Brother Donald

It is the solemn duty of every older brother to amuse himself by making his younger brother’s life a living hell – or at least as close to that as possible without running afoul of parental concern.  In other words – don’t leave any marks or bruises. For example, if you hold your little brother down and tickle him until he turns funny colors, use your fingertips on his rib cage and not your knuckles.

My little brother Donald is, and was, a pretty even-tempered guy with a sunny disposition and he managed to run this gauntlet of older-brother cruelty relatively unscathed. In fact, I think this positive attitude was probably the best defense for him. The usual older-brother games like “quit hitting yourself” and “follow our pal” rarely resulted in the hoped-for and very rewarding angry blow-up. Don usually enjoyed the attention more than he hated the frustration.

The one truly exploitable area in Donald’s personality was his tendency to believe anything his older brothers told him. We were, after all, his closest blood relations. We wouldn’t be so mean as to tell him outrageous stories and get him to fall for them just for our own entertainment, would we? Well of course we would.

Our pranks on Don were sometimes verbal and at other times they were physical with just enough story to get him to buy in. For example:

“Hey Don, we saw this neat trick on the Ed Sullivan show.It’s a way to make this egg disappear. But we need an assistant. You want to help us?”


“Great. Get behind this door so nobody can see you. Now put your index finger and thumb through the crack.”

“You’re not going to slam the door on my fingers, are you?”

“No. We promise we won’t do that. So put your fingers through… good. Now I’m going to secretly hand you the egg, you’ll pull it through, and the audience won’t know what happened. Ready? Allikazing, Allikazam! And the egg is gone! Don? You were supposed to pull it through.”

“It won’t fit. It’s too big.”

”Oh I see. Well, don’t drop it, whatever you do. Mom will have a fit. We’re going to go into the kitchen and try to figure it out.”

Fifteen minutes later, Don’s fingers are cramping and we’re in the kitchen saying loudly, “Oh look! Chocolate cake!”

This sort of ploy, with variations, worked equally well with an empty aluminum pie tin held against the ceiling with a broom (“Here, hold this and don’t drop it. There’s an angry black widow spider in there”) and a funnel stuck into his belt (“Betcha can’t let this penny slide off the end of your nose so it drops right into the funnel”). While he is concentrating on the penny he can’t see the pitcher of warm water that is being poured into the funnel).

When he was a few years older, there was a game that he was always eager to play, despite the fact that he never won. It was “Who Can Escape.” We’d get lengths of clothesline cord, rope, or whatever was handy and first he would try to tie me up, then I would escape. Then it was my turn to tie him up and because I was better at knots than he was, he could never escape. How he didn’t realize beforehand that he would then be tickled, taunted, or have imaginary bugs put down the neck of his shirt I’ll never know.

One summer day he came up to me with a length of cord in his hand and a desire to tie me up to the point of helplessness burning in his eyes. I suggested we go outside on the lawn. Although he did his best, it only took me about five minutes to wriggle out of the ropes. Then it was his turn.Despite the fact that I was a Cub Scout dropout, I did learn how to tie a square knot and a bowline. In a few minutes I had him trussed up like a goose.

“Wait a sec,” I said. “There’s one more thing.”

I picked up the sprinkler hose from the other side of the lawn, dragged it over and wrapped him up in it. A sprinkler hose is a twenty-five foot, flattened, plastic tube with pin-holes in it every few inches.

“Okay,” I announced, “escape!”

While he struggled, I mosied over to the water spigot and turned it on full. Brother Donald suddenly became a writhing, squealing water fountain. I admit, I laughed so hard I nearly wet my pants. The chewing-out I got from my mother for soaking Donald was well-deserved and totally worth it.

The other brand of tomfoolery we enjoyed (and he didn’t) was to tell him a ridiculous lie and get him to believe it. One evening, for example, Lewis and I sauntered into his room just as he was getting ready for bed.

“Hey, Don, are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Oh, good. ‘Cause we’ve heard there’s a rare disease going around and you’ve been looking kinda pale.”

“I have?”

“It’s probably nothing. Unless you can see little red blood veins around the edges of your eyeball.”

“Don runs to the bathroom to check. “Oh no.”

“You weren’t playing in the park today were you?”

“I was looking for four-leaf clovers.”

“Uh-oh. There were tsetse flies infesting the park today.They’re so small you can hardly see them and you don’t even feel it when they bite, but they can give you Sleeping Sickness.”

“Sleeping Sickness?”

“If you have it and you fall asleep, you might sleep for days. You might not wake up for weeks! Quick, pull up the legs of your pajamas. Oooh noo! Look. There’s the bite mark!”

What can I do? I don’t want to have sleeping sickness.”

“The only thing you can do is to stay awake. If you don’t go to sleep, it can’t get you.”

When I went to bed a couple of hours later, Don was still sitting up in bed, yawning and squinting, reading comic books, trying desperately to keep himself awake.

When Lewis and came into the room the next morning he was fast asleep, sprawled on top of a couple of comic books that had been under him when he fell over.

“Wake up, Don, wake up!” we shouted as we gave him a good shaking.

“Huh? What…?”

“Oh, thank God you’re finally awake. You’ve been asleep for two weeks! You slept right through Valentine’s Day!”

Don ran to Mom, in tears, to see if anyone saved his valentines for him.  Once again, we were in trouble.

Several months later, the family was planning to take a trip to see relatives in Southern California. Donald was so excited to go to Disneyland that he could not stop talking about it. Not having learned our lesson at all, Lewis and I barged into his room early on the morning we were to leave.

“Don, Don, wake up! We just heard on the radio that Disneyland has burned to the ground!”

My poor mother. Not only was she in the midst of last-minute packing, she had to deal with a crying five year-old. And two giggling older brothers.

Several years later, when Donald was in second grade, Lewis and I were eating breakfast when Don came upstairs. He was still in his pajamas and looking sleepy. I don’t remember if we had planned something in advance or we were just winging it, but one of us said, “Why aren’t you in school?”

“There isn’t any school on Saturday.”

“Well it’s Friday. Saturday is tomorrow,” Lewis said as he went to the wall calendar and tapped it. “See? Friday.”

Since Donald had not yet learned how to read a calendar, he could only accept that as being the truth.

He was beginning to look worried as he asked, “So how come you guys aren’t in school?”

“The Junior High is having teacher conferences,” I lied glibly. “We have the day off.”

“Oh no. What am I gonna do?”

“I guess you’d better get dressed as fast as you can and run over there.  Maybe your teacher will let you into class. Who is your teacher by the way?”

“Mrs. Kettlehut.”

Lewis and I looked at each other and said, “Uh-oh.”

Within minutes Don was dressed and running out the door with the mittens that were clipped to his coat sleeves and his untied shoe-laces fluttering in the breeze. Since Beitel School was only a block away, Lewis and I had about twenty minutes to giggle into our cereal bowls before the front door opened and a downhearted and sniffling Donald entered.

“What happened?” we asked. “Wouldn’t they let you in?”

“The doors were all locked. I went around the building to my classroom and looked in the windows, but nobody was there. So I thought they must have gone to the gym. I put my ear to the gym door and I could hear them singing in there.”

My New (Old) Project

In 1981, my older brother Lewis was killed in a car wreck. He and a friend had loaded their few possessions into a small pickup truck and began the drive to Colorado. They had put a down payment on a house in Colorado Springs and were looking forward to moving in. Another fellow named Jack who was traveling east had come along to help with gas and driving. With three guys sharing driving they decided to go straight through without stopping. In the early morning hours, Jack was at the wheel and he fell asleep. The truck went off the road, flipped over several times and Lewis, not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown out.

The news devastated my mother. She loved all of her sons equally but Lewis had heart and sincerity that touched everyone. Different people process grief in different ways and sometimes it takes a long time. But Mom just couldn’t seem to get past it. A gray depression had settled in. She couldn’t sleep, didn’t feel like eating, and she lost weight. It was not the loss of her son that she questioned; it was why the grief of it wouldn’t lessen. She was always a “there’s got to be a reason for this” type of person and she began to look for explanations. She read “Life after Life,” the classic exploration of long-tunnel-white-light near-death experiences that set forth the proposition that death was not an ending, more of a waystation on a continuing path. That book gave her some comfort.

From there, she burrowed deeper into metaphysical books, looking for answers. Being more a person of science rather than faith, she steered away from the “Crystals and Angels” side of the field and concentrated on the writings of traditionally educated, competent experts who were pulling back the dark curtains of death and existence and taking a look behind. I do not know the source of the information or even the name of the practitioner, but she read of a trained psychologist in San Francisco who was having great success in treating patients by taking them back in time, through hypnosis, to re-experience a past life. Frequently she and the patient would find a traumatic event that is still causing suffering in this present life.

When I asked Mom if she’d read of any examples, this is the story she told me. The patient was a man with crippling acrophobia. His fear of heights was so overpowering that he couldn’t go up more than two or three floors in any building. A glimpse out a window would drop him, shaking, to his knees. The Psychologist took him back to a life in which he was a porter in the Andes. One day he and two other porters had to cross an old, rope and stick bridge that spanned an almost bottomless gorge. With heavyweight packs balanced on their heads and shoulders, the three men started across. They were halfway to the other side when the ropes broke. They dropped to their deaths on the rocks below.  The Psychologist had the man remove himself from the violent emotions of it and describe, calmly, his own death. He told her that the fear of the death that awaited him was so strong that he was dead before he even hit the ground. After these sessions, the man improved remarkably. He still had a healthy respect for heights, but he could go up in high buildings or use low-to-medium sized ladders. The understanding of “why” can be a powerful force for dealing with an abnormal mental reaction.

“Since I can find no reason for this unending pall of sorrow in this life,” Mom reasoned, “perhaps it has its roots in another life.” She called the psychologist’s office in San Francisco and made an appointment.

The psychologist gave Mom some tools to deal with her grief, gave her a taste of past-life regression, then told Mom that a young man who had recently begun practicing in Colorado Springs had been trained by her to guide past-life experiences through hypnosis. Once Mom was back at home she started going to this young man several times a week. With his guidance, she began to piece together a life in which she, in the body of an English merchant, had abandoned and lost a child that would eventually be reborn as her son, Lewis. In reaction to that abandonment, the entity inside her – she refers to it as her “inner mind” – vowed to never lose this child again. The young man guiding her was able to convince the Inner Mind that there was no guilt and that it was not to blame for the loss of Lewis. The dark fog of depression and grief that had surrounded my mother for so long quickly disappeared.

Along the way, Mom had had several intriguing glimpses of other lives and was convinced there were many more waiting to be explored. She had learned so much about herself and this new way of looking at the flow of life that she very much wanted to continue. Not being a wealthy woman, she could not afford to keep paying for the young analyst’s help. In solving this problem, she created a system of self-hypnosis that utilized a simple cassette recorder. Using this system she could put herself into trance and give herself the suggestions that allowed her to spend four or five evenings a week for the next eleven years carefully delving into and examining one past life after another. As she went forward, she remembered to keep detailed notes of each session.

After reconstructing forty or fifty of her past lives and filling up a stack of loose-leaf binders with notes, she decided to write a book. She got out her old IBM Selectric, plugged it in, and began to type. By then (early 90’s) desktop computers with built-in word processors were commonplace, but she was a bit computer-phobic and was convinced that the clickety-clack of typewriter keys was the sound of “real writing.”

She selected about twenty of the most dramatic and interesting of her lives and told the story of each of them as a kind of mystery tale – what clues she originally found, how she began to flesh out the story, how her inner mind, being sensitive and emotional, would sometimes refuse to answer her questions or show her important details, and how she was finally able to discover the truths that explained everything.

Once she was done, she had to retype the entire manuscript. Without a computerized word processor, if you find you have to rewrite a few sentences, juggle a couple of paragraphs, or correct the odd spelling or grammar error, you have to retype the whole damned thing. When she finished that process she sent out copies of the book to agents and publishers. There was some interest, an agent took the manuscript on provisionally, but the reactions were pretty much variations on a theme: “This has some fascinating and interesting stuff, but it needs some reworking from the ground up and we don’t think the audience for this is big enough to justify the expense.” In the end, the manuscript was never picked up.

After some careful self-examination, Mom realized that the purpose of her explorations had always been self-discovery and healing. The desire to publish was, being brutally honest with herself, nothing more than a desire for validation. “Since I am in a whole different place than I was when I started,” she reasoned, “what more validation do I need? I am healthier, happier, and more at peace with myself and the world than I ever was before I started this. I am content.”

And with that, she bundled up her notebooks and manuscripts, put them on a shelf, and never opened them again.

I was the only one of her sons that was really interested in the project. She had been sending me chapters to read as she finished them. I would read them and give her strong encouragement, which she appreciated, and a few suggestions for changes, which she didn’t. After a lifetime of being an artist, she had learned to ignore opinions and advice from well-meaning family and friends. Art is a creative medium that does not lend itself to feedback and editing. It is as pure a reflection of the skills and thoughts of a single artist as anything in existence. My mother viewed her writing the same way.  To lessen the burden of re-typing the whole book, she hired a young woman to do the typing for her. When she realized that her typist was correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar as she went, Mom angrily sacked her and took back the manuscript to finish herself.

Somewhere around 1998, I received a large package from my mother. Inside I found a note that read: “I’m sure I will never find the time or desire to work on this again. I give it all to you, to do with as you see fit.” Along with the note were several boxes containing different versions of her book. I packed the boxes away, telling myself that someday I would go through them to see what might be done Then I would forget about their existence until the next time we moved. So from Venice, California, to Sylmar, California, to Prescott, Arizona, and finally here to Cottonwood, Mom’s book followed us along collecting dust and promises of “someday…”

Last summer someday finally arrived. I had finished my novel  Headfirst*, it was being reviewed by an Editor, and I needed something to do to counterbalance writing these blog stories. After I spent a fruitless afternoon clambering around in the piles of boxes in our storage unit, my wife took a stepladder into a closet in our apartment and pulled Mom’s book off a high shelf.

I worked out a rough plan to get the book ready in an electronic environment that did not exist twenty-five years ago. Phase One would be to scan each page, put it through an Optical Character Recognition program, then paste the result in Microsoft Word and re-do the formatting and spacing. Then on to the next page.  After nearly 300 pages, I now have the first draft. I wouldn’t have thought it would take more than three months, but here we are.

Phase Two will be the heavy rewrite phase. There are a lot of passages that aren’t quite clear, segues to write, and whole chapters that will need a full refurbish. The final chapter – “How To Do It Yourself” – involved using a cassette recorder. To keep things up to date, I will have to show how you can give yourself the necessary instructions using an iPhone, Android phone, or tablet.

When, in a few months, I have a second draft, I will sendcopies out to Beta readers for notes and feedback. (If you are interested inbeing a Beta reader on this project, please send me an email) Then I will gothrough it once again with the proverbial “fine tooth comb.” At the end of thisPhase Three, I will have to start figuring out the best way to take the beastto market.


*Go to the right-hand column and click Boscamp