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Birthday Week Begins!

The clock is just past midnight as I begin this; it’s Monday, May 17. Today would have been my late brother Steve’s 62nd birthday.

Mine is tomorrow. Either he was born early or (more likely) I was born late; we were anniversary babies. I will be 59, gasp cough cough.

He and I went 20 years without speaking after I came out; he didn’t want a Gay brother. I was never allowed to see his kids, in case I would touch them and give them AIDS. (I’m HIV-negative, but that doesn’t matter to the paranoid. If a person could get HIV from touching, the whole world would have long since been infected.) He was a jerk; then slowly, he began to change.

Our mother got sick with cancer in 1994. He loved his mother, and the three of us debated over who would take care of her. He invited her to come and live with him in southern Indiana; but she wanted to die at home in West Lafayette, and I was an experienced caregiver, available to move in with her, so that’s what happened.

She didn’t last very long; January 9, 1995. Steve and I didn’t see that much of each other during her illness, but he did come north to spell me for a weekend so I could go to Indianapolis to watch Purdue men’s and women’s basketball. Her illness was hard on me, she was demanding, so I was very grateful he gave me that weekend. I know he took the best possible care of her.

After she died I stayed in her house, and he often invited me down south to his house for a visit. We became very close friends, although he never stopped giving me a hard time for being Gay.

On every other topic we were brothers. I miss him very much.

Because of the timing of our birthdays, we quickly developed a shared ritual we called Birthday Week; I commend it to everyone. Mom used to say, “My birthday is My Day.” Steve and I decided, why not a whole week!

Episcopalians and Catholics observe octaves of major feast days, an 8-day celebration. Birthday Week fit right into the calendar. Sometimes we’d start a few days before, sometimes a few days after, this was a moveable feast, whatever our whims decided, eight freakin’ days.

I loved him; he loved me. He was a very fine man with a prejudice. And he was a bit sadistic with it, but I always fought back.

He so loved his mother that he honored me for taking care of her, and that mattered more than our turnons.

I relied on him for certain kinds of advice; I have no mechanical ability whatsoever, while he always knew what to do when the water heater stops putting out, or the car won’t start, or moles invade the yard.

I miss him terribly, but I’m very grateful that we were close those last few years. He died shortly after the millennium turned.

But I still have the legacy of Birthday Week, and I’m going to take advantage of it. I’ve been waiting for this; Birthday Week starts now. I imagine him smiling up in heaven, right next to Mom.

Sunday I drove to West Lafayette and bought more landscape lumber, 8-foot-long border planks for my Proper Garden; I have reclaimed a wasteland in my back yard and made it beautiful. I’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, geraniums, cabbage and broccoli, and put in a strawberry patch; tossed out gravel, replaced it with topsoil, weeded and weeded and weeded, dug and raked till my back hurt, killed off these terrible trees that grow 10 feet tall in six weeks, sawed off the tree stumps, thoroughly knocked myself out. It’s taken a couple of years, but now I have a real garden, planted and marked off. The area’s still a little rough, the ground is uneven, but within those 8-foot planks, there’s a garden. Will the muskmelon seeds I dried and saved from last year do anything? I don’t know, but it will be exciting to find out.

Steve was a big fan of Vincennes muskmelons. In the gravel walkway on the north edge of the garden, I’ll plant gladiolus bulbs, some of my mother’s favorite flowers.

In the front yard with a northern exposure, Steve’s favorite azaleas are giving way to our brother Dick’s prize peonies. The Indiana state flower, y’know?

My garden is done, and I’m ecstastic. It isn’t even my birthday yet and everything’s done!

I also bought a little garden figurine, a foot-tall angel made in China with green and white mosaic wings, ten or twelve dollars; she now stands under the giant maple in the back yard, Our Lady of the Big Tree once featured in the Chicago Sunday Tribune.

The marigolds are happy, the begonias, three varieties of lilies; pansies, oregano, yuccas, impatiens; the hostas are doing okay, and so far I’ve been able to control the freakin’ ivy and the would-be kudzu. I worry about some gifts, though, that date to my buying this house six years ago; Peter gave me some excellent tulips, but they didn’t produce well this year, and a woman I used to work with at Southlake Mental gave me irises, which aren’t doing well either. I can picture her but I do not remember her name! It’s awful, she was very competent and good with clients, we worked so well together, but now, when irises are blooming all over town, mine aren’t. She deserves better, y’know? She deserves to be remembered by name.

But I’m getting older, and this s— happens, and it’s Birthday Week.

I got a dog last October, name of Luke; he hasn’t figured out flowers yet, and has made it his business to topple every planter in sight. He doesn’t mean to, but he’s a fox terrier, and they jump and run and boom, sorry begonias. And geraniums. And everything else he can accidentally knock over. I keep moving his stake-out chain, but I haven’t yet found the perfect spot where he can do no damage, and “Yowzah, Daddy, Arf Arf Arf! (Oops, bad dog, you don’t gotta tell me, I know.)”

He gets bacon anyway. I tell him that come August, when the tomatoes are ripe, I am eating all the bacon myself, BLTs, no matter how much he jumps and yaps and knocks things over.

It’s Birthday Week; my gardening is done. I have an 8×24 space marked off for flowers and food. I have a gravel walkway; the invasive trees are gone. Our Lady of the Maple happily presides in the shade. Maybe I’ll get a couple of jars of strawberry jam according to my mother’s recipe.

As for my homophobic brother: it was good to find someone who knew me all my life, loved me 90% and hated me just 10. It was mutual, after all, I never let him off the hook; attack me and I fight back.

I planted those azaleas for him, and they did better this year than ever before. Ninety/ten’s pretty good when you think about it. So Birthday Week starts now, on His Day. Mine is Tuesday, Jayne’s graduation party is Saturday, and Sunday is Pentecost, the Church’s Birthday with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I finally have a Proper Garden, and an Angel of the Maple Tree. Life is good.++

6 Responses


    May your garden continue to prosper along with you and your dogger!

    I want to come for BLT´s too!

    Happy everything,

  2. Happy Birthday Joshua and Steve!

    Almost a year ago you visited him last at the cemetery [that I know of] I was standing some 50 feet away and saw, even after all those years, how much you missed him.

    When do we get to see pictures of the garden? I know Luke chewed on the wire which connects the camera to the computer, but a new one can be bought. [otherwise add it to your wishlist at Amazon and it will be send!]

  3. Peter, thanks for that remembrance. It’s kind of a strange thing, this business of visiting a loved one’s grave; not something I grew up with, I have only a faint memory of my grandmother talking about “Decoration Day,” (Memorial Day now) when survivors would decorate the graves of their soldiers. She had a nephew who was a fighter pilot, shot down in World War II. I’m not aware that she ever actually did the decorating, though. Maybe my mother visited the graves of a few of her aunts and uncles once, back in Kokomo.

    At any rate it’s become fairly important to me. You’ll recall that was the second time I went searching for Steve’s grave; thanks to the cemetery lady, I found it. Then you and I went to visit Steve’s next-door neighbors Terri and Kirk.

    When I’m at St. John’s I usually stop in the memorial garden and visit my mother’s bush, next to where her ashes are buried. Last time at Easter I ran my finger over her name on the brass plaque. I wish Fr. Ed had allowed me to add “R.Ph.” after her name; I bet he allows doctors an M.D.

    I bought a replacement for the camera cord but I can’t get it to work. I’ll get to it someday. It’s raining all day today so not a good time to be taking pictures, and yes, I do notice how uneven the ground is, but on the whole the garden’s looking good, ready for its closeup, Mr. DeMille. I can’t believe I got it done, as lazy as I can be, but then again I do trust myself to take care of jobs that need doing. I guess I just wait until the spirit moves, and it always does.

    Today I took the palm tree out to the side porch; it’s taller than I am now. I may have to cook dinner on the stove, not the grill; my version of Steve’s “shrimp scampi.” His was the first scampi I ever had. Mine is a little more elaborate, served over fettucine with butter, white wine, basil, onions, mushrooms, bell pepper and parmesan.

    It’s against the law to rain on my birthday, Mother Nature, so don’t be tryin’ any funny stuff tomorrow. I’m grilling a gigantic porterhouse whether you like it or not! (And Luke will get the bone. Better he chews on that instead of computer cords.)

  4. Whenever it happens. don’t come looking for me on a cemetery or a memorial garden, I won’t be there. I gave strict instructions what to do with my ashes, even if they are a bit illegal. [Something illegal in the Netherlands?] My sisters can fill you in on that one.

    But before that time I hope to be around for a very long time, enjoying life, friendships [especially long distance ones!] and all the good/bad things He has to offer this world.

    To finish of on a brighter note… sing-a-long-time!

    Happy Birthday to you,
    Happy Birthday to you,
    Happy Birthday dear Joshua
    Happy Birthday to you!


  5. Peter dear, do not pollute. Something is illegal in the Netherlands?

  6. […] } Officially he started yesterday his Birthday Week, but today is his real […]

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