Why can’t you be more like your brother, Ron?
I heard this sentiment more often than I wanted growing up—a parental admonition that put me in direct competition with a sibling seven years my senior.
My brother Ron came into this world in January, 1942, in the midst of a global conflagration that pitted good against evil, clearly and precisely, even though few people realized the depth of the inhumanity unfolding. He was born far way from the bombs, fires and ovens, in Edmonton, Alberta, the first of four surviving children. Two boys and two girls.
My brother Ron shouldered the responsibilities of the oldest child in a working-class family with equanimity—being obedient, running errands, babysitting and setting a good example in school for his siblings. Someone for a younger brother to look up to.
In truth, I had mixed feelings about my brother Ron at various times over my formative years. To hear his name invoked when my own shortcomings were so glaring in comparison planted the seed of resentment in my self-absorbed young mind.
Even so, I intuitively knew my brother Ron was a nice guy, a responsible kid who got good grades, an altar boy and boy scout, who took to heart the concepts of honesty, honour and fair play.
He started working young, delivering flyers and newspapers before moving on to a job at a neighbourhood supermarket, stocking shelves and bagging groceries. He was flush with cash for his endeavors and his was always the Christmas gift most anticipated by a younger brother.
My brother Ron loved Christmas. He liked decorating the tree, the food, the holiday music, but most of all he loved the opening of gifts. Especially the ones he was giving. I recall waiting patiently to play with a neat toy he picked out while listening to an explanation of how it worked as he tried it out for the first ten minutes.
My brother Ron remained a big kid throughout his life. He collected comics and stamps in grade school and books and movies as an adult. He built model planes and ships in his teens before graduating to a replica of The Bounty that took thousands of hours to complete working to scale from complex plans that would challenge a naval architect. He ran model railroads through towns and landscapes he constructed from cardboard and paper Mache.
My brother Ron was steadfast. He worked for the same company from his late teens, starting as a gofer and staying the course until he took early retirement as the boss four decades later. He took the helm at a precarious financial time for the business. The owner left the employees with a choice–take over the company or the doors are closing.
As a significant shareholder, with stock accumulated over the years in bonuses in place of cash, my brother Ron took responsibility. He knew every aspect of the operation but did not possess the corporate ruthlessness required to lay people off when the bottom line demanded it. At least not without taking it home with him at night.
My brother Ron was a worrier. He worried about his work colleagues, his family and his beloved Eskies. During the Jackie Parker era, he sold hot dogs and cold drinks at Clark Stadium for extra money and admission to the games. He bought seasons tickets and Eskies paraphernalia and remained a loyal fan, in later years recording games then checking the score before watching to avoid the stress and frustration of seeing the team take a loss in real time.
My brother Ron was of the Last Great Generation, a pre-Boomer too old, too sensible, and in a younger brother’s mind, too square to drop out and tune into the Sixties culture of sex, drugs and rock and roll. He curled and bowled, joined Toastmasters and danced the Boot Scootin’ Boogie.
As you have by now deduced, my brother Ron didn’t like change. Out of high school he dreamed of frolicking at Mardi Gras in New Orleans but had little appetite for foreign travel as a family man, beyond excursions to Disneyland with the kids. He liked Edmonton and was a big Alberta booster who preferred the comfort of home to the hassles of airports and foreign money exchanges.
My brother Ron and I drifted apart over the years, seeing each other mostly on family occasions. He called me Little Guy and I called him Big Guy, in that joking way grown brothers communicate. He had a mortgage to pay, his wife Berna and daughters Vanessa and Paula to care for and then grand-kids, Alannah and Eric to dote over while I led the irresponsible life of changing jobs, towns and romantic entanglements, at times with nothing to care for but my dog.
We reconnected in later years and cemented our familial bond through our mutual disdain for Donald Trump. My straight-shooter brother Ron could not fathom the fanaticism, religious hypocrisy and political cynicism that elevated someone he regarded as a sack of orange scum. Venting to me spared his wife. He was an enthusiastic reader of the Meandering Maloneys and would call with congratulations and praise after each anti-Trump screed was published online. It felt good to hear him say so.
My brother Ron passed away unexpectedly last Monday, with the tree up and decorated, a few weeks before his beloved Christmas. He left this world worried that these low times of Trump and global warming would cause irrevocable harm to the planet and to the wife, daughters and doted-on grandchildren left behind.
He was one of the good guys. I wish I’d told him about all the times over the years I wanted to be more like my brother Ron.