Can I speak to Kerry please?
He had blonde hair, the lightest in the family – probably originating from the Swedish blood on our mother’s side. He had grey eyes but not the cold, steely kind; his sparkled. They told a story. During our teenage years, the house phone would ring off the hook with girls calling to speak with my brother. He was a handsome young man.
He could make me laugh like no other. I’d laugh until I cried. I remember tears streaming down our mom’s face too as she laughed from something quick witted, he had said. He made her happy.
Dolly Parton had a great line in the movie, Steel Magnolias. She said, “Laughter through tears was her favorite emotion.” I think it’s mine too. I’m so grateful he gave our mother that gift as she had led such a hard life and joy wasn’t available to her often. It’s probably why he did it.
My brother’s name was Kerry. Geez, I get emotional just writing his name. The difference he made in my life is palpable.
Kerry supported me during my young life. I remember him being the only one in the family who ever came to watch me play softball which I did for a lot of years. He had a keen intelligence with a wicked sense of humour. He got bored easily as he was an old soul.
We went through some very difficult years of family dysfunction that escalated substantially with the arrival of Bill, Mom’s 3rd love after Dad’s passing. Mom said she fell in love with Bill because he looked like John Wayne. But a hero he wasn’t. He was a broken, abusive, alcoholic. His arrival was the start of a long nightmare.
Kerry teased me a LOT. I never understood why. When I finally reached an age where I felt I could ask him directly, I did. His answer, “Because I love you.” I remember being astonished by his answer as it was unexpected. I can’t recall ever hearing those 3 words from any of my 3 brothers up until that time. I loved him too, very much and still do.
Then came senior high school. A time of wonderful camaraderie, learning, school dances, cheerleading and wide-eyed anticipation of what the future could hold. It was also a stormy time on the home front. After a full day at school, one never knew what laid waiting behind the door at 3356 Henry Street, our family home in Canada.
Things weren’t made easier by our Mom going through menopause. The combination of hot flushes and her being a penny pincher, the house temperature was kept very low. We were scolded if we turned up the heat. To keep warm after school, Kerry and I would make ourselves enormous cups of tea that we drank from beer mugs. Then we’d sit ourselves down on the two heat registers in the living room often huddled in blankets. Kerry would call tea his ‘life sustaining juice’. It felt that way in those days. Drinking tea with Kerry was one of my most favorite things.
One day after school when I opened the door to the house, I found Kerry sitting in mom’s favorite chair in the living room staring at the TV but it wasn’t on. Instead the screen had been smashed and spaghetti sauce was dripping down the front of it. Sauce was dripping down the wall behind the TV and the big spaghetti pot was sitting on the carpet. Red, tomato sauce oozing everywhere.
Our eyes met. We didn’t say much to each other because there was an understanding between us. A look said it all – Bill had struck again and isn’t this insane? Kerry named our house “The Horror Show” that afternoon. Yep. We cleaned it up and then drank our tea.
A few years later, Bill died.
One day I was travelling back from Whistler to home with my dear lifelong friend Cyndi. We were joined by Steve from Maine. I had met him in Mexico the year before and he was stationed with the US Merchant Marines in Seattle and so he popped up for a visit. There was no romance between he and I. He was simply a wonderful guy with a funny accent.
We were listening to the radio on our drive down the Sea to Sky highway from Whistler to Vancouver when we heard a news flash that there had a been a house fire on Henry Street, with one person dead.
Henry Street was a very long street that stopped and started five times. The bit we lived on was the Eastern most part, thus the last section we would arrive at. Despite Cyndi reassuring me that the house fire would be on one of the other four sections, I knew it was ours because that house had always been about chaos. It had been calm for about a year after Bill’s death but that didn’t fool me.
When we pulled up, sure enough there it was, or what was left of it. When I learned that it was Kerry who passed in the fire, my world crashed. I was in shock that gradually turned into anguish and anger. I moved to the Rocky Mountains and began to run as an outlet for my emotions. I would have made Forrest Gump proud.
As I ran, I would hear Kerry’s voice, “Pam, I’m here with you always. Don’t let my death stop you from experiencing happiness and living the life you want to lead. Don’t you dare, Sis,” And I could see his face clearly giving me that little snicker he did when he would give me brotherly advice.
He had my back then and he does to this day. I know it. I still have chats with Kerry. His portrait hangs in the place of honor in my heart. I have nothing but gratitude and love for his guidance, love and humour. And so, on the 40th anniversary of his passing, I have decided to celebrate him in my blog today.
He was one of those rare, special people who uplifted me and helped to make me a better person. Kerry, I love you too.
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