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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Oh Brother Where Art Thou...




"Summers and winters scattered like splinters...and four or five years slipped away." Jimmy Buffet has a way with lyrics, of putting Life in nutshells that even I can understand. When I stop and think about it, time is our most precious asset...if fact, it's all we have. You can run out of money, run out of love, run out of luck—even try to run away—but when one runs out of time, nothing else really matters. 


Sooner or later, loved ones slip away for good and opportunities are lost. Someday I will have only memories of my older brother Dan—or, perhaps, maybe he will be the one remembering me; Fate is an uncaring roulette wheel, its little white marble pings and skitters and eventually lands on either our number or that of someone we love. Not getting any younger, I try to bare the marble in mind, to be more appreciative of smaller and smaller things, especially time. The "elephant in the room" is that what use to be a lazy river grows swifter and swifter as we age, it's rapids uncertain. We have fewer seasons left to squander, fewer grains of sand in hourglasses, fewer people at class reunions. 

It's hard to make sense out of the poles-apart choices in Life that my brother Dan and I made—our disparate tastes in music, priorities, and lifestyle circles. We are told in another musical nutshell that "Life is a Highway." I think it is a good metaphor for Life is a journey in that we start here and end up way over there, or, for some, right back where they started. Our family's "Highways" are notorious for rushing us away from home and friends—over cliffs into the unknown—seldom to intersect again. It's almost as if there's some underlying Universal conspiracy to disconnect us, or maybe it was just our own "Priorities" sitting behind the wheel, driving us to succeed at any cost. As young human beings we like to think we are in charge of our destinies. But the older I get the wiser I am and the more I realize the luck involved. With "time" in mind, I wonder about the consequences of infrequent intersections between all my loved ones, the opportunities lost. But today, I'm thinking about two highly contrasted brothers who, as Dan Folgelberg titled his fifth album, are seemingly "twin sons of different mothers," and separated at birth...or nearly so.

But every once in a great while "Jupiter aligns with Mars;" My Brother Dan and sister-in-law Elaine slipped into Lovely Ouray a few weeks ago on a cool, rainy thursday afternoon. As schedules and roulette wheels would have it I was at work, masquerading as a Fine Art Gallery Boyan alternate, if not alien, "preppy" persona that I suspect took them by surprise given my usual blue collar and dirty nails. My dear departed daddy once said, "Son, you can do anything and go anywhere you set your mind to." He said it to me, but he must have had Dan in mind because I really never did "set mind" to much; I'm more of a "set heart" person.


Brother Dan and Elaine were on a road trip from "home," home being a near oxymoron given how often they pick up and move (thirteen houses and counting). They currently reside on the southernmost out-skirt of Toledo, Ohio—a rural area way down upon the Maumee River—and about as far as one can get literally, figuratively, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and topographically, from Lovely Ouray. It's a perfect metaphor for our oppositional choices and paths, where they took us, and the ever-nearing end result of our oh-so-separate journeys. Where to begin? Why not birth.


Brother Dan had the honor of being "first born," preceding my arrival by over a decade. According to psycho-babble-ologists, that makes me (third born) a "functional first born," as most of my developmental years were spent as an "only child." I know, confusing...hang tight. Not only was I born ten years after brother Dan, sister Sally Jo was almost nine years my senior, and strangely both flew our nest early...as in high school early, which pretty much left yours truly to raise our parents singlehandedly.

Brother Dan was barely fifteen—a wet behind the ears entrepreneur with a bicycle paper-route—when the dastardly wander gene that runs amok in our family finally lit up. To a person, without exception, when "the yonder" calls a Johnson their bags are already packed and waiting by the door. I must say that it certainly set Dan's life on a different course far and away from our family's up-till-then blue collar birthright. In his wildest dreams I don't think he ever imagined the wide-ranging rippled aftermath of his man-child plunge into the unknown.  

Chatting with Sister in law, Elaine




After work we indulged in a little sibling revelry, partaking of libations at the Buen Tiempo followed by their renowned Spinach Enchiladas...topped with a "red sauce" that's reason enough to live and fight another day. Sated and relaxed, we puttered home to assume front-row seats at the Imax Windows of our humble mine shack and contemplate the ease-drop of darkness over Lovely Ouray. Conversation was slow and easy, bits and spurts of "where ya been, what cha up to, where ya headed?" In keeping with tradition there were the mandatory retellings of a few classic stories, further embellished, of course, and then a brief discussion of our dissimilar highways and their infrequent intersections.

Conversation turned to our beloved Mom and Dad, and our unceasing amazement at how a Young and Restless couple gave up a moderately lavish Ohio country home, successful businesses, security, friends and extended family, and flung themselves, along with three children, west into an arid, still-wild Arizona desert...a place where they didn't know a single soul and had no jobs to catch their fall. Hello, Yonder called

We found it compelling, how gypsy blood trickles down our family tree like spring sap, how it flows in our veins and in the veins of Mom and Dad's far flung, well traveled grandchildren and great grandchildren. It is I who is the exception, having chosen to focus on my love for the vast western United States before taking on the world. 

We speculated on how different our lives would be (and thus, those of our children) had Mom and Dad not heeded their Inner Gypsy—had they not boldly sold out and put Springfield, Ohio in the rearview mirror forever. I can't even begin to paint that picture of Ohio with me in it (shudder). Dan, having traveled and conquered the globe, seems strangely at peace back in his birth state, as if in some way it is a circle completed.    

Darkness continued flooding The Crevice like a mood—town lights twinkling, rain easing. Amidst bedtime yawns I ventured a question—sponsored, no doubt, by that second glass of wine at dinner. It was an oft wondered, long held question, about "consequences" left in the wake of Dan's heeding his wander gene to leave home at fifteen. Specifically, I wondered if his early departure might have slighted our sibling bond and/or altered our "Highways?" 

Here's the thing, I was five years old when Dan left the nest, followed by Sally Jo about a year later. So though I know all about my brother, I don't really feel like I know him as a brother. It's as if Dan is more of a good, respected friend than a sibling. Sure, he came home for a few summer "snapshots" to work and set money aside for school, but I don't remember it. Most of my memories are artificial in that they come from 8mm home movies and photos that don't "talk." 

I do, however, remember scenes from the day he left. I divulged that his departure is my earliest memory from childhood, still vivid after all the years. It was 1955, late and dark. Our family was gathered outside some dingy bus terminal breathing a sickening blend of diesel exhaust and cigarette smoke. It hung in the air not unlike the pall of sadness that hung behind brave smiles and moist eyes. I can't recall the conversation, just the image and mood; it plays like video, those last awkward hugs, farewells...me clinging to a pant-leg.

Finally, a last call for boarding; "Bus so and so bound for Los Angeles..." Dan climbed aboard and disappeared—a shadowy figure behind tinted windows—for what would come to feel like the rest of my life. For a long, long time, in my immature adolescent and irrational mind, that Greyhound Bus might as well have been a coffin. Dan remained a shadowy figure for years—a voice on the phone, handwriting on a card...a dream. Memories beyond the murky neon lights of that Greyhound Bus Station are far and few between, and the ones that do come, well, it's difficult to separate reality from shadow, shadow from dream. 

Air brakes discharge, shattering the ambient drone and sirens of downtown Phoenix. An engine roars to life and Brother Dan's silver slug lumbers into traffic...its tail lights shrinking into the night black haze and heat of August. I replay the video in my head, but there are no voices.


We are born empty vessels with DNA that basically reads: "Fulfill Thy Potential." It is intriguing how "apples don't fall far from the tree." Still, within that realm, in spite of the "apple" aphorism about heredity and environment, wander-lust genes, and restlessness in general, we come into this life with as many possible outcomes as there are stars in the universe. But Heredity and Environment are no match for Fate; it is a true "wildcard," waiting in the wings to disrupt best laid plans, test resolve, and question purpose. Some people never leave the block where they were born, while others must "feel the earth move under their feet." You seem to find the latter out west.

For lack of a better excuse, I'll blame birth order. You see, it seems I have set the "bar" low compared to my brother Dan. His Journey—career, travels and Life-in-General—seem so much broader than what my choices landed me. His vocational efforts impacts entire universities, cities, and to some extent, global academic relationships. He has many books to his credit, I have a blog; he travels the world, I travel the west; he researches, I just search; he's knows Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen, I once met Tom Cruise; he's a fundraiser for multi-million dollar university projects, I'm more of a fun-raiser. But what ticks me off the most is that he still has a thick, full head of hair while I'm destined for baldness.  

I am extremely proud of my brother, and who knows, maybe in someways he's just as proud of me. One thing for sure, though, I can't imagine living in his world any more than he could imagine living in mine. We are "twin sons of different mothers;" fallen from the same restless "tree," but on the outer ring of opposite sides. 

Time is all we have...it is ours to spend according to priorities. Let there be no regrets, and let us remember that "Summers and winters scatter like splinters...and four or five years slips away" before we know it. 


Dan's latest book...




Above and below photos are from a tour during Dan's  tenure as President of the University of Toledo.
Below is Bobbie, Nephew Darin, Great Nephew (Young) Dan, and my brother, Dan.






33 comments:

  1. Laverne says:

    A fascinating blog, very interesting, and heart warming. By the way, when is your book coming out? Soon I hope! All looks well in Lovely Ouray, just as I remember. Take care and have a good winter.

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    1. Thank you Laverne...I'm sure you already had a "warm heart" before this post :) You hold my feet to the fire on "the book," ok? I need that :( Thanks for checking in, and hi to Julie. mark

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  2. Seems like you both have a wandering gypsy gene that took you down different pathways.
    My brother, 7 years older, and I are total opposites.
    We are individuals with a blood tie.

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    1. How does that happen? We have the same family and environment...
      But it's good, individuals, that we are not clones of our parents or siblings, cause I really love my lifestyle :)

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  3. Wow, what a beautifully expressed insight into family dynamics. So glad you guys got to get together for some "sibling revelry." Great story from start to finish. I'm sure he's as proud of you as you are of him.

    -Joe

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    1. Joe and Tracey,
      Thank you for coming out of "lurkdom," finally! :)
      and I hope you are right...
      mark

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  4. I need my own psycho-babble-olist to figure out why this post made me cry on a Sunday morning. Maybe because my own brother is here with now, but "yonder" is calling us both in different directions very soon...

    Such a very nice tribute.

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  5. Thanks Suzanne...make the most of your "time," and I didn't mean to make you cry...
    mark

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  6. Well, I would say both Johnson's are pretty impressive in their own diverse ways. My only brother was 13 years older, and I never felt close but always in awe. I was the rebel, the runaway, the explorer. He was the pillar of home and community. Interesting, but I wouldn't change my lifestyle for anyone's!

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    1. I understand the "awe," and at the same time feeling like you walk in the shadow of someone whose heights you know you won't reach...primarily, for some reason, they don't appeal, tho you respect those accomplishments immensely. And thus, I too wouldn't change a thing.
      thanks, mark

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  7. I have two older brothers. I cut off both relationships in 2007. Our differences were just too hard to continue ~ it became too toxic.

    Reading your post makes me sigh ... a good sigh. Even though you are different you share love and that's very cool.

    I don't know if I'll ever reconcile... They were both my heroes in my younger days. life... what would we do without it.

    Loved this post, Mark...

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    1. That's when it hurts. That's the potential regret I was talking about. It's not too late, but then again, if it's "toxic," I understand...but I'm sure it still hurts around the holidays and other occasions.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and sharing the "other side."
      mark

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  8. Sorry for the long comment but this came to me while reading your post. ( I believe I emailed you this several years ago) -scamp


    Max Ehrmann, "Desiderata"

    Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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    1. Yes, it is familiar. Words to live by, and this time I'll keep it on the fridge.
      Thanks Scamper :)

      PS Still raining here...delaying progress on the solar panel install :((
      mark

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  9. Mark, I too am a functional first-born, and my mom was a Johnson. Maybe we somewhere way back inherited the same gypsy genes?

    Great post - well done!

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    1. Spotted Dog,
      Thank you S. D., I can tell you are "one of us," or vice versa :)
      It's not always an easy yoke , but someone has to wander.
      thanks, mark

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  10. A very interesting and well told story. Thanks Mark.

    Jim

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    1. Jim...I cut it in half and it was still too long :(
      But it needed to get out.
      thank you.

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  11. I can so relate to that "time" thing. I think that's what had Al and me jump into this lifestyle....the sands of time and loss of family members. Rekindling a relationship with my brother has been great. We've spent more time together in the last two months than we have in the last thirty years. Great post Mark.... you know there's a book in you AND you live with a talented artist whom I'm sure could be coursed into a few illustrations.

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    1. That is a motivational force, "time." It should frighten us out of our "ruts," but we do what we do and let the chips fall sometimes. This story was as much a reminder to me as anyone else.
      It's great that you rekindled a relationship with your brother. I had a deal with my brother that we would retire and travel together in the year 2000. Well, we kept our end of it...

      One book is already written for the most part...all that needs to be done is collect the short stories of family, childhood, and travel that I've written over the past 6 or 8 years and publish them in the right order...sort of an autobiography. :0
      Thank you, Ingrid,
      mark

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  12. Thanks for sharing a more personal part of your life. Glad you were able to reconnect with your brother. You never do know what tomorrow brings.

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    1. Yes, maybe too "personal." Maybe it belonged more in my diary than blog post...
      Too late now.
      thanks,
      mark

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  13. Beautiful post. Each life is different, each life is our own to live as we want. Life is full of choices and those choices make up who we are. Your beautiful tribute to your brother speaks of your kind heart. Who knows you just might be happier than he.

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    1. Sheila,
      You really said it, "our choices make up who we are." Nice, and thank you.
      mark

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  14. Funny, I've been thinking a lot about time running out and the conflict of interests between my bucket list and family.

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    1. Kelly...and "work," you forgot work. That puts holes in "Bucket Lists" too. :(
      I think one can "have their Bucket List and eat it too," so to speak. We need to just get family on board to do it with us...which means compromising here and there. But it would be so much more fulfilling and fun, like your trip to Germany with Mikey. :)
      Ok, maybe not all family members :0 Ha!
      Thanks, Kel,
      U. mark.

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  15. Dammit Mark you've done it again, like Suzanne there's moisture forming in the creases of my eyelids. But don't you dare apologize for it, this isn't the first time, I'm sure it won't be the last and we all come here voluntarily.

    Time is the only thing we "have" but really time has us. We can't, speed it up, slow it down, or control it in the same way we attempt to assert control over other aspects of our lives. Maybe that's part of what knocks us off our feet when we pause and realize "has it really been THAT long sine I've seen that person, been to that place, since that favorite album came out and on and on". Time is indeed precious. It is infinite to the broader world and yet a wholly finite quantity for us upright bipeds. I think it's that duality, especially the unknown quotient, which really stops and gives us pause. We can hang a calendar on the wall, strap a watch to our wrist, use the sun and the moon to track it's ever forward march but in the end we are all passengers. Yes time is precious, it is a gift. A gift we sometimes begrudgingly accept. A gift we ever attempt to do the best with.

    The time we spend here at BCB is rewarding, thank you for that.

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    1. I appreciate your thoughtful comment, E., more that I can express. You and the other commenters reinforce that I'm not "crazy," that I'm not the only one who feels that "Time keeps on slippin' into the future," to quote Steve Miller, the older I get. And it's not so much all the shit I want to get done that bothers me the most, it's all the things I've overlooked—left undone—and unsaid. Our "gift," as you say, has an expiration date, and we can't read that label cause it's on the inside.
      and "rewarding?" Thank you for that.
      mark

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  16. -Mark-- I see another book comment here at BCB-- I see progress on that during rainy days in Goldies writing office this winter- You might even be able to find a few photos taken over the years-- Do not mean to be a thorn in your writing career-- BUT as your marketing manager I do have to think about making a retirement living - If J patterson can sell 250 million books ---penny a book??? have to figure that out- and of course those authors are going with co-authors now-- (Boonie?)

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    1. Steve...now don't go pressuring me any more than I'm pressuring myself :)
      I had planned to pick up my neglected watercolor brush this winter. 250 million pennies is a Lotto Jackpot (2.5 million). we could split it and be good to go. I hope you do see about camp hosting up Camp Bird Road next summer! Boonie has the phone number :)
      thanks,
      mark

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  17. Howdy Bobbie(my mother's name) & Mark,
    Very good blog and story.. I too have an older brother(13yo) who left before I knew him and when here returned he had a 'BOSS, who didn't care for anyone but HERS... He was 'thrown-up' to me all of my life, as he got a degree, a FEDERAL JOB and MADE SOMETHING OF HIMSELF... Still he was MY 'big' brother and I cared for him; he is now 90yo and she still OWNS him... He may out-live her and I'll get some time with him, MAYBE !!! Our younger brother is a stranger to everyone, with a BOSS, also... I try to be kind, but I don't get much of a chance..
    Be proud of Dan, as he has made a place for himself, in this world; you have a wonderful life too, so, don't let his success bother you any... Prestige, power and money can't purchase a heart-full of happiness....

    Hope the snows don't catch y'all sittin' on the mountain and y'all have quite a few HAPPY DAYS !!!!

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  18. Another deeply thoughtful post. I feel what you feel on time..try very hard to live in the moment..squeeze the most of what time we're given. It's an on-going battle. And I feel what you feel about my own brother. So very different are we that I often feel like he is slipping away. I do try and keep the bond, but don't know if it will survive time. And there it is again :)
    Nina

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    1. Nina,
      Some siblings are practically inseparable throughout their lives, and then there is the other side...where the "slip away." Not sure what happens to make the difference; we are complicated. I think it can be overcome if we are mindful of it. The clock ticks...
      thanks for your input and story,
      mark

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