It's been a difficult day. It’s difficult to know where to start. It’s difficult to put my thoughts together. It’s difficult to share what I am feeling. It’s just difficult. Just before noon, my cell phone started ringing off the hook. I picked up the call from my wife, Karlene. She asked me where I was and then told me to meet her at the house ASAP. I knew that it was something big. I arrived home moments before Karlene and watched her pull into the driveway and get out of the car. I did not say a word. I did not want to. She started saying; “I’m sorry,” as she came toward me. Then, with tears in her eyes, said two words, “Your Brother.”
Strange as it sounds, a premonition that I had over a week ago has come true. Last week, I told Karlene that I had a bad feeling about my brother – a very bad feeling. I just had a sense, a feeling, in my spirit that something was wrong. For the past several days, our family has been trying to get in touch with him. With him being divorced and living by himself, our efforts were to no avail. Today we know why. He was found deceased this morning in his bedroom by my nephew.
Mike was 12 years older than me. He was my only brother. Even though we were quite a bit apart in age, we still loved each other as brothers. The age difference, my brother’s loner attitude, and our increasingly divergent lifestyles, helped us to not be as close as we could have been. However, my mind is filled with many great memories of the times that we had together.
When I was a child, Mike often babysat me for my parents. When he was old enough to drive, mom and dad bought him a 1957 Chevy Bel-air wagon that he promptly turned into a sweet hot rod. He enjoyed driving it and I enjoyed riding in it. Mike loved the Ocean, especially the tide-pools off of Palos Verdes where he would collect sea life. He and I went there several times with his teenage friends and my beagle “Honey.” To this day I remember him watching me at the small parsonage we grew up in. Mike would sneak-in his rock & roll or comedy records to listen to, make himself a quadruple-decker sandwich (with everything on it) and sit down with a half-gallon of milk – it was party-time! I remember the day in 1967 that he joined the Navy and left our home forever. I missed him then. I miss him now.
We also spent time together at our Grandmother’s house out in the country near the town of Chowchilla, CA. Mike was 16 or 17 and had an Air Rifle and Pellet Pistol – both of which I coveted even at my young age. I distinctly remember that one day I kept pestering him until he let me shoot his BB gun out beside the barn. He had set up a few old bottles and tin cans upon the fence for target practice. Mike had an ornery streak and after letting me shoot the gun, gave me a devious look and told me that I had to the count of 10 before I became the target. I high-tailed it around the side of the barn, my PF Flyers going as fast as they could. He got to 10 and started yelling, “I’m gonna shoot you!” and I knew that he meant it. I was screaming for my Grandma as I rounded the side of the house heading for the sanctuary of the large enclosed front porch. I reached the screen door of the porch at the same time as Mike started shooting, which also happened to be the same time my Grandma stepped-out of the house to see what the commotion was all about. Grandma let out a shriek as she took a BB, meant for my backside, just beneath her right kneecap and went down like a bag of dirt. “You shot me, Mickie!” Grandma screamed. She seemed shocked by the fact that her favorite grandson – her “itchy-boy” – had just shot her with his BB gun. I wasn’t shocked. However, Mike was mortified and that was the end of the BB gun at Grandma’s.
In the Navy, Mike spent several years overseas which caused an even greater separation or disconnect between us. Then, in the late-seventies, after stints in Guam and the Philippines, He was transferred to the Mare Island Naval Base in Vallejo, CA. I only got to see him a couple of times while he lived up there. One was to watch Super Bowl XV on January 25, 1981 when the Raiders beat the Eagles. When he moved to Canoga Park a short time later, he provided a refuge for me to get away and spend a few days if I needed a place to stay. We spent one weekend breaking-in his brand-new VHS VCR by watching close to a dozen movies that we “rented” from a “movie store.” All of that was brand-new back then and we had a great time.
I enjoyed fishing with Mike and he always hated the fact that I would out-fish him every single time we went out. He wasn’t shy about letting me know it, either. Whether it was saltwater or freshwater, the story was always the same and his classic responses, which were sprinkled liberally with colorful metaphors, make me want to laugh even now as I think about them. Whether it was fishing, board games or whatever, Mike hated getting beaten in anything – especially by me, his kid-brother.
Mike had a brilliant mind and a near-genius IQ. He could fix just about anything mechanical or electronic. He could just look at it and figure out how it worked or how to make it work. Computer issues? No problem. He was the IT/Computer guy for Panavision for many years.
Mike was reclusive and didn't come around much. I don’t know if he was comfortable with himself, but he was comfortable being by himself. Surprisingly in the last few months he started popping-in from time to time. A few weeks ago, he showed-up and we were able to spend some time together. He brought his photo portfolio. Showing us some of his favorite photos. I told him about the photos that I really liked from his website (MOpelaPhoto.com). He was always into photography. It was what he really enjoyed doing. We talked and reminisced and laughed. It was a good visit. That was the last time that I saw him or spoke to him. It was shortly before his birthday.
Mike and Debi, (my siblings) and I, all celebrate our birthdays within days of each other in January. The birthdays have come and gone. Unfortunately, so has my brother Mike. He has come and he has gone. Yet, he left a mark upon my life that I will never forget.
I'll miss my big brother. In fact, I already do.