I saw this thing on t.v. the other day about describing people closest to you in three words. A daunting task for anyone, right? How do you do such a thing at a memorial? When clearly we are so much more than just three words. So much more.
Excess. Inappropriate. External. That’s not Steve. No one would ever use those words to describe him. He was the opposite of excess, inappropriate and external.
Rather, temperance, appropriate and internal. That was my brother. But he was so much more. So much.
In between my brother’s passing and the final viewing with Ilona a week ago Wednesday, the 25th, (my brother-in-law John’s birthday whom we lost 6 years ago) and today I was sitting around contemplating life. My life. Steve’s life. John’s life. My Dad’s life. Life in general. We do this – I think – when those we are closest to pass. We think. About our lives. The life of those who have passed. We don’t understand how people are taken out of our lives. A healthy, robust spirit one day, a “presence” then, gone. And when I started thinking about this man I called my brother memories of an entire lifetime cane to mind.
Before the Navy. After the Navy. As young children together and as adults, if you can call any of us that, truly. I believe we all stay children that are buried deep within us and some of us fake being an adult pretty good. Others like me, not so much. If I had to describe, my brother’s life using three other words I have three times three:
rock solid person,
the immovable object and
really good listener.
When I was attending college at Northeastern I purchased a textbook for one of my classes called, “Listening Behavior.” That book came to mind when I started thinking about Steve during this past week.
For as much as my personality might be called inappropriate, quirky, goofy and talkative, Steve’s life was comprised of so much more than a simple story can relate or three words can say. But one of the things my brother did and did really well and truly had the patience for was, “listening.”
Let me explain.
When Steve was fourteen, perhaps fifteen he bought his first “listening” device. A citizen’s band radio. 1972? 1973, maybe? Those things were all the rage at the time. Those of us old enough to remember know the movies and television shows that showed people using CBs. And he began listening. Listening for intelligent life on radio channels or frequencies. When he got his user’s license, he’d sign off or make his bold statement identifying himself on to the frequency by using his CB license serial number: KBRV8283. I can hear him saying it right now. Funny the things you memorize in life and know backward and forwards with little or no effort. But honestly, I heard Steve say that number a million times into the CB. Needless to say, he took it seriously.
Later, I remember the 1980 or 1981 silver Camaro he had, after his four years in the Navy he set the dash / console up with not only a really nice stereo but the ability to hook up his CB. I thought he might give up his hobby after he came home. But he didn’t. The second thing he did after installing the stereo. Driving and listening. Sometimes communicating. He got through a few speed traps listening to his CB on our trips up north.
I remember when Steve, Anna and I were growing up we had this console radio, record player thing that had a million bandwidths on it. AM, FM, short wave. Steve was the only one to truly explore what this thing could do. Inquisitive. Curious about this thing we had. When Steve sat in front of this piece of furniture – because that’s what this thing was, a piece of furniture – he’d tune in all sorts of things: radio-free Europe, A station that broadcast Greenwich Mean Time or – as he taught me – later, became coordinated universal time. I don’t know what time is called nowadays, I just get a sense of its shortness now. Especially now, in the two weeks since we lost Steve. Some of this stuff the entire family sat around and listened to. I think he even tuned in some Hungarian things on short wave radio occasionally too.
The man was gifted with patience many people could never have. Talking “skip” for example on his CB – upstairs in our attic bedroom that we shared in our family home on Barry Street in Chicago. This was after the Navy. He purchased a large antenna and set it up in the backyard. He bought something he called a, “linear” for his his CB radio and of course – up in the attic – his map on the wall with pinpoints stuck into it and a huge plastic-coated postcard holder with all sorts of confirmation cards that he received from all over the world from people whom he was able to contact, talking skip.
Google defines talking “skip” this way:
In radiocommunication, skywave or skip refers to the propagation of radio waves reflected or refracted back toward Earth from the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere. … line-of-sight propagation, in which radio waves travel in a straight line, the dominant mode at higher frequencies.
Who even thinks about the “ionosphere”? Steve did.
I mean how complicated does all that sound? Short wave radio, skip, and more recently HAM radio, too. It makes sense. Radarman in the Navy.
Steve’s had a knack for learning to things really really well. That, like listening, is a talent unto itself. Boundless. His attention to detail for each interest, limitless.
Who has the time to write everything down who you talked to, the time, the geographical location and then after all that, to send that individual a postcard confirmation. Just getting someone else, someplace else to agree to an appointment nowadays is no small miracle. Let alone on a CB radio in 1982. If you can’t walk in to a place and get immediate service nowadays, people usually throw their hands up, walk out and go to another place that will provide the same service.
Steve sat in the attic waiting for transmission like a scientist listening for intelligent life in the universe. Or like a fisherman waiting on the tip of his rod to twitch. And then he would respond. “CQ, CQ, CQDX” and make a connection with someone from Quito, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Chile or some other faraway place that his signal would reach or whose ever signal reached him. He knew when conditions and which nights were conducive to reaching these faraway places on his CB. It was crazy to think about all the things involved in some of Steve’s hobbies. Made my head swim.
Patience. All this took patience.
He amassed a gargantuan music collection – which makes it very difficult to say what Steve’s favorite music was. At a certain point he began streaming music on the Internet and went so far as to create something akin to a pirate radio station complete with these audio “in-betweens” snippets called stingers, bumpers and music beds. Moon Light Radio I think he called it.
So he was a, “listener.” Listened to the CB, the short wave radio, listened to music. Steve would have been lost without this sense. And for as much as he was an “internal” kind of guy, he did listen. And he heard. But did he always respond? Not always. But you knew he heard.
All you needed to see sometimes were his expressions after you said something and you knew he heard what you had said. He may not have always spoke. But he heard. Because he listened.
I hope he’s listening now, too. In the ionosphere. There was no greater ongoing, influence in my life than my older brother, Steve. None. Sometimes all I really needed to know was he was there and out there in the world. Other times, I craved his presence. These are some of the things I wanted everyone to know about my brother. Avid fisherman, too.
One of the things we shared was our love for science fiction and this might be magical thinking on my part but I’d like to think he finally made it to the ionosphere. I know he left
us too soon.
Finally, the last thing we shared was our sense of humor. We laughed at the same things a lot of times. Let me just tell you about Steve and me being “brothers.”
In 2000, when we received a new priest at St. Stephen King of Hungary Church in Chicago, I was 5 years deep into helping to create the weekly church bulletin at that point and the new priest taught me how his group of seminarians greeted each other in seminary.
His name was Laszlo and he showed me this way: he grabbed you by the arms in one of those almost half hugs and clunked your head once on the right and once on the left with his own. It’s not kissing, it’s not a full-body hug and I thought it was cool. So I mentioned this to Steve who, you know, was a guy’s guy, a man’s man and I always felt a little recoil every time I went in for the hug – because it’s not something guys do. So I showed him and explained the “priest / hello / goodbye thing” and that became OUR thing. After describing it to Steve, the way I just did, he said, “You mean like this?” And gave me such a head-butt! I’d give anything to get one of those again from you, Steve. In Hungarian – the sound is described is: “kopant, or kopantas.”
That was my brother. And so much more.
Three words to end on?
Brothers are forever.
Word count: 1654. Post # 1263
(Photo Credit, urn, Cynthia Ann Konsangobsakul)