Danny and Me

Danny always supported me
Danny always supported me
He was there the day I was brought home from the hospital, almost 21 months my senior. Danny, as the story goes, heard the grown-ups talking about me as they oohed and aahed over my crib. Then somebody said, “Oh, he looks thirsty!”Little toddler Danny ran to the bathroom, pulled his little bench up to the sink and poured water into his little drinking cup. Sloshing as he ran back to my crib he lifted the cup up for his thirsty little brother. And that’s how we met. And that’s pretty much how we grew up, Danny, my big brother, looking out for me, Paul, his little brother.We were for many years, playmates, confidants, and alternating best friends or worst enemies. My mumbling, soft spoken speech could be unintelligible to others but Dan would translate for me. He would tell not only our parents but others what I was trying to say and I depended on him to speak up for me.Mom and Dad told Danny that he was the oldest and they expected him to look out for his younger brothers and sister. And Danny took the instructions to heart.
Growing apart but brothers forever.
Growing apart but brothers forever.
We seemed to be always together. We were the ‘older kids’. Timmy and Anna were just ‘the kids’. And Danny was in charge when our parents weren’t there, sometimes much to my chagrin.Our family moved several times before I was 13 and Danny and I met the new towns, new kids and new schools together. We were opposite in many ways, Danny being the outgoing, jovial one with a magnetic personality and natural leadership qualities.I was quiet, bashful, and almost always withdrawn in front of new people or in new situations. But if I was with Danny, I was okay. I let him step out and be the center of attention and he let me fade into the background. And though we were different in so many ways Danny accepted me just like I was and did his best to help me out.In new churches we were almost always in the same class and Danny would tell the teacher both our names and then easily answer questions while I sat quietly next to him. In a new school, I would walk in behind Danny, walking behind Mom, feeling comfortable as long as I knew where Danny was.In our early grade school days Danny and I were allowed to walk to a little neighborhood grocery store, as long as we stayed together. We would buy bubble gum or candy sometimes. Danny would do all the talking to the friendly man behind the counter.One afternoon we both had a dime to spend. Off we went to the little store where after much deliberation and discussion we decided to each by a kite. We proudly walked home, Danny with a red kite and me with a yellow one. We spent the afternoon unrolling the paper and stringing the kites together but our fun turned to frustration when we realized that we had no string.The first time I went roller skating my Dad helped me put on the skates while Danny hurriedly laced up his own and then gleefully skated around the rink smiling at people he didn’t even know. My Dad was in a hurry for me to get out on the rink to enjoy skating too, but I was too timid and worried about falling in front of all the strangers. He patiently coaxed me but I stubbornly shook my head no and sat still, watching Danny skate.Pretty soon I saw Danny fall. I studied him as he got up on one foot and then the other. He laughed when one of the other skaters said something to him. If Danny could do it, I decided, so could I. And I pulled myself out on the rink. Pretty soon I was rolling along with the rest of the kids, confident because my big brother had shown me the way.When our family moved to a new town later on Danny and I were in the same Sunday school class at first. But when school was about to start a new Sunday School class just for 9th graders was created. Danny told me that although they talked about having me in with them but they decided they should be on their own. “Sorry,” he said. And he went to his new class while they put me in with the 7th graders. There were no other 8th graders like me.As I sat alone my younger brother sat behind me with his friends. The teacher, used to Danny, would ask me questions and my opinions and seemed genuinely puzzled when I had no answers. Danny and I attended summer school together during our high school years, often in the same class. One summer we were in a German language class. Dan excelled and got along even with the teacher as I daydreamed my way through the warm mornings. Our final assignment was to write a paragraph in German and I remember Danny explaining to the teacher what he was sure I meant to write with my unmatched verbs and improper nouns. With his help I passed the class.Another year it was Illinois State History. We went on a field trip for the class to the state capitol in Springfield to listen to the state legislature in session. A large group of students went to a cafe for lunch and Danny invited two young girls to sit at our table. The whole conversation revolved around Danny trying to convince them that we were brothers as I sat shyly trying to swallow my food while the two girls scrutinized my every word and move, comparing me to Danny. “No,” they finally agreed, “You can’t be brothers!”Danny took me with him a few times as we got older to things he was involved with. One night we went to a high school talent contest. I sat with him and we watched kids play their musical instruments and sing and dance and some of them even told jokes. It was fun and I enjoyed being there but I knew I wouldn’t have dared go alone. But Dan was not only relaxed and full of confidence he knew some of the kids performing and complimented them.317427_2499743408214_1257635224_nIn the summers we went to the swimming pool of course. We would stand in the water as young teenagers and watch the teenage girls. Danny would ask me what I thought he should say to them. I would suggest talking about their families or about what school they went to. Pretty soon Danny would climb out of the pool, and walk right up to a group of sun tanning girls and start a conversation. All I could do was hang back and watch with admiration as he tried to be impressive. I knew he was scared and insecure by the way he stood on one foot and rubbed one hand up and down his arm. And yet he still went and talked to them.In high school our differences began to become more pronounced. Danny was on the honor roll and was elected to the student council. He took Latin and French and Physics and loved learning for the sake of learning. He was anxious to go on to college. I on the other hand, continued to daydream and ignore things like higher math, ancient languages and preparing for my future. Sometimes I would have a teacher that had Danny in a class before me. And they often gave me a puzzled look when I failed to excel.Danny bought a guitar and learned to play it. Sometimes he let me play it. I would ask him to teach me chords and what he knew but he didn’t always have the patience to watch my stiff fingers fumble along. He had a big song book with most of the Beatles songs in it. He knew I liked the Beatles and one afternoon he showed me his big Beatle’s songbook with diagrams of guitar chords. “Here, Paul. You can have this.”His generosity took me by surprise; usually he didn’t want me to even touch this book. But he just smiled and said, “you’re welcome.”Danny moved out to go to college. I moved out a couple years later and our lives went in different directions. I would often write him letters with jokes and Danny would always respond positively. We were busy with our lives but we still connected with a mutual admiration for each other, despite knowing each other’s differences and faults and convictions.And whenever I would think of a joke or write a song or play music in front of others it was always easier for me to think of Danny listening. I knew I was off when I could see his imaginary face frown and I knew I was okay if I could see him nod and smile. Even now, in my any of my creative endeavors or even if I just post a one liner on Facebook or Twitter in the back of my mind my audience is Danny. When I got the news of Danny’s death I was prepared for it knowing that he’d been so ill but I’m just beginning to feel the loss of our lifelong friendship. The hurt in my heart will go very, very deep.In many ways his life has been more exemplary than mine. His love for people, his acceptance and outreach to others, and his faithfulness to his family and his commitments have always challenged me in my own life. He was a good man. And I will miss him terribly.

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