Thursday, July 25, 2013
A Big Brother Story
A) The writing bug runs rampant through my family.
B) Placing those descended from Italians in the Bronx into wilderness settings leads to entertaining chaos both North and South of the Mason Dixon Line.
C) We take our family bonds seriously.
Take it away, Mike-
Recently I lost my only sibling. My brother died in his sleep. He was older than me. It's been very hard to get over. Part of the reason may be because I've only known life with him. Now I have to learn what life is like for the first time without him. So far the only thing I've learned is that I don't think I'll ever get over his passing. I just have to learn to live without him.
My family has been extremely supportive. One of my cousins told me he thought it might do me some good to recall some of the memories of times I've spent with my brother. Putting them on paper might act as a sort of therapy. I agreed and I'm glad I did. It was fun reliving the old fun times we had. I would challenge anybody that has a sibling to do the same thing. Do it now and don't wait until they're no longer with us. Chances are they need a laugh too.
The following story is a recall of just one of the many great times we spent together. I hope you enjoy it.
There really wasn’t much that Chick and I didn’t do together. However it would be easy to say our favorite things were watching the Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, Fishing and Drag Racing…in no particular order.
As I was growing up there was no Miami Heat so the Dolphins being the only game in town was the favorite of everyone. Chick took me to many Dolphin games at the old Orange Bowl. I have nothing but fond memories of fantastic Dolphin games.
The undefeated season.
Two Super Bowl championships back to back.
These days we can’t win two games back to back.
Most of our time together was spent Drag Racing or Fishing. I developed a love for freshwater fishing mainly in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. Some of my best memories with my big brother were of both of us fishing at one of those two places. I remember us fishing together one time when I was much younger. I guess I was about twelve years old. Chick and I went to the Everglades to go bass fishing. It was summer time and, Oh Lord, hotter than hell. “This is like Africa hot!” (Biloxi Blues)
We loaded up a sixteen foot aluminum boat on the roof of his 1966 Chevy Nova with a 20 hp outboard motor in the trunk. We had the boat tied to the roof and used enough rope to tow the Queen Mary around the world. The ropes went over the top of the boat and into the car through the windows and under the headliner. This way of tying the boat down to the roof of the car meant you couldn’t open the doors. We had to climb out the door windows and untie the boat before we could open them.
After tying it up we also needed to crawl in the car through the windows to drive anywhere. We didn’t need to roll the windows up because it was too hot. Approximately 40 mph was the max we could travel because the boat on the roof had the uncanny ability to act as a sail if we went any faster. I remember thinking this is going to be a great day even if we look like two refugees from Cuba trying to make it to America.
We took a dirt road fifteen miles out into the heart of the everglades where there was a beautiful canal that was extremely wide. Then we paddled our little aluminum boat about three miles down the canal.
I asked him, “Chick, why did we bring the motor if we’re going to paddle?”
“Shut up Michael.”
Later I would find out that he was afraid the motor was going to make too much noise and scare the fish.
I can accept that.
We were farther away from civilization than the United States Air Force is to telling us what really landed at Area 51 in 1947! For a while I thought he was bringing me out there to kill me because not even God could find a missing person out where we were.
In some areas of the canal the gators were everywhere, and so thick you could walk on their backs and never get your feet wet. I remember asking him why we had to go all the way out here to go fishing.
He said because this is where the fish are.
That’s why the gators are here. They eat the fish and right now the bass are spawning and the gators are having a 24 hour buffet.
OK! No argument from me.
We started fishing and damned if I didn’t catch the first one, a nice one that weighed about five pounds. Not bad for a twelve year old kid. He was happy for me.
We caught fish all day and I don’t think any were smaller than that first one. The problem was that the gators knew when you had one hooked and they would try to bite them off the hook as you were reeling them in. We would reel as fast as we could to try to get the fish in the boat before the gators got them. Sometimes the gator got the fish and you reeled in a half of fish. Sometimes the gator would chase the fish right up to the boat. As you were taking the fish out of the water they would crash into the side of the boat. Scared the hell out of us but once we got the fish in the boat we would both laugh as if to say not only did we catch the fish, we got it before the gators did.
We fished the same spot all day. Why not?
As the sun was starting to set I suggested we leave because first and foremost I was scared as hell of being in the everglades when it’s dark.
The infamous Everglades “Skunkape?”
Besides that the dark would only make it harder to row the boat back to where the car was. Loading the boat and our equipment in the dark (not to mention tying the Queen Mary down again, and fitting through the windows) would be treacherous as the mosquitos and no seeums would be in all their glory eating two greasy guineas until we died.
There are no mosquitos like Everglades mosquitos. When they land on you, it is clear they are about three inches in circumference. They have stingers that strongly resemble chain saws. As a matter of fact I think I saw “Stihl” or “Poulan” written on some of them. Not sure though, because I was too busy swatting myself to get a good look. Noseeums (no-see-ums) are gnats that you can’t see (hence the name). When they land they have a unique talent for biting you at the same time.
Everybody else calls them noseeums. I call them “flying teeth.”
Chick agreed it was time to start heading in. We brought the lines in and took the five nicest bass in our live well home for eating and let the others go. Before we started paddling back to the car I asked if we could paddle over to the bank so I could pee. I can’t pee from the boat. I have to be still. Besides that I knew while I was peeing he was going to take a few more casts to try and get the one lunker of a bass that he kept missing all day.
Keep in mind that when you’re on the banks of the canal it is a slightly different environment. First there is the element of the snakes hiding just below the surface of the ground, not to mention the Poisonous Frogs, Raccoons filled with Rabies, and the ever present Opossums.
Don’t forget the insect community, including horseflies the size of Secretariat. If they land on you it almost feels as though my Aunt Ray just gave you a slap. There’s red ants with deadly stings. If they sting you, you don’t get the common red ant bite. You get a puss sack the size of a pencil eraser. You have to pop it and keep it covered with salve and a dressing or you could get gangrene.
And I don’t mean the New York Jets defense.
I once saw a colony of red ants carrying a baby gator back to their den.
Just kidding…but you get the idea.
Then there is the infamous giant grasshopper. These grasshoppers are so big that when they do hop they don’t land for about forty or fifty feet. One time I saw a grasshopper go right by me in the air and he had on a top hat and tails. And right behind him was another one waving a broom. However, some of these grasshoppers are so big they are too heavy to hop! They just walk real slowly like they’re stoned on the wild cabbage that grows in the Everglades.
A staple at every meal for the Seminole and Miccosukee Indian tribes that take residence in the southern part of the glades. Everglades’ cabbage comes from the Cabbage and Sable Palm trees. It’s supposed to have medicinal purposes in addition to being a vegetable serving. Truth be told it’s full of toxins that when dried out and smoked is said to be hallucinogenic. I’ve heard stories that one toke can give you a high for a week or…it can be deadly!
Let’s get back to my pee pee.
I was fishing from the front of the boat making me believe it was no big feat to jump from the boat to the bank as we approached it. About a foot from the bank I did the jump and all seemed to be going fine until my back foot hit the carrying handle on the front of the boat. Needless to say my heart went into cardiac “HO- LEEE SHHH …” mode because I knew I was going DOWN!
I mean I went down like the Titanic!
So many things went through my mind in the millisecond it took for me to hit the deck:
Will I break my leg?
Will I get wet?
Am I going to be able to break my fall with my arms?
Will the gators get me before I can get up?
What about the snakes?
Is my brother going to kill me for falling?
If he doesn’t, will my mother kill me when we get home?
Either way I’m a dead man.
AM I GONNA DIE????
Will he ever take me fishing again?
I could see tomorrow’s headline in the Miami Herald,
“Youngster killed by brother and mother after falling out of boat in Everglades.”
Well, I fell, and one of my fears became a reality. My arms got tangled up and I wound up falling and landing flat on my face.
I was up in Olympic record time. I turned around to face my brother for some kind of comforting like “Its’s ok you’re gonna be fine.” Instead my brother was screaming like a mad man,
What did you do!?
What the hell happened!?”
Before I could answer I noticed I had something on my face. As I start to wipe my face Chick was screaming at me, “You got black muck all over your face, you fell in The Black Muck Michael!”
Thanks Chick for keeping your cool so I don’t get scared.
Black muck is not mud. It’s not sand. It’s not quicksand. It is what it is…
It’s invaluable to farmers because of its abundance of minerals and nutrients. It’s like Scott’s potting soil on godzillaroids. One load of Black Muck is about a hundred times more expensive than a regular load of dirt or top soil and it’s only found in the everglades. The state of Florida has the rights to it and allows only select farmers and state sponsored agricultural companies go into the glades for removal purposes. Recently Black Muck is being found in other parts of the state. This is happening at an alarming rate as new communities and developments spring up in places all over Florida that once were within the boundaries of the everglades. Only through political means have the boundaries changed. What was once a “sacred and holy land” the everglades have become a victim of…
I started to wipe my face with my hands and the feel of the muck between my fingers was like a jar of cold, slimy, schkeevy, pulverized sand paper. I kept wiping my face but it seemed like the more I wiped the more the muck kept multiplying. I started to cry. Not because of the muck but because of somewhere in this event I lost control of my bladder and peed in my pants. When Chick told me to stop crying and use the towel and drinking water to clean up I told him why I was crying. He looked at the front of my pants and started to laugh. Now I really felt like a mamaluke.
Him laughing at me was a good distraction though because it made me forget about the whole thing. We both were laughing.
Anyway, I continued to get cleaned up and used the drinking water to rinse my mouth out because in the fall it went up my nose and in my mouth.
Cleaned up and paddling back to the car Chick asks,
“Do you have to pee?”
Ha-Ha. Very funny!
We made it to the car and with much trepidation I stepped ever so gingerly out of the boat and on to the bank. SAFE! I grabbed the handle and pulled the boat up far enough so Chick could get out without getting wet. Now came the task at hand for loading up and getting out of there before dark. Remember the Queen Mary tie down method requires the windows be left open. You don’t want to be in the glades at night in a car with the windows down, especially during the summer.
At a feverish pitch we accomplished the task at hand and headed back down the fifteen mile long dirt road to the highway. About halfway down the road the mosquitoes started finding out that our windows were down. We swatted our way to the highway and when we hit the asphalt Chick hit the gas. As the wind came in the windows the skeeters disappeared.
Thank you Lord!
After about an hour we were home. We backed in and started to unload the boat. Once again the mother of all rope ties holding the Queen Mary was undone. We unloaded the rods and reels and washed them down. At this time Mom and Dad came out to see what we caught. Chick showed them the bass we brought home and Mom was impressed.
Dad didn’t say anything.
Keep in mind that this was pretty much all done in the dark with the help of some flashlights that had three year old leftover batteries in them from hurricane preparedness. Once and for all everything was cleaned up and put away.
Now was time to hit the shower.
Chick had cleaned the fish and was in the kitchen with my mother and father. I walked in the kitchen door and they were all at the kitchen sink as Chick was telling them about the fish. Mom said something about putting them in the broiler with marinara and mozzarella for dinner tomorrow night. Hey we’re Italian right?
As I walked in they all turned around and as our eyes met I immediately noticed the looks on their faces as they saw me. They all had that “what the hell happened to him” look.
I stood there…paralyzed for what might be coming. Chick looked at me and let out a real whisper of an,
“Oh my God.”
My mother asked with the deepest of concern and sorrow,
“Michael are you OK?”
Why is she being so nice?
My father said nothing as usual.
But this time I think his silence was because of being dumbfounded and at a loss for words by what he saw when he was looking at me. He even had that scared look on his face.
Chick said to me why don’t you get in the shower. I said OK. Mom and Dad said nothing. I went into my bedroom to get clean clothes and then into the bathroom. I didn’t find out until later that when I went into the bedroom that Chick told them that I had fallen in the Black Muck. As I got into the bathroom I closed the door and turned on the light and low and behold there in the mirror was what they were staring at.
I scared the hell out of myself. Apparently I had an allergic reaction from the muck and my face was red.
NO I MEAN RED!
Red like a firetruck.
Red like a Strawberry.
Red like a tomato.
Red like a man bleeding through his facial pores!
Red like a man with his face on freaking FIRE!
I got so scared. I knew everybody saw how red it was when I walked into the kitchen. No sense in going out to show them what I had seen. I sat down on the toilet seat and thought to myself once again,
“Am I gonna die?”
“Thank God there’s no school tomorrow.”
I started getting undressed and there was a knock on the door. It was Chick. I opened the door and he said “You Ok?”
He asked if I had looked in the mirror. I said, “yes.”
He said, “Don’t worry about it.”
I said, “Easy for you to say.”
He chuckled and said, “It’ll be gone in the morning.”
I said, “Sure.”
Like how the hell does he know?
Who made him Dr. Black Muck of the Everglades?
Anyway, I took my shower and went to bed. I sure wasn’t getting any good night kisses from my mother.
I woke up the next day and just lied in bed. I didn’t have the guts to go to the bathroom to see if it really was gone. After laying there for about an hour I heard a knock on the door. It was Chick again. He comes in and said,
“Wanna go fishing in the Everglades?”
He walked over to the bed and looked at me and said,
“Ahhhh you still got a little on your chin but the rest is all gone.”
After about ten minutes I got the guts to go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing or not seeing. It was true. He was right and it was all gone except for a little spot on my chin. It was that very moment that I realized the meaning of the old cliché “Gone, but not forgotten.” I got dressed and went outside to look for my boys in the hood. After all it was summer and summer was made for having fun.
I found out later that Chick had been covered with Black Muck more than once when he would go camping with his friends in the Everglades. They would make snowballs out of it and have fights with it. Then they would go swimming in the canals to wash off. Yes! The same canals the gators swim in.
He knew all along it was going to go away. As much as he tried to tell me everything was going to be OK I just couldn’t believe him. Hey I was only twelve.
Those were the days. When I was growing up Chick was everything to me. He was my idol. He was my hero. He was my mentor and my best friend. Most of all he was my “Go to guy.” As I grew oIder our relationship got stronger. I would never have had so many life filled experiences if it wasn’t for him. He took me with him everywhere no matter what anybody thought. Anywhere I was allowed to go and was old enough to go, we went together.
Like Hope and Crosby.
Actually more like Abbott and Costello!
What I wouldn’t give to have just one more fishing trip with my big brother.
One more drag race.
One more Dolphin game.
One more post Heat game conversation.
In my own way I talk to him every day.
Sometimes I find myself laughing.
Sometimes I catch myself crying. I miss him. I miss him very much.
Once again, “Gone but not forgotten.”
I love you bro!