April 6 is my brother's birth date. He would have been 87 today. Time goes so quickly when it comes to dates. I want to say that Jack died four years ago but I think it's more like six because my dog was still alive and he's been gone at least four. I miss them both.
Jack was a misfit, always. Too young for the War (Two), just, he enlisted after his 18th birthday when he finished his Second Year Science exams. He never got overseas but he had enough time in the army that it gave him a summer job (COTC, Canadian Officers in Training, as a teacher) when he became a civilian and a student once more and took up where he left off, in Second Year. By that time I had caught up with him, although he was four years older than I. I was two years ahead of myself and closed the gap from my side. We were the closest friends we ever were for the next two years. He went on to Medicine and I went on to Honours English and French. He taught me more than I ever taught him. He was very smart, much smarter than I, as my mother always told me. He was also much nicer than I, a very kind, thoughtful man. During the latter years of his life I used to go to visit him wherever he was, out west, latterly in Nanaimo in a senior home, where I booked a spare room and stayed for dinner and the night to visit. I watched him preparing for a table-mate at dinner as he carefully folded an abundance of paper napkins for her, to help her mop up her messy attempts at feeding herself. After dinner he gallantly escorted her back to her room before he joined me to chat over coffee.
"Jack," I said, marvelling at his patience, "you are a saint."
"I try to be," he said.
He was not a happy teenager, chafing at the war and his youth. I didn't know any better. He warned me that my so-called smartness was not intelligence, merely the result of a good memory. He said I had to learn to think. So when I arrived at First Year and received my first essay assignment, I knew I had to think about the play (Electra), and not about what critics and academics told me to think about it. I was fifteen; what did I know? Anyway I thought, very hard, all by myself. I got an A-Plus. After that it was all downhill. But you see, Jack had an influence on me.
He was a nerd. In a later decade he would have been a computer genius, or hacker, or something. When colour television came in, my widowed mother gave us each a set. Jack asked that his be a DIY one; that is, he built it himself. But he had no ambition to be a world-beater. He wasn't given a choice. My father, the doctor, wanted my brother to be a doctor like himself and his father before him. l was being aimed that way, too, until a Kuder (preference? aptitude?) Test indicated that my interest in art, music and literature was off the top beyond reckoning, while the science and math preferences (though I got A's in them) were little, niggley marks barely off the bottom edge of the paper. I was allowed to switch from a science course to arts choices. If I had been a boy, I would not have been given that choice.
My brother was a good doctor, and a specialist (urology) but he was never happy. As a young man, he loved to play: the piano, accordion, and card tricks. He became a member of the Magician's Union of America, if that's the official title. His best friend while he was in Med School was the man who ran the morgue, also a magician. Jack loved model trains and anything related to mechanical engineering. After his divorce he left medical practice, in the U.S. by that time, and disappeared for a while. When I found him, he was working as an unskilled machinist in a warm state. I remember thinking if my father knew, he would turn over in his grave. But Jack was happy.
He was a gentle man, with a warm, witty sense of humour. I could go on, but this blog is too long. l'll shorten it later. For now, let it stand. It's a Birthday Memoir.