I swiped a lot of who I am from my older brother.
Nine years my senior, he used to booby-trap the doorway to his bedroom with rubber snakes to keep me out. When we got older, I’d sit on the garage steps and watch while he rode his bike on rollers. He’d have Dad’s stereo cranked up to eleven for Heart, Yes, Fleetwood Mac, the Moody Blues. If he was feeling magnanimous, he’d educate me on God or Star Trek or nuclear reactors or Larry Niven.
When our parents went out, he’d get out his tenor sax and shut off all the lights in his room and put on a David Sanborn record and play along. If he invited me in, I’d sit on the floor by the flickering stereo needles and try to make myself as small as possible while feeling as big as the world. One of the banner experiences of my childhood was when he hatched the idea to record the soundtrack of Star Wars and treated me to the movie so I could tote the tape recorder in my Holly Hobbie purse. I took piano lessons because he had; I picked the alto sax as my band instrument and taught myself how to play it because he had.
I was thinking about it on my run last week. Glen started running in the seventies, when it was barely considered a sport. He ran ultra-marathons as a teenager. His training runs sometimes took so long that he’d have to sully a sock under a bridge. When I decided to run my first marathon, surely the seed had been planted years before by my brother.
We couldn’t have been more dissimilar in temperament or aptitudes. He went on to lean on his left brain, while I busied myself with the right. But there was a whole lot of crossover that can’t be explained strictly by gender expectations or my case of hero worship. It’s a mystery to me, one I want to leave unsolved, like a good song that I know I’ll never get tired of hearing.
When I consider where I am now, I don’t trace a direct line to my photography from Glen’s black-and-whites of the canal across the street, our parents making tacos in the kitchen, me in my patched beloved sweatsuit with my briefcase and colored pencils.
I don’t believe his high school photos were art, like the ones made by my brother-in-law Kevin, of which I’ve framed a few; they inspire me still. But then Glen and I were raised by imminently practical parents, not “frustrated Irish artists,” as my father-in-law called his family. When Glen was considering where he’d submit his 4.0 application, our dad didn’t just gently nudge him away from majoring in music. He thundered that he WOULD NOT pay for college so his son could wind up supplementing his income by flipping burgers at Wendy’s, like Glen’s high school band teacher.
So my brother majored in biology, planning to be a sports physiologist. And when he fainted after his first encounter with a cadaver, he decided chemistry would be safer and graduated magna cum laude. After he discovered how terminally boring it was to work for a big chemical company, he scrapped it and followed his own first love, one that preceded the music, the running, the biking, the photos. You can’t major in flying, and being an airline pilot today is thin gruel compared to the glamour of the industry’s early years. But dammitall, he did it. Here’s to you, Glen.