15 May 2012

O' Danny Boy


By David Dean

In my last blog I mentioned that my brother, Danny, and his wife, attended the Edgars banquet with Robin and I.  It has occurred to me since, that Danny deserves better than a mention.  In fact, if there were a category for "Best Supporter For An Edgar Nominee"; I would submit his name and begin to throw plates and glasses if he didn't win.

It's hard to really know me without knowing my big brother.  Firstly, he is big...very big; unlike yours truly.  He is six-two and weighs in at around two-twenty.  I, on the other hand, leave a smaller carbon footprint at an athletic five-eight; one fifty-seven.  He would, and has, described me as scrawny.  So, as you might imagine from this description, I grew up in his shadow...literally and figuratively.  Figuratively because he also cast a long shadow over our neighborhood and beyond.  In his teens he had already gained a reputation as a fearless fighter and doer of daring deeds.  He was also good-looking in a (young) Elvis sort of way.  This look went over particularly well with the girls of that era, as the 'King' was just ascending in popularity during this long-ago time.

I shared a bed with this person for several years of my life and received a number of bruises for the honor.  Even though, at that time, Danny was quite slender, he was long-limbed and slept with a kind of abandon that was, and is (thanks to him), totally foreign to me.  I would lay curled into a tight ball as close to the edge of the bed as I could manage without actually falling out.  Often this was not enough and I would receive a blow to one of my skinny biceps for disturbing the young lion at his rest.  These blows were called 'frogging'.  I don't know why.  I do know that they hurt.  After administering this rough justice, he would splay himself comfortably across his eighty percent of the bed and fall instantly back to sleep, while I sniveled as quietly as possible, and prayed for deliverance.

Danny's youthful exploits were the stuff of legend: He was kidnapped once from the sidewalk in front of Arnold Jr. High School by a carload of older teenage boys and carried away to a remote and unfinished neighborhood.  There he found himself pushed into a ring formed by excited youth who had come to watch his performance against their champion.  Danny was fourteen at the time and the young Achilles he faced a seventeen year old from Jordan High.  It was revealed later that this moment of reckoning had been arranged due to Danny's unwelcome attendance upon the girlfriend of his opponent.

When Danny staggered into the house afterwards, he was covered with blood.  I was laying on the couch reading a comic book (a Classics Illustrated, no doubt) when the front door opened.  I was literally struck speechless.  In his typical fashion, Danny brought an index finger up to his busted lips to indicate that I should remain silent (as a rule, he preferred me this way).  In this case, however, it was to keep from alerting mom before he could clean up.  Of course, she stepped out of the bathroom at just this instance, went white as a sheet and screamed.  Danny shrugged; slid past her into the bathroom, and said something about washing up.  You would have thought he just needed a little freshening before dinner.  Though he most certainly did not prevail in this encounter, it vaulted his reputation--by all accounts he had acquitted himself with courage and honor.  The fact that he was hitting on some older guy's girlfriend only added to his mystique.

In high school, he was arrested for drag-racing in our family car, a '55 Olds.  When the police brought him home, the old man was smoldering.  I was fearful of what dad might do.  Danny, nonplussed, sauntered to the opposite wall, and 'assumed the position'.  The 'position' was the typical frisk position seen in all police movies of the era--feet splayed with hands against the wall to support the leaning figure.  I thought the old man's head would explode at this display of fearless disdain.  He snatched the belt from his waist with such force and alacrity, that I thought his trousers might come off with it like a proto-Chippendale dancer.

That night, as I lay quietly weeping for the damage done my brother, he kept his back to me and was silent.  After what seemed a long time, he rolled over and propped himself on one elbow to take a look at me.  I could see by the streetlamp that shone through our window that there were tears standing in his eyes.  I think I said something like, "I'm sorry, Danny..."  I don't know why, as I had done nothing to bring about his punishment.  He studied me for a few moments more; then casually and with less force than usual, frogged me and said, "Shut up."   Then he rolled over and went to sleep.

Many, many, years later, Danny was one of the first to read one of  my fledgling stories.  He was not a big reader, but made a concession on my account.  He liked it.  "Real good," he gushed.  "Got anything else?"  This was high praise from Caesar!  Of course, it occurred to me that he was just being nice, but then I remembered who I was dealing with--Danny didn't 'do' nice unless he meant it.  So I sent him other stories.  At some point I became aware that he had actually subscribed to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine on my behalf.

The demise of our father, "Wild Bill" to some; "Sweet William" to others, brought us closer together.  The death of this force of nature knocked us both to our knees.  I remember Danny weeping at dad's graveside as if he would never stop; his beautiful daughters and wife clustered around and holding him.  Something inside him cracked that day, I think, and an affectionate nature that had long lay hidden poured forth.  From that time to this he has never ceased to be there for me (and me for him, I like to think). 

In our maturing years, we established the custom of vacationing together after our children had gone away to college, and it was on one of these jaunts that a certain truth began to be revealed.  Danny had recently read a novel that I had written (it has never been published) that featured a character named Bruce.  Danny admired this character immensely, and observed quietly that his middle name was Bruce.  In fact, he went on, warming to his subject, this thoroughly likable, good-looking, and courageous character shared many, many traits with himself.  He gave me his old half-smile over his Jack Daniels when he said this.  I assured him that it was precisely those qualities that ruled him out as a model for the character, and added that he was both self-delusional and pathologically egotistical.  He just continued to smirk at me.

Since that day, he has grown increasingly convinced that any of my male characters that demonstrate a degree of bravery or bravado, good judgement or wisdom, kindness or forbearance, have somehow descended from him to me, and thence onto paper.  I've given up trying to convince him otherwise.  I tried suggesting that, perhaps, he might be more easily recognizable in a few of my villains, but he just gives me that damn smile of his until I shut up.  Did I mention that he is aggravatingly perceptive?

Danny and Wanda journeyed all the way from Georgia, and at great expense I might add, not only for the Edgars banquet this year, but also for the Dell Magazine cocktail party when I received the Readers Award in 2007.  I could not dissuade him either time, he would have none of it--he was coming on behalf of his little brother. 

The bruises he inflicted on me in my tender youth have long since faded, but my love and admiration for this amazing man continues unabated to this day, and will never waver.  As for my literary creations, well, maybe he has exercised some small influence on them; infused a few subtle shadings, perhaps.  The truth is, though we have begun to grow old together, I am still his little brother, and he straddles my world, both the real and imagined, like a mighty colossus and whatever I do is done within the shade of his comforting presence.                          

 



     

5 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Nicely done, David, and very stirring.

I haven't been able to persuade either of my brothers to read my stuff, even though I based a character on one. My brother Glen surprised me not long ago by asking how I could forgive him for cutting off my finger. I was so surprised, because it was an accident, totally unintentional, and I never gave blame a thought, nor did I guess he carried guilt for all these years. Funny what we learn as we grow older.

And hurray for you and your brother.

Fran Rizer said...

David, being an only child, I've never experienced the sibling situation. When my boys were children, I would get disturbed anytime they weren't polite to each other. I had a single friend who said she loved to come to our house for dinner for the food, but also because being at my house reminded her of her childhood with her brothers and sister.

Leigh said this is nicely done and stirring. I agree with him but will add that it's a beautiful tribute, beautifully written. Tell Danny we all said, "Hi."

Janice said...

What a nice piece!
Both you and your brother were lucky with siblings.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Terrific piece, David. If my husband weren't rushing out the door for work, I'd be reading it aloud to him RIGHT NOW. This evening....

David Dean said...

I am very lucky, and I know it. If I didn't, I'm sure Danny would point it out to me.

As Danny will be reading this for the first time later today, I may have to make emergency revisions. No doubt he will point out many qualities of his personality that I have failed to mention.