So it is my brother Paul's birthday today. He's three years younger than me so let's just say he's in his early fifties and I'll leave the math up to you.
In our family of seven kids, Paul is the youngest. He always touts, correctly so, that he was at the absolute tail end of the baby boomer generation. Of course, the youngest kid always get called the spoiled one, the one who had the road paved for him by their elder siblings. With seven kids, there was plenty of road paving in our family. There wasn't much Mom hadn't seen by the time Paul was in high school, so the leash was probably as long there as any of us.
Like any of my siblings, I owe much of who I am to Paul. He taught me a lot over the years. Because of our age difference, we didn't hang around much in high school, but I felt we got closer in our college years as we both muddled our way through the University of Minnesota.
If I had to narrow down the thing that I learned from Paul that stuck with me the most, it would have to be the love of music. Paul was always bringing home new albums and pushing the edge of new styles and forms. A good example of this was on the porch of the Portland house one day. Paul had this strange music blaring out of his big boom box. It was unlike anything I'd ever heard. When I asked him what it was, he said it was a kind of music called Reggae and it was by Bob Marley.
Being a rock and roll fiend, I was skeptical. I wasn't sure what to think. After I gave it a chance though, I was hooked. And, in an instant I was opened to a brand new genre of music - world music -of sorts. It led me to later follow UB40, Black Uhuru and, more recently, Stick Figure.
But Paul also taught me a little bit about how to turn a wrench. Unlike me, there wasn't much that he was afraid to take apart. He spent most of his high school days with a dirt bike in stages of tear-down and reassemble. He helped me with a couple of motorcycles I had and with each task, my confidence grew. These are some of the intangible benefits of being raised in a big family.
One sort of hilarious story about Paul took place right after we were married. I was slated to go out with Paul and Rob and some other friends while Donna stayed home for the night. For some reason, Paul was worried about her protection. So, before we left, he got an unloaded shotgun out of the closet. He showed her how to pump it and fake like it was loading a shell.
"All you have to do is pump it like this, and the sound will send the bad guy running for his life. Jim will kill me if something happens to you." Paul said.
Donna was both equally shocked and humbled that he cared enough to show her how to work a gun. It's when she knew she was a valued part of our family and she has never forgotten that about Paul.
When my brother Rob passed away, it was a terribly traumatic time for our whole family. One of the few positives it brought forth though was a greater appreciation of the siblings we had left. The four of us boys were always tight, and this tragedy brought us even closer together.
And I feel there is a little bit of Rob's character and influence in each of us kids, just like there is a little bit of Paul's personality and character in me. I'm lucky to have the siblings I have and I thank God every day for them.
And while I have to hate him just a little bit for being in Florida as I sit watching the snow in Wisconsin, I do have to say...
Happy Birthday, Brother!!!