My brother and sister have always really impressed me. They were both good looking and smart, and while I was smart, I was never very sure about my own good looks. They both got married and had children; I took a long time to settle down into a relationship. And, I always believed in them. For example, I really believed that we all could be successful songwriters. Being an older brother, I worked with them to develop their talent. When they were in their teens, I taught them vocal arrangements of In My Room, Graduation Day, and several other popular songs. We sounded pretty good. Even though I moved 500 miles away from our home town, I went to all but one of their childrens high school graduations. My brother roomed with me when he was an undergraduate student and I was a graduate student at The Ohio State University, a situation which I consciously cultivated, since I was concerned that my brother was floundering in school. My sister once came to stay with me in St. Louis for a few days, while she sorted out her life. And always, except for one year when my dad and I were fighting over his drinking, I looked forward to holiday vacations with my family of origin.
Now here I was, age 61, on a transatlantic
flight with Vicki. I had arranged to connect with her flight at Pittsburgh,
where her husband, Jerry, had driven her. We were flying to Frankfurt, Germany,
renting a car, and driving to some youth hostel in Strasbourg, France, where
we were meeting my brother. I spoke a minimal amount of German and no French,
Vicki spoke a few words of French and no German. On the other hand, Tom is a
high school language teacher and speaks both French and German fluently.
I had been to Europe once 22 years
before, and the transatlantic flight was just as I had remembered it. A boring
7 hour ride in cramped seats, being kicked by kids behind you, trying to get
some sleep in impossible positions, occasionally smelling your own and other
peoples not so pleasant smells, watching whatever was seven miles below
slowly creep behind you. To be sure, there were also a few big differences.
No smoking was a gift. I wasnt seized with a sudden panic when I first
realized we were out over the Atlantic with several hours to go. There was a
Sony entertainment system on this US Airways flight that did finally manage
to function correctly on the return.
And I was with my sister! The first
thing we did was to order complementary drinks. We both had scotch and water,
she tried Dewars and I had a Johnnie Walker. That loosened us up quite
Vicki had had an amazingly full summer. She had become grandmother by her first son in July, and was now to become grandmother again in August by her second son. She had signed a deal to sell the two story frame house 627 Seventh. St. and buy a newer, smaller, one-floor plan in the country. But that deal had fallen through, and she and Jerry were now living out of boxes in their old home.
Little Jimmie, who thought hed never grow up, never come of age, never experience the standard joys of life, was now two years from retirement. He had gotten a job teaching at a university 30 years ago, pursued his hobby as a pianist in several bands, come out, lived through several failed affairs, settled down 15 years ago into a reasonably stable relationship with Stephen, helped Stephen raise his then high school-age daughter, bought an old town house, and seen Stephen through a nearly fatal illness. In just three weeks, Jim and Stephen would be attending the blessing of the relationship of Stephens daughter Stephanie and her partner, Dawn, in Mystic, Connecticut.
We talked about the trip to come,
of course, and about our lives. The three of us were equal partners in this
trip, and it felt really good. Somehow, now I was just brother Jim, rather than
big brother. When Tom and I had begun to explore this trip over a year ago,
Vicki raised her voice and said, in effect, Wait a minute! Maybe Id
like to go with you. It was Vickis traded time share that we would
be staying in for a week. It was Toms linguistic ability, European experience,
and sociable nature that would guide us. And it was my intensive research into
our family history that would ultimately carry us to Selchenbach in the Rhineland-Pfalz
area of Germany, where we would meet for the first time, the mayor of Selchenbach,
our fifth cousin, Manfred Harth.
It seemed a bit weird, though, to
be eating dinner at 8 p.m. and breakfast four hours later, even though the clock
had wound forward to 5 a.m. In between dinner and our fitful attempts to nap,
in anticipation of the dreaded jet-lag, we talked about many things. Our dad,
now deceased for seven years, his drinking, his relationship to mom, our mother,
still bright at nearly 87, her struggle with health problems, the ups and downs
in each of our long-term relationships, our concern for Tom and his own struggles.
Created by Jim Andris, September 4, 2000.
Opinions are my own and not necessarily those of SIUE.