Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Tribute to a Greek God (Part III)

The Family Time Bomb
A family of five boys can often resemble an amoeba: moving in five different directions at once. Growing up, especially after Jack and David became teenagers, I don’t remember too many occasions in which all of my brothers were together in the same room. Everyone had different things occupying their time. So it took a significant event like the death of our Mother to get us to stop and come together. One such occasion I will never forget, was the day after her funeral.

My Dad called us together into the living room of our house in Middletown. He sat us all down on the big red sectional sofa that we had back then and stood before us to speak. Fighting the emotion of the moment and struggling for words, he delivered a simple but powerful message to his boys.

He said, “Boys, I wanted to bring you all together to say a few things about the lives you have before you now.

“As you know, Mom died from this ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’ that runs in our family. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly how it’s passed on from one generation to the next, and all the doctors can tell us is that each of you have a 50-50 chance of developing it later in life.

“We don’t know for sure if any of you will get it, but there is a chance, and you’re all equally at risk. We don’t know for sure when it starts, but it seems to hit right at about the age of 40.

“So I want to give you some advice, and of course this is up to you, but if you desire to have a family, live your life early. Get married and have your children while you’re young. Enjoy them while you can, because you may not have much time.”

I think we all took my Dad’s words to heart. However, my eldest brother, Jack, who was already 22, was convinced that he would develop Alzheimer’s. So he decided not to pursue marriage.

David, age 20, was already engaged and was married less than a year later. He would have two children within the first five years of his ill-fated first marriage.

My number 3 brother, TK, who is currently in his fourth marriage, was first hitched at age 22, which is also the age that I was when Michelle and I tied the knot.

My youngest brother, Lbro, got married right out of high school, at age 18.

This was well before we had any way of knowing whether or not the family curse would strike any of us. It was always in the back of our minds, but we pushed on; however, that was harder for some than for others.

Jack would sort of withdraw from the former happy, carefree person he was as a child and early teenager. In his twenties, he got into financial trouble, and for several years, never seemed quite able to get his life on an even keel.

TK found no answers for our Mother's death in the Christian faith of his upbringing and later became a Buddhist. It transformed him completely as a person, and has allowed him to use her memory as a source of positive energy in his life.

David, however seemed to be able to continue on without breaking stride; his young family thrived — for a few years, anyway. Soon the King and the Queen of the Prom were having shouting matches that became the stuff of legend in their neighborhood.

After their surprisingly amiable divorce, David started hanging around with another girl he had known from high school, named Cindy. She was a stark contrast from beautifully fragile, but emotional, Sherry.

Cindy was fun loving and boisterous. She could hold her own with the boys. David and Cindy were a perfectly complimentary match and were soon married.

Cindy was a communicator, a go-getter. She got things done. So when we received a call from her in the Fall of 1987, saying that she was taking the initiative to organize a family reunion, I was delighted, but certainly not surprised. If not Cindy, then who else? We all thought this was a wonderful idea. It had been far too long. We all grew eager to see each other again.

The years had passed and things changed in the lives of my brethren and me. The family time bomb of Alzheimer’s Disease had apparently stopped ticking, or more accurately, had become so drowned out in the din of our busy lives that we no longer paid attention to its cadence. Out attention was fixed on raising our families and pursuing our careers.

We all had so much going on, I know that years passed between my even thinking about the lingering threat of Alzheimer’s. In fact I remember a time not long before the reunion was being planned, when I mused that the perhaps the family time bomb turned out to be a dud. Jack and David were at or past the apparently all-important 40 years-of-age threshold, and we had yet to hear of any problems from either of them. I figured, at least they’d beaten this thing.

Even the one of us who had gone so far as to forsake the thought of marriage at just the threat of the disease, had experienced a change of heart nearly ten years earlier. Brother Jack, at age 32 took the plunge and married his longtime girlfriend, Marnie, in 1979. They immediately began a family, with Marnie becoming pregnant on their honeymoon. Nine months later they were blessed with a beautiful little girl, and less than two years after that, twins; also girls.

We all came together in Indiana for Jack’s wedding, which was sandwiched that same year by mine a month earlier, and Lbro’s later that summer. However that would be the last time the brothers would all be together for nearly a decade. We were all so busy, and even phone calls were few and far between, but there was never any doubt about how we felt toward one another.

This is one of the great dichotomies of our family personality: we are all highly emotional, but somewhat introverted as well. We tend to be a little on the passive side, like our Father. We don’t communicate a lot with each other, but really don’t feel the need to. We are secure in the love we have for each other.

There was a popular rock song in the early 1970s by the band, Golden Earring, called Radar Love, that I’ve often used as an analogy for the feeling I have, and have always shared with my brothers.

“We’ve got a thing, they call radar love, we’ve got a wave in the air.”

I’ve said it many times before. If I never hear from any of my brothers again for the rest of my life, I would still never doubt for a minute that they loved me, and I know the same is true for them.

My wife says that’s just a lazy-assed excuse for not picking up the phone — and she’s right, but I digress…

Oh yeah…the reunion.

Cindy suggested Telluride, Colorado, which is best known as a world-class ski resort, but also offers some pretty decent prices on condo rentals during the off-season, in an obviously breathtakingly beautiful mountain setting. It sounded great to everyone, and it was somewhat centrally located, as half the family was in California and the other half, in Indiana. It was the perfect geographical compromise. The reunion was planned for the following summer of 1988.

As far as my own family was concerned, this was going to be a big deal. We had never been much for big vacations, from both a cost and a time perspective, as my being primarily self-employed made such commitments difficult at best.

But this would be an exception, so we decided to really go all-out. The reunion itself would be five days, but Michelle, the kids and I would spend an additional five days visiting The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, The Arches, and Zion National Parks on the way to and from Telluride.

However, the middle portion, spending time with my brothers and their families would obviously be by far the highlight of the trip. We all pulled into Telluride within a few hours of each other. Cindy had rented a couple of adjoining two-bedroom condos where four of the five boy’s families would stay. In another large two-bedroom condo a few doors down, Dad & Maxine, and TK & Debbie (wife #2) took up residence. Everyone seemed happy and healthy. David appeared a little thinner than he was the last time I’d seen him, at brother Jack’s wedding in ‘79, but looked great as well. However it wouldn’t be long before I realized that something just wasn’t right.

Next: From Rocky Mountain High to Colorado Avalanche
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