Our son didn’t have a brother. Well, not a biological brother, anyway. But in a key growing-up period, until he was 10 or so — inquisitive, want-to-know-everything, do-everything years — he was blessed to have a surrogate big brother, who welcomed him into his world and shared his wide-ranging, eclectic interests.
Whether it was lying in front of the TV, engrossed in a Star Trek episode, or listening to the Beatles or Elton John or Chicago or other rock groups at full volume on the stereo, playing chess, or exploring the small Mayberry town where I was editor of the weekly newspaper, they were best of buds.
When we moved to Winona, Miss., to begin careers, I at the newspaper and my wife as an English teacher at the high school, the newspaper office manager, Frances Weed, and our young son immediately bonded. If you looked in the dictionary for “sweet,” “kind,” “caring,” you’d find Frannie listed for all. She loved Steve. Steve loved her. Ralph, her husband, who had a small farm and was co-owner of a garage where half the town went for auto repairs, was laid back before the term ever entered the lexicon — nothing fazed him; I never once saw him angry or out of sorts. He took Steve riding with him on the safety features-less tractor out at the farm (OSHA would’ve been horrified), and let him sit in his lap and “drive” his restored A-Model Ford (which Ralph, on a lark, drove to Mexico and back, with nary a hiccup). Steve ate with them (scarfed down Frannie’s PB&J sandwiches), spent many a night with them, loved them dearly.
Ralph and Frannie had two sons, Warren, the eldest, and Duane, a few years older than Steve. It was Duane — so intelligent, so inquisitive, so interested in everything sci-fi, early-day digital stuff, music — who welcomed Steve into his world of exploration, adventure, and intense love of learning. In our 10 years there, Duane was as much a brother as if they’d been born brothers.
And then we moved away: new jobs, new schools, new world. We stayed in touch, visited now and then, but as happens with moves and new lives in new places, the Mayberry years grew distant. Warren married Claire, our used-to-be across-the-street neighbor kid and Steve’s babysitter. Ralph and Frannie died, much too soon. Duane went to St. Louis, became a doctor of chiropractic, married, became a father, established a practice, was on the faculty of his alma mater, ran a thriving health foods/nutrition business, was respected and loved.
Lives diverge, distances widen, the years fly. There were Christmas cards, a few-and-far-between reacquaintings at weddings/funerals.
Then came news that Duane was ill. Cancer. Which got progressively worse. Steve and Warren recently drove to St. Louis and had a good day’s visit with Duane. Much laughter. Much reminiscing. It was, they knew, goodbye. Duane died Sunday, Nov. 26.
And another cherished piece of our Mayberry years is gone…