When Jim was about three, he had a terrible stutter. “Snake” was “hnake” and every sentence had three false starts.
After three speech therapists, one finally pointed to the problem: His five-year-old sister.
“He can’t get a word in edgewise,” she said.
I had been speaking in full sentences since I was 18 months old, so it was pretty noisy when he arrived. My second brother, Bret, born almost three years later, had it even tougher.
The pattern continued through our childhood and teen years, with me prancing around onstage and Jim growing pot in his bedroom.
If ever there were siblings that proved the birth order theory, it would be the three of us. All of the astronauts are either first-borns or onlies. Last-borns tend to be the world’s entertainers. And the second-borns? They tend to start revolutions.
I made As, Jim made Ds. Bret made everybody laugh.
Bret went on to become a teacher, and earn his master’s degree. He still makes everybody laugh.
Jim and I both went into communications, but, as I often say, we were like a photographic negative and a print. We had the same interests, but pursued them along classic first-born, second-born channels.
I went into TV journalism, then print. Jim was a DJ for an FM station, and ran the camera for the very same TV station I worked for, KKTV.
He finally ran for city council in Breckenridge. Colorado, where he lives, and won. Today he sits on the Planning Commission.
Years of being adults, getting married and working meant months, even years, in which we didn’t see each other.
This trip across country gave us an opportunity that makes me so grateful, tears just came to my eyes.
I got to know my brother, Jim.
Bret couldn’t make it, but I’d love the same opportunity with him someday, and I hope Gussie can join us.
My mother insisted on sitting in the back seat with Gussie, talking to him and sleeping, now and then joining in the conversation. But with Jim and me trading off driving in the front seat, most of the conversation was between us.
We talked the entire time. We never turned on the radio. We just got to know each other as adults, now and then regressing into being 12 year and 14 years old again with fart jokes. Which was also awesome.
All that talking he didn’t get to do as a toddler was now coming out. This time, I shut up and listened.
I learned things I never knew. My brother is a philosopher. He has a marvelous sense of wonder that drives him to read. Aeronautics, evolution, politics, science.
We still have our first-born, second-born differences. I go to writing conferences. He goes to Burning Man.
I learned he built a cabin at the top of Hoosier Pass. He loves to share beers with his buddies at Fatty’s in downtown Breckenridge.
We had both run into the same type of quirky personalities at my work in journalism and his at Colorado Mountain College.
We both hate corporate-speak.
Jim talked about his Vietnamese-American family, which he gained when he married his wife, Yen in 2003.
He talked about “his boys” Eddie and Petris, nephews aged 14 and 6.
Eddie is brilliant, plays piano, does martial arts, takes advanced placement classes and tries to keep his aunts from force-feeding him.
“This counts as dinner,” he told Yen one time as he ate a burger at Fatty’s with Jim.
Jim once took Petris to a scuba diving spot in a hot springs in Utah. Jim pointed down into the hot springs and said to Petris, who loves whales, “Petris, there’s a whale down there.”
Petris’ eyes grew huge and he backed up from the hot springs.
Yen felt so bad that Uncle Jim had told Petris a fib that she said “Petris, there’s not really a whale down there,” to which Petris shot back: “No, I SAW the bubbles!”
Many, many stories like this swept us across the country.
We crossed into California and are settling my mom and Gussie into their new home in Leisure Village. Gussie is hiding in the bathroom cabinet for now and Jim and I are running errands. He’s helping me get my own house in order. Today we install a toilet and discard some scrap metal in the yard. One more remnant of Dennis’ time on earth that I must let go of. And Jim is helping me.
The night we arrived, we sat at my dining room table and Jim poured us both a shot of his favorite tequila, El Patron.
We clicked our blue plastic cups and Jim said: “We did it. We just did Cannonball Run with our 84-year-old mom and a fat cat.”