But this year's birthday will be a little more lonely than those of recent years. This year I won't be getting a call from my brother, Ron.
For the better part of the past 30-some years, ever since a job shift put 120 miles between us, I could count on a birthday call from Ron. "Whatcha doin'?" he'd ask "Not much," I'd say and we'd begin sharing what was going on in our lives. Work. Kids. Spouses. Mom and Dad. Pretty innocuous stuff by just about any measure except the immeasurable Thinking Of You scale.
I never asked but I'd like to think Ron enjoyed those brief calls as much as I did. I'll never get the chance to ask now. Ron died last month after a lengthy battle with complications stemming from his exposure to Agent Orange while serving his country in the U.S. Navy some 45 years ago.
He was my brother for more than 64 years so I know quite a few stories about "Horizontal Ronald," some I could even repeat in a forum such as this. There was the time he fell victim to someone else's regurgitated spinach, the BB shot fired dead-center on a bedroom mirror, an ill-fated copper mining excursion in our basement, professional-style wrestling in our living room and the time a bicycle chain snapped some 15 miles from home and a team effort was required to tow a neighbor friend back to town.
Of course we shared these stories, and more, whenever we got together, usually 3-4 times a year. But truth be known, Ron was closer to our other surviving brother (brother Johnnie died at 5 months of age in 1952), Dave. I left home for good when Ron and Dave were in high school together. Since they had more shared interests and both remained in or near our hometown of Council Bluffs, it's only natural that they stayed close over the years.
Thus Dave shared some of his recollections of Ron at a memorial service. Anyone who knew Ron would agree with the description of him as a big teddy bear capable of lovingly smothering mere mortals in one of his bear hugs. Ron was a big man in a family of big men. At 6-4, I'm the runt of the group. Ron was a good 2-3 inches taller than me with broad shoulders and a sweet disposition. I've often told people that he's the most selfless person I've ever known. Not an ounce of ego spoiled Ron.
Dave told of the time he and Ron rode the bus to a movie with Mom when they were youngsters. Both were paper carriers who always had a pocketful of rubber bands. As they waited for the bus to return them home, it was only natural that they break into a rubber band fight, ducking and dodging around Mom while firing at each other. This caught the eye of a Council Bluffs policeman who drove to the curb and asked, "Ma'aam, are these boys bothering you?" Without batting an eye, Mom replied: "Yes, officer. But they're mine."
But, even with our long family history together, I learned some new things about Ron at the memorial service.
From his pastor, I learned that Ron once built a downstairs bedroom for the pastor's daughter since "a girl needs her own room." From Dave and Ron's son, Jason, I learned that Ron not only knew the artist, title and year of just about every rock song from his youth, he could also sing along with the lyrics and with a decent - but loud - voice. I had no idea.
The photo I've used with this post is one of my favorites of Ron. The sheer joy of living that Ron exhibited throughout his life is evident in this photo, I think. I put up a few more pictures of Ron on my Facebook page. Check out my photo tribute to Ron.
So, I may not be treated to the sound of Ron's voice with a birthday call this year, but he'll never be far from my thoughts.