When I was growing up, I was the double middle child — older brother, older sister, younger brother, younger sister. The one who needs and wants double the attention. I remember thinking how simple life was when I was young. It only became more complicated in 1963 when I was nine years old. I was in the fourth grade and Sister Mary Trinitas got the word that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. She was able to get the school janitor to bring in a television and then came word that he died. A few days later, my mother sat me down in front of the television because we were given the day off from school and she told me to watch the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. She said it was history being made and that I would always remember it. She was right, although then I didn’t quite understand it all.
Instead, I was dealing with shocking details going on in my own house. We grew up in a modest Georgian house just a few miles from O’Hare Airport on a busy street. One of my favorite things to do, especially when it was raining, was counting cars. My older brother and I would have a contest of how many station wagons or convertibles or yellow cars or black cars would go by in a certain period of time. I can’t imagine a child up to seven years old being amused by that for longer than a minute. We could do it for hours.
In the summer, my mother would give us an empty dishwasher liquid container. We would fill it with water and leave a trail of drops to play hide and seek on our small block of seven homes. You obviously had to move quickly if you were the seeker before the sun dried up the water spots on the hot sidewalk. When I was seven and my brother was eight, we were told that my older sister was really my half-sister that her mother was not our mother but she had a different mother who died at childbirth and her little infant lived. That was my sister, really my half-sister. The whole story was so upsetting and the way in which it was told that my brother and I both started crying at the speckled formica table in our small kitchen when my mother tried to explain it. I didn’t understand if she still was my sister or not. Frankly, today I still don’t know because when my parents divorced, my older sister went to live with my dad’s mother. My dad remarried even before the divorce papers with my mom were signed by the judge.
I remember the public park a block from our home and my brother and I would go there often until he found new friends and I really wasn’t allowed to play with the boys any more because my mom thought I was being a tomboy. The final straw was when we played frisbee baseball and I was playing third. I caught the frisebee on a fly and made the out, but not until my arm came straight down on a rusty metal fence we had that had sharp prongs sticking up. It jammed right into an artery and the blood in my right arm came pouring out. My mom rushed me to the hospital for stitches and a tetanus shot and that was the end of my playing with the boys. I still cherish the few things we did together because I remember being the envy of the neighborhood when I could outrun, out hit and out throw all of the boys in every sport.
I remember one time when my brother and I were on a merry-go-round and the bullies in the neighborhood made it go around so fast when we were on it that my brother flew off. I timed it to let go at about the spot that he flew off and I wound up skinning my elbow and getting hurt worse than he did. Then there was another time when the bullies started a literal fight with my brother. I had a bat and was hovering it over the bully, threatening to hit him. I just couldn’t bring myself to crack his skull open, with his friends surrounding him, egging on the fight. Instead, I ran home as fast as I could hoping that one of my parents would be there. Thankfully, my dad was. He put on a pair of pants – he always liked to sit at home with his boxer shorts on and when you weigh 350 pounds, that’s not a very pretty sight – and we jumped in his leased black Lincoln Continental and we headed to the fight. My dad broke it up and then they headed over to the boy’s house. The other boy definitely started it, although I think my brother got in a bit of trouble anyway for not staying away from them.
As we got older, my brother decided to go to the Catholic high school. I refused to go to the all-girls Catholic high school that was run by nuns you only have nightmares about. My older brother applied to Northwestern University’s School of Speech to become a radio disc jockey like my dad or hopefully a sportscaster, but after he received his letter of acceptance, he suddenly decided he wanted to be a priest and would enter the seminary. It struck me as odd that my brother, the son of divorced parents, would want to pursue the priesthood, but so long as I wasn’t being pushed into the convent, I really didn’t think about it all that much then. My mother was proud to say that she named him Adrian, after one of the world’s greatest popes. Of course, he never went on to become pope, but he was revered in the parishes where he served.
My brother wasn’t one of those “thinking” priests that knew theology inside and out. He was one of those outgoing priests who everyone loved because he gave of his time and himself. He was loved by everyone who came in contact with him. He lives life hearing so many problems, yet he’s able not to internalize them and has a happy, peaceful way about him. He probably only made one mistake in his life – and that was with our Uncle Ted. He has paid for it every day of his life in guilt. I may have guilt in my life, but it’s not about Uncle Ted.
My brother, no, he’s not the one.