. I know Glennie would have cherished them, too.

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