Memories of Rod

My brother Rod died recently.  I have no option to perform a full speaking for him, so I’ll just brain-dump memories and stuff here.  Warning, I’m not the type to sugar coat things, I’ll speak ill of the dead if that’s the truth, though I won’t go out of my way to cheese people off.  But if you’re looking for empty platitudes, you won’t get them here.

Rod was about 15 when I was born, not that I remember.  About 5 months later, he would leave his mark upon me.  Literally.  Our house was … “hand built” and had a largish upstairs.  But for most of my life, it only had a folding stairway to access it. so naturally, it became the domain of the kids.  While carrying me down from there one day, Rod slipped on those stairs and fell.  One of the many bolts that held the stars together cut my chin as I fell.  This left a permanent “dueling scar” that I often hid as soon as I could grow a beard.

I think this started a cycle of guilt with him.  As I look back, it seems he had a lot of trouble denying me anything.  I spent a lot of summers at his house, and even a year as a manny. But there’s other reasons to that too.

Rod was nicknamed “hot rod” in his youth.  He wasn’t that pretty, so i’m gonna bet it had something to do with cars.  The one time i asked about it he had more points on his license than most people accumulate in lifetimes. I’m fair sure he’s still working off those last few.  But his love of Horsepower met an untimely end.  Running late to his best friend’s wedding, he collided with the wedding party on the way out.  The bride was killed.  I think “Hot rod” was too.

Some time after, he met Barb.  He fell in love.  Though in a weird way, I think both with her and her father.  Kenny was a crisp, clean Pentecostal, firebrand preacher, who was soft spoken most of the time and a real “man’s man”.  One time while cutting wood in the back 20, a tree fell on Ken, broke a few bones and trapped him underneath.  Ken had to dig himself out.  He was a little mad because it made him late for work.  Yikes.  Rod looked up to him as noone else I knew.

The reason for this might be from something of a shaky deal with our father.  My mother warned me not to ask Dad for any help with my homework and cited Rod as the reason.  Apparently Rod just wasn’t getting math and Dad “helped out”… night after night.  To quote Mom, she heard “you’re so stupid” so often that she began to believe it of herself.  You can see why Rod might be drawn to a different kind of father figure, particularly one so diametrically different from ours.

For their wedding , Rod and Barb received 56 acres in western Michigan near White Cloud.  Pretty much the next day, they had horses. That weekend, I was visiting.  🙂  Rod became a jockey in the Michigan fair circuit.  He owned Horses, he boarded them for others, he trained them, schlepped them out to fairs, raced them, and sometimes bred them. (Never ask why someone has a glove on that extends to the shoulder.  You won’t like the answer)

Pretty early on, I was traveling with him, his wife, the kids and the horses.  I started competing as soon as I was old enough: barrel bending mostly, and a lot of pony work for him.  Theoretically I was watching the kids, but in truth, I got in as much trouble as them.  finally, when I was in 10th grade, My folks bought me a trailer, hauled it up to Rods, and I moved in, full year, full time.

It was about this time that my dad’s factory moved to KY, and he was forced to “retire”.  It was kind of a hardship and for some time he was living off union salary has the union secretary.  I think my staying with Rod that year was just as much to take the burden off the folks as it was to help Rod and Barb, who were both working 2 full-time factory jobs.

One of the moments that stood out for me that year was when the kids found my D&D stuff and asked if they could play.  I talked to Rod about it, he asked for a description of the game, and upon getting it, let the kids play.  I was a bit stunned.  He said that he’d rather have the kids pretending to beat up evil demons than to actually beat up old ladies on the streets.  He felt it would be a good vent for those aggressions and a safe situation to do it.  Very progressive for a pentecostal christian.

Rod was involved in a lot of “firsts” for me.  Part of it was that he kinda took it upon himself to “big brother” me in a lot of ways, showing me tricks of the trade as it were.  For example, that year I spent there, he tried to get me hooked up with the girl next door (keep in mind that out there, “next door” is about a mile or two away, and that girl was the only one of proper age in probably 5 miles in every direction.) I got in my first fight with a horse that year. ( you can see my post about Charlie for that story)

The next year, I started dating Jackie, my girlfriend, first in a lot of things too.  She joined up on a ski trip to Northern Mi, and we had a stop at Rod’s.  The scene was like a Norman Rockwell painting: two lovers walk through the falling snow, pet the horses, wander back into the barn and cuddle up in the hay.  That’s about enough of that, suffice to say a lot of “firsts” happened that night.  And a lot of “lasts” too.  Like getting frisky in hay… yikes never gonna make that mistake again, same for open air, snow falling and a list that I think can be skipped at this point, either you have it or you need a better imagination.

Later Rod would sell me my first motorcycle.  I’ll put that whole story down here at some point.  Suffice to say it didn’t go any better than the stairs.  I got about as far as Midland when I met the dangerous end of a Ford Pinto and Evel Knieveled my way into several broken bones and a broken bike.  This time, his tardiness would be something of a bonus: if I hadn’t stayed around waiting for Rod to get home, I might have had an accident before my insurance kicked in at closing time for that branch.

There were other firsts too.  The family baking company occasionally featured Rod in a cameo performance for a particularly large cake.  He taught me how to actually smoother icing, and how to make rose florets from sugar.  And when we had time to screw around, he taught me a few tricks with the ethanol mom used to soak sugar cubes in for fancy desserts.  This lead me to fire eating and breathing eventually, a past-time I’ve enjoyed for a couple decades now.

We raced once.  I had recently purchased a little turbo charged compact car and was itching to see how it performed.  We found a rural road south of Detroit and let rip.  I blew a shift in the first run, so Rod beat me cleanly.  But I was in top form for the second heat and mopped the floor with him.  It was fun… but a little painful for him too.

After i got to tease him for being a Grandfather, we drifted apart.  Yeah, we can start playing Cat’s In the Cradle here. His kids were moving out on onwards, I was chewing up my own life and my first career pretty quickly.  As far as i knew, Rod and Barb were still working like crazy.

I heard rumors through Del that he was on this coast or something. Couldn’t quite straighten out how many people were living on her farm.  Still not sure.  I guess Don and I are the outsiders..

Speaking of Don, Rods death came as a bit of a shock.  Rod was the middle kid, between Don and I.  Let’s see, each sister has a brother 10 years younger and 3 years older, so April is 61, that makes Dan about 64, Del about 74 and Don about 77. Which puts Rod around 66-67 when he died?  Pretty good run, but considering our family, it’s dang young.  He had just got through his mid-life crisis.  🙂

Funerals.  Uggh.  My first Funeral (that I remember) I was inducted by Dan and Rod to be part of the “family police”  Our jobs were to keep warring factions of the family away from each other.  Peace officers.  I ain’t been right since.  I tend to look at funerals as an obligation, not a place for emotional frivolity.  So, I end up doing stuff like this rather than getting it out at the funeral.  I can also see why Rod didn’t want to have one himself.  I plan on being burned on a pyre and anyone not drinking and cracking wise will be shot.  Speaking for both of us, though, go ahead, we don’t really get a say in the matter.  If you need a funeral, it’s fine.

For my part,  I did what i always do when I get this kind of news.  I try to make a positive.  This got out of hand when Donette died, but for Rod, I’d never heard of farmers lung.  And as it turns out, it has relevance to my storyline.  Quick aside:

Back in 2000, I became a full-fledged fire performer, I took the fire eating skills from the brothers, the fire breathing skills i earned (thank gawd, there wasn’t YouTube back then) and inspiration from another performer, and stated performing with fire.  Think: martial arts with fire on the ends of the weapons, add dance.  Mostly I’m known for Fire Breathing, I broke a Guinness record with it, opened the field with a dozen new moves, and inspired new performers with new fuels.  The most innovative would be dry organic powders.

Dry powder breathing requires a bit more skill to start out than petrol oils, but it’s generally believed to be safer.  After looking up Farmers Lung, however, I realized that what took down Rod might also become a BIG problem with the new crop of powder breathers.  We’ve already started a global investigation to see if there could be a link and what extent powder breathing could have with Farmer’s lung.

Everything is very preliminary, but if we cut out certain practices or a category of potential fuels because of a Farmer’s Lung risk, then untold numbers of fire breathers could be spared the same fate. It won’t bring my brother back.  But it can spare a lot of people.