Thursday, March 03, 2005

My Brother, My Friend

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”
~ Proverbs 17:17(NLT)

Remember how we laughed
Remember how we played
Remember all the lessons
We learned along the way
You were more than my brother,
You were my friend

~ Sound track from The Prince of Egypt

Joe & me

I’d like to dedicate this column to my big brother, Joe, who will be celebrating his 50th birthday on March 3rd.

Joe is the oldest boy in our family of nine, and at one time he was the only boy amongst six sisters. After our brothers Bill & Bob came along, the girl-boy ratio evened out a little more.

Joe surrounded by women (and one lone brother, Bill)

The words to the above song seem to sum it up best; Joe really was more than my brother, he was my buddy. Since I was pretty much of a tomboy when I was growing up, I always wanted to hang out with Joe – and I tried so hard to keep up with him. I remember building these great snow forts in the field across from our house. Then we’d have snowball fights with our other siblings and the kids in the neighborhood. We also played many a game of touch football in that field, and I always wanted to be on Joe’s team. In my mind’s eye, I can still see us all huddled together with Joe giving us the next play. “Okay, Eileen – you’re going to go long, cut right, and then I’ll hit you and you can go in for the touchdown.”

But my all-time favorite activity as a girl was fishing. Since we lived on a lake, many mornings I would wake up before dawn and go out by myself in the canoe. But the biggest thrill of my young life was when Joe and Fr. Hoffman (our family priest) allowed me to tag along with them on real-life fishing excursions to Yellow Lake. In fact, I just saw Fr. Hoffman last summer at my dad’s 80th birthday celebration, and he reminded me of the time I had a whopper on the line and I was screaming at the top of my lungs for Joe or Fr. Hoffman to take my pole, but neither of them would! Let me tell you, I was in seventh heaven on those fishing trips with my big brother.

Throughout our growing up years, Joe and I sat beside each other at the kitchen table and constantly got in trouble for goofing around during supper. Joe would make me laugh and then Dad would yell: “Do you want to laugh yourself up to your room, young lady?” Of course, that made it even harder for me to hold back my laugh!

Joe was a typical brother in every respect. He used to have this wicked flick thing he did with his fingers where he would thump his sisters on the arm, sometimes leaving a welt! He jokingly referred to himself as “My Friend, Flicka,” but the recipients of his “flicks” didn’t think there was anything “friendly” about it!

I remember one time when we drove to Decatur, Illinois to visit our cousins on my mom’s side. Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary Lynch had five children, so we would all pair up with the cousin closest to our age. This particular time, Joe and our cousin Tommy formed their own club, and I desperately wanted to become a member. Even though I was just a skinny ten-year-old girl, I willingly subjected myself to a series of brutal initiation tests in order to prove my toughness; i.e. one of them swung me around in circles like a rag doll and flung me to the ground. I felt like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. “First they took my arm and they threw it over there!” Of course I ended up in tears and loudly protested that they were “too rough!” Nevertheless, they decided that I was worthy of admission to their exclusive club. As I recall, our theme song was: “We’re rough, we’re tough, we’re ready, to freddy…..any time.” (Don’t ask me what it meant.)

To be fair, I wasn’t exactly the model little sister. When I was in the second grade, I had a favorite teacher named Sr. Vivian whom I just idolized. Well, Joe knew exactly how to push my buttons and he used to taunt me by saying that her real name was “Vivian Vulture.” I would get so angry. “She’s not Vivian Vulture! She’s Sister Vivian!” One day I’d had enough of my brother’s appalling attitude toward my saintly sister and so I decided it was time to turn him over to the authorities. Poor Joe. I guess Sister Vivian caught him in the hallway, grabbed him by the ear and gave him a good, stern lecture. I’m not sure if Joe has ever forgiven me for that dastardly deed! But somehow we all managed to survive each other.

After high school, Joe attended St. Louis University and went on to graduate from the University Of Minnesota School Of Medicine. I’ll never forget the time Joe and his new bride, Cindy, called to say that they would be passing through Kansas on their way to Colorado to go “practice hunting.” Keen and I were too embarrassed to admit that we’d never heard of practice hunting. I mean, here in Kansas, most people hunt for real – they don’t just practice. We didn’t understand that they were looking for a place for him to practice medicine. As you can imagine, Joe and Cindy had a full-size belly laugh over that one!

Now Joe is a family practice doctor in Waconia, Minnesota where he and Cindy are raising three beautiful children: Emily, Jenny and Patrick. Joe is such an amazing dad. Even with the demands of his medical practice and community involvement, he’s always made his family a top priority. In fact, Joe has coached his daughters’ basketball teams for years and they’ve gone on to compete and win many tournaments throughout the country. (Kansas State University and several Ivy League schools have even expressed interest in having Jenny play for them.) With parents like Joe and Cindy, I know all three of their kids will go far.

So Happy Birthday, buddy – and thanks for the memories. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

Here’s to fifty more!

“With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

~ Psalm 91:16

Jenny, Joe, Cindy, Patrick and Emily