July 29, 2018
Dear Katy, Jimmy, Abby, Emily, & Max,
You guys have been on my list from day one. I’ve struggled with how to frame this in light of all you have been through over the past six months with Emily. The weight of my struggles are goose-down compared to the decisions you, as a family, have been faced with this year. On an Alaska Airlines flight, somewhere between Dallas and Seattle, two glasses of wine into my free first-class upgrade, I guess now is as good a time as any to suck it up and write.
I don’t know if I’ve been doing the brother/uncle thing right. I wonder if I’ve called enough, asked enough prying questions, helped enough, or stayed far enough out of the way (though I usually err on that side.) I know I haven’t prayed enough. What you’ve been through makes me wonder if the angels have taken to making shine and got God so hooked on the bottle that she’s not checking her email anymore. If an archangel can become Satan, anything is possible. But the point of my project is to focus on gratitude, not bitterness or hard knocks. I’ll do my best.
There aren’t enough pine trees in East Texas to make enough paper to hold all of the reasons I’m thankful for growing up with you for a little sister. Sure, there were some odd periods, like when you locked yourself in your room so you could do 500 sit-ups a day and made yourself unavailable to aggravate. And being roommates a year at UT Tyler before you flew off to USAFA had its moments. But there is no better way for a guy to grow up than with a beautiful, smart, competitive younger sister to keep him humble . . . and on his toes, should he need to beat the snot out of a jerk.
In hindsight, the only things I was ever better at than you were gaining weight and the ACT. My claim to fame was taking just one shot at that standardized test and getting a 29 . . . was it three times you took it? For a 28? I still feel victorious when I think about that, because it’s really all I got. You were the valedictorian of your class and, having ranked 8th in mine, I don’t have much room to tease.
So many memories I wouldn’t trade for millions have you right there with me. From the silly games we came up with like “Billy Joe,” “Rit-Rat,” and “beep-beep-boop-boop,” to the Monkey Club. We dubbed that giant oak tree in the neighbor’s yard the Monkey Bush and climbed to heights unimaginable. That one branch about 10 feet off the ground we’d hang and drop from was the “fire escape.” Four limbs about halfway to the moon were positioned perfectly so that we could set our butts on one, and get lumbar support from another while facing each other. We sat on the “chair” and the “couch” and fearlessly dangled our feet in space.
It was at least four stories up that an offshoot of the trunk split into several smaller rounds that reached even higher. We stood in the crook as the treetop swayed back and forth in the wind. That perch was like the crow’s nest in an old wooden ship, but we called it the “roller coaster” for the wild rides it offered.
We had to get creative or go crazy in a town of barely 100 with few kids our age to play with. There was “hide and sneak” [whoever was “it” only had to see another player before they stealthily made it back to home base.] We had our own version of Plinko, where one would throw an assortment of sporting goods, from nerf footballs to soccer balls and badminton birdies, into the top of “the beanstalk” (a giant magnolia tree in the front yard.) The other stood on the ground engulfed in foliage to see if we could catch the items as they ricocheted down through the branches. There were points to be scored for a catch or for getting an item stuck in the tree.
Thank you for the memories, but you are more to me than those. You are flesh and blood. I can thank God for that. I want you to know my shoulder will always be safe place for you to cry if-needed. I’m looking forward to meeting Emily, sharing some laughs, and catching up with the rest of the family soon.