I had to grease our tractor this morning because a while ago we had it hauled to the shop–65 miles each way–and the guy said we’d save a lot of money if we’d grease it. And also because it spent three weeks in a formerly unknown slough, which had the result of us getting to know some people in the community, one of whom was able to help get it out with his tractor. So while I was greasing my hands and the tractor, pulling the trigger with that satisfying force and watching grease curl off the target like frosting, I remembered a truth I’d known since childhood: If I fell on the grease gun it would push grease into my veins or arteries (it didn’t matter which) and I’d die instantly. Then I remembered another way to die instantly: someone (a guy) could put his thumb under a certain tendon in my wrist and flick it. Charles, I scold. And if I don’t get off the couch in five seconds, I’ll be killed with the power of my other brother’s big toe. Roger is sitting with his back on the couch’s arm, his legs, like cranes, extending over the entire span of cushions, threatening to straighten and smash me beyond recognition with the ramrod toe. Mom, I call out.
But Mom’s been gone for a year. Dad’s still here. His big brother told him that the smallest particle ever discovered was a cabbage molecule, a fact dad forgot until college when he almost blurted it out. And as I search for more portals into which to pump grease, I muse about the relationship of my daughter with my son.
But yesterday, while I was cutting seed heads off thistles to control the population (bull thistles, the biennial ones, not the perennial Canada thistles for which this wouldn’t work at all), my mind flitted to dimensions of my brothers that are part of my structure, not my memory. Charles, a grade ahead of me in school: we were down in the tangled trees and shrub at the glade and it was dusk. We got separated. I heard a hoot–a barn owl. The sky was green-orange. I couldn’t see the owl in the silhouetted tree but I hooted back and crept toward it. After a moment, it hooted to me. I hooted again. After a pause, it hooted, and I whispered excitedly, “Charles!” I changed the pattern, creeping closer to where the owl was, and it changed the pattern back. Then I heard an excited whisper close by, “Barbara!” and there was Charles. We each had the same story. We laughed, then sat in the dark on crisp oak leaves and talked about things that only fourteen and fifteen year olds can talk about that don’t matter now. I still know that Charlie is the person who is the closest ever to knowing my very self. In some ways my essence is safe; it’s in cloud-storage of other people, with perhaps the biggest part of my back-up in Charlie.
That got me to thinking of Rog, two grades ahead of me, who grew up in a different culture. And he allowed me to be part of long games of Monopoly–everyone, including young me, lying on our stomachs, sorting our money by color. And Roger gave me rides on his motorcycle when he didn’t have to. He told me that I’d let the swerves take my body instead of fighting them; I’d done well. When things are tough now he has more wisdom than anyone else on how to go on.
My brothers and I had parallel experiences from a different position but along the same hiking trail, from the same clock with bedtimes at different hours, from the same period when mom was sick but with different takes on dad’s inviting strangers, paused near our mailbox, to spend the night if they needed a place. Who stayed a month and ended up taking care of us when mom was in the hospital. Same high school, same calendar, different classes. Same summer, Charlie in the Grand Canyon passing out of heat exhaustion and me north of the Brooks Range passing out of hypothermia. Parts of the same centuries, different marriages that came and went, same visits and different visits to the parents and their pets as the parents passed to different stages with different pets, yet modelled that they are the same people they were. Thanks, Roger and Charles, or as we’ve called them since 1972, Rog and Charlie. Thanks mom and dad for brothers. And thanks ex-husband and current husband and everyone else around for my two children; and daughter, may you experience your brother the way I did mine.
Having said all that, I note my needless care as I move to the next portal to squeeze the grease. I squat so carefully that no matter how I might trip, I can’t possibly fall on the grease gun and end this astonishing life.