Thursday, September 15, 2016


When I was turning five and six and seven, my oldest brother was already fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. I could not have concerned him much.

I was all eyes for the first-grade teacher who walked up and down the aisles of the classroom, occasionally leaning close by our small desks. It did not occur to me to watch my oldest brother too closely; his was a teenager’s determination to deflect as much attention as he could. I cringed when one of my parents mentioned topics that he clearly wished could remain private.

Who was Shirley? What was jazz? How did you flick a lighter and hold it to a cigarette?

There was a radio repair store on the Jefferson Highway not far from where we lived. My brother’s part-time employment there was one of the chapters in his moving beyond us, beyond the tile floors of the bathroom that my father scoured clean every Saturday morning, beyond the slipcovers that my mother had sewed for the sofa and chairs in our living room.

When I was turning sixty-two and sixty-three and sixty-four, my oldest brother was already seventy-two, seventy-three, seventy-four.

It is a long time since my brother has stretched out his legs under a kitchen table and tapped a cigarette out of a fresh pack at the end of dinner.

A picture I took of him with Dave Brubeck at the 1978 New Orleans Jazz Festival is prominently displayed in his home.

It is unclear whether he has ever told his three grown children the entire episode with Shirley and her mother.

My brother, at times as much Latinist as physicist, soon completes another quarter century.

The wife and children who carefully prepare the upcoming celebration must be in awe of him.

I know I am.

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