Thursday, February 19, 2015

Big Brothers: Part 4

My final Big Brother reflection brings me to Jerry, the brother closest to me in age and in every other way, too.

First, a disclaimer. I know that some of you may come from civilized families where siblings were always kind to each other, disagreements were handled respectfully, fights never broke out, and everybody lived to adulthood. Perhaps you didn't grow up with lots of brothers and sisters, maybe no brothers at all, or perhaps you and your brother were widely separated by age. But odds are, if you had a brother close to you in age, you know that brothers don't always get along well, and the levels of conflict can range from verbal duels to "knock down drag outs."

We had a few brotherly fights at our house through the years. Jim and John would mix it up from time to time, usually fighting to some kind of uneasy truce, and then working together to repair the damage, like propping up the bent bed frame with concrete blocks.

Jerry and I usually fought our battles verbally, which if you know Jerry, you know that put me at a severe disadvantage. Jerry was born with a mean mouth and he always knew which words to choose to get to me.

One example should suffice. In our little town there was a developmentally disabled boy named, "Johnny." He was a nice kid, not mean or anything, but he was never going to be mainstreamed with the other kids, due to his mental limitations. So, Jerry decided to change my name to "Johnny," and for a period of several months, that was the only name he used for me, often pausing to remind me of the comparison. I would just be seething. I wanted to kill him.

I finally complained to Mom, so she told Jerry that he could never call me "Johnny" again. After Mom left the room, this was Jerry's response to me: "From now on, Drew, I'm not going to call you "Johnny" anymore. I'm going to call you "Tommy," but I want you to know that when I say, "Tommy," what I really mean is "Johnny." I should have killed him right then, but it took me a few more years to get big enough for the job.

My childhood buddy, Bruce Hadley, witnessed some of our brotherly brutality firsthand and when our parents returned, Bruce met them at the door with the words, "They're downstairs killing each other."

I'm not sure why Jerry and I didn't get along well as we were growing up. We "shared" a room until I was thirteen, with a line down the middle we got along about like North and South Korea. We certainly had different interests. I was all about sports and Jerry was in speech and debate. My older brothers played football, and Jerry was the team manager, but that didn't count to me. I dreamed of being a real player.

Honestly, I'm not sure we ever said a kind word to each other until we moved away, leaving Jerry in Windsor to finish his senior year. After that, just seeing each other every few weekends instead of all the time probably helped. And then of course, eventually we both grew up and wised up. Jerry studied for a year in England while I was still in high school, and when he returned something significant had changed. Suddenly, we could talk, really talk, and we enjoyed spending time together. Maybe being apart that long caused us both to think differently about our relationship.

Since that time, Jerry and I have been close, closer than a brother, my best friend. My first wedding was Jerry and Jan's, assisting my dad with the ceremony. Jerry was my best man when Suzanne and I got married. When I got my first ministry job as a summer youth minister in Topeka, it was Jerry who came out to check on me. Jerry and Jan never moved in those early years without my help, though once or twice I dropped furniture on Jerry from a second floor balcony. (He used to be a lot taller.)

Our wives will tell you that when Jerry and I are together, we revert back to junior high, but I know that's not true. Junior high was never as much fun as we have. When the Hill brothers (plus Clif) have taken our golf trips, Jerry and I easily have the most fun. While the others are stomping around, frustrated with themselves, and wrapped up in the competition, Jerry and I are playing our own game with our own rules, and the real fun is all ours.

One time we were all playing a tough course at the Lake of the Ozarks on a hot summer day. Jerry was playing horrible and decided that he and I should quit at the turn and not play the back nine. We had already paid $47 for eighteen holes, so I thought we should stay and play through. Jerry kept negotiating. "If you leave with me, we can go see a movie in Osage Beach." No. "If you go, I'll pay for the movie and the popcorn." No, besides we haven't had lunch. "Okay, if you go I will buy you lunch and pay for the movie." I don't think so. I paid $47 for this round. As we came up on the ninth green, Jerry made his final offer. "If you'll go with me, I'll buy you lunch, pay for the movie, and I'll give you back your $47." Sold! I was going with him all along, but I wanted to get his best offer. Who says a preacher can't stick it to a lawyer every now and then. After the movie, I wanted to say, "Thanks for everything, Johnny," but I didn't. I'm a bigger man than that.

Jerry has taught adult Bible study classes for many years in the churches they have attended. He's a fine teacher, "damn good" as Jerry tells it. Sometimes when he doesn't like the prescribed curriculum, he will call, give me a theme or a scripture reference, and say, "Look in your files and send me something and make sure it's good stuff." One Easter he didn't like the lesson's approach so I sent him my Easter message to adapt as his Sunday School lesson. After the class was over, one of the guys came up and said, "Great lesson, Jerry. I really liked that. You know, that could be a sermon." Jerry said, "Yeah, maybe so."

Jerry and Jan are wonderful parents, and Jerry has taught me much about being a good dad. The way things timed out, Jerry raised his two sons a little ahead of me and my two boys, and our daughter is a little ahead of Jerry and Jan's daughter, JoEllen. So it's been helpful to me to compare notes along the way.

Jerry and I made a deal a long time ago, some of it in words and the rest of it unspoken. Anything, anytime, anywhere, no matter what, just call. No questions, no excuses, no judgments. Just call. That's the kind of brother he is. That's the kind of brother I want to be. 

Writing these reflections on my big brothers has been enjoyable, but also kind of sobering. I have tried to imagine what my life would have been like without these four brothers in my life. I think about what I would have missed, especially with Dad passing away so early, when I was just 29 years old. Who would have stood in the gap for me? I've been blessed with a wonderful mother and three fine sisters and lots of friends and extended family. But nobody can take the place of a big brother. Take it from someone who should know. I went four for four.

 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." - Proverbs 17:17

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." - Proverbs 18:24

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