My brother Larry died ten years ago tomorrow, July 21, 1997. I no longer think of him every day, but his birth month of March and death month of July always bring back memories. Every year on March 1, he used to breeze over to Mom's house and recite, "The stormy March is come at last!" He loved to make people laugh, and he did it with ease. He would phone me to chat, and then when we were through talking, he would invariably say, "Hey, thanks for calling." He loved to read but had little use for formal education. Most of his jobs consisted of manual labor, and he did tree work for many years, generally freelance work without the highest regard for safety standards. One time in the 70s he nearly dropped an enormous pine tree on me; if I hadn't dived out of the way at the last second, it would have killed me. On another occasion, one of his co-workers allowed a large tree branch to hit him in the head. It was one of the few times I'd known Larry to wear a safety helmet; I saw him in his hospital bed that evening. His entire head was purple, and he had a hairline fracture in his face.
One of his safer jobs, and probably his favorite, was working as a guard at the county house of correction. I liked asking him, "How's life in the can?" He lost his job once because an inmate accused him of brutality during a scuffle. I never learned what really happened, but the Lowell Sun covered the incident with a banner headline, mentioned Larry by name in the opening graf, and declared him guilty. Months later, the county reinstated him, but he never forgave the newspaper, which he henceforth called the Lowell Scum.
Larry and his wife took on the burden of raising several of their grandchildren. He loved hiking and fishing, and did his best to instill those interests in his grandkids. On the evening before he died, Larry reminded me that he was taking two grandsons, 8 and 10 if I recall correctly, with him to climb the 5,000-foot Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire. They made it to a high ridge a short distance from the summit and and close to an AMC hut. Larry stopped to take in the splendid view while the boys walked on a few yards. When they looked back, he had collapsed.
That evening, the telephone woke me. I had an unlisted number at the time, and the operator was calling to say that someone was trying to reach me and claimed it was an emergency. Trudy had forgotten my number and couldn't get it from the phone company. But when we finally spoke, her sobbing message hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest. Nancy held me for hours after that as I struggled to breathe normally again.
At the wake, I met one of Larry's former supervisors at the jail, a tall, strapping fellow in uniform with lots of dignity and bearing--I wish I could remember his name. He recalled a night shift where he walked in on Larry, who had fallen asleep on the job, his head on his duty desk. "Larry!" the boss said. "What the hell are you doing?" Larry sat right up, opened his eyes, and said, "Oh, I was just praying." That was typical Larry; no one could stay mad at him, and he even caused us to laugh at his wake.
Years later, his eldest daughter Lisa went to work at her job as a department store supervisor. She said she felt ill, went into a back room to rest, and was shortly found on the floor in a coma from which she never recovered. She was 39.
Larry would have been 70 now. Our mom, who outlived him by six years, liked to tell me, "I miss that rascal." So do I.