A Tribute to Michael

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Michael and Me–Christmas 1964

My brother, Michael, was the best friend of my youth, the big brother I adored, and sometimes foolishly followed just so I could be near him. I’m not sure if my earliest memories were actually of him or if the stories that had been told over and over again by my mother merely painted those images of him so firmly in my mind. Either way, those and the ones I know I remember show the heart of Michael and lessons well-learned.

I think the act of sharing is one of the first lessons he taught me as children. When we were about five and six, he found a box of chocolate Ex-Lax, which he was more than happy to share with me. But his unequal division of “one for you, two for me” left him with the more painful consequences. A Godly lesson to be sure.

Our home, when we were young, backed up to ranch land with only a barbed wire fence separating our backyard from the next adventure. Armed with a stool, a bucket and not much common sense (or practical experience for that matter) we decided that we could milk the cows that were practically ripe for the taking. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know the difference between a cow and a steer, and those big boys weren’t in the mood for two inexperienced kids.

And I’m sure it was his idea to put the pepper in the bedroom carpet. I don’t know where he came up with it, but our mother was not amused by the sneezing fit the ensued the next several times she vacuumed the room. Then there was the day he found the moth balls and convinced our younger sister, Beth, (who couldn’t have been more than three at the time) that they were “wedding candy.” Although she didn’t question why he wasn’t eating any, I don’t think she trusted him so easily after having her stomach pumped.

Michael was full of mischief, to be sure, and although some may question his intentions, they didn’t question his sense of humor.

There were many adventurous summer days when we were old enough to be out and about on our own. When we were young, we spent them gathering up frogs at the canal or just goofing around the neighborhood. When we got a little older, Michael’s idea of adventure moved up a notch. He decided one day that we should walk to our grandmother’s house. We lived in the Bay Area, and what seemed like such a short 30-minute freeway drive turned out to be anything but easy to master on foot. Michael had the bright idea of taking back roads to avoid the freeway. We must have walked for hours before ending up in east Oakland. Two blond, white kids definitely stood out in an all-black neighborhood. We decided that it was best to retreat, disappointed when we realized we hadn’t even made it halfway.

Our relationship shifted and evolved as we got older. When we were in high school, there were days when we barely spoke to each other and others when we’d sit together and discuss our dreams. It was a time in our life where everything seemed both possible and impossible. I always knew that if I was scared or felt lost, I could turn to Michael. He may not have had the answers, but he always had me laughing, and that was sufficient.

Yes, I was old enough and wise enough not to fall into all of Mike’s crazy plans, but I did so anyway because regardless of the consequences, I wanted to be with him. He as my best friend, my protector, my hero. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if my brother hadn’t been such a huge part of it. I have three wonderful sisters whom I adore, but, in my youth, it was my big brother I idolized.

Michael took his own life in January of 2009; he was only 48 years old. When I remember him, I want to remember the joy and laughter he brought me, the lessons we shared together and how my life would not have been the same without him in it. No one could have taken his place and he will be missed terribly, not just by my sisters and me, but by anyone who truly knew him.

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Michael and Me–July, 2006

3 thoughts on “A Tribute to Michael

  1. This is an insightful post Jennifer. It allows me to know your brother, just a little, and reminds me how fragile life is. Memories made with love ones are part of our greatest joy here on earth, and your memories have been beautifully penned in his honor.

  2. It’s a little tough finding the right way to respond to this post. It was wonderful reading the memories you have of him. I remember him being one of my favorite uncles because of his personality and sense of humor. He always had me laughing, too. He is (and will continue to be) sorely missed.

  3. I too think of Mike quite often. I remember us finding frog eggs and trying to make a raft out of a piece of a single sheet of plywood. I remember making forts and looking for Indians. One time it was raining outside, so we found a bunch of furring strips in the garage and spent the day making the framing for a house, not realizing that the thin wood would not hold up any walls if we found wood for them. I remember fighting with him, but the minute someone else started picking on him, I went into full mother lion mode and sent the other kid packing. At you said he was always full of humor and easy to be around. A good companion. I miss him terribly too.

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