Though I was the oldest of the children in my generation, my sister and my brother both married before I did, my sister in late summer, my brother the following winter, I the next summer. My brother's marriage was the most solid of them all and lasted 54 years. His three siblings accumulated five divorces and one annulment between them—only one of them was mine.
For the few years my first wife and I lived in the city and/or the county in which my siblings and I were born, we often visited my brother and his wife and soon his first daughter and later his second daughter across town. I remember helping my brother hide abundant Christmas presents for the girls in the top of their apartment. A few years later, when I started graduate school in the Midwest, my brother and his family drove all the way from western New York to eastern Iowa to visit us, a more arduous trip than our having crossed town on our frequent visits.
My parents seemed to keep more distance from my brother and his family. My father worked around the clock, a clothing salesman from nine to five, a house painter in the evenings, even a trash dispenser late in the night; I don't know how often he got around to David's house. My mother paid more attention to my sister and her family, who lived first in Alaska near her husband's Air Force base and later in Saratoga, New York, near his family, though she did visit my brother's family from time to time and encouraged my wife and me to stop in to see her and our much-younger adopted sister.
My brother's in-laws, on the other hand, were a close and interactive family of several sons, several daughters, and a tendency to gather together. My wife and I were often included among my sister-in-law's siblings for very good holiday meals, cooked largely by my brother's mother-in-law, Bertha, a tall woman of my parents' generation. Her husband Leo was much shorter and more energetic, a factory worker like my brother—my hometown then was rampant with industry, especially Harrison Radiator, a division of General Motors where one of my grandfathers and three of my uncles and my brother (eventually) worked. During World War II my mother also worked at Harrison's.
What partly drew us to those family gatherings of my brother's in-laws was the tendency for the evening to evolve into games. What I most remember was Leo telling his wife and daughters to clear the table so he could start dealing the cards for Rummy. It was a lively, jolly game which Leo made sure we all paid attention to. Family closeness was habitual among my brother's in-laws, and my wife and I were lucky to be included.
Leo didn't long survive retirement, but Bertha did, settling into Bradenton, on the west coast of Florida, near other children of hers. Over time, after my brother's eldest daughter died, much too young, my brother, his wife, and his granddaughter all moved to eastern Florida to be closer to their younger daughter and her family. After our daughter moved to Sarasota and started her family, from time to time my wife and I would see Bertha and her West Florida group when my brother and his family visited. His in-laws kept in touch with one another and from time to time we would be included some of their gatherings. We also often crossed the state to visit my brother's family there. It was good to feel connected to such a large and sprawling family as my brother's was.
Much has changed since those early Florida days, most painfully in regard to family losses. My brother, who had suffered from diabetes for decades, died on June 2, 2020, and later in the year, October 11, we learned that my sister-in-law's mother had died, aged 101. I can't yet bring myself to appreciate the sense of loss my sister-in-law must be feeling after 54 years with her husband and 73 years with her mother, both bonds severed in a single year.
Over the sixteen months of this extended pandemic year, when many family photos record the masks on the faces of loved ones, we haven't been able to actually visit my sister-in-law and her daughter's family and her granddaughter and her great-grandson. We'll hope to see them all in person in the fall of this year. Our distance adds to our grief especially when awareness of loss opens up memories of how good it was to have my brother in our lives. He died just over two weeks before his 72nd birthday. His 73rd birthday would have been today.