Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's a Crummy Job, But My Sister's-in-Law Agreed To Do It.

I cannot imagine being married to any of my older brothers.  I mean, I lived with these boys when I was a kid and I can tell you they are no picnic.

I know, I know, they are all smart, handsome, talented, charming, funny and accomplished men.  When I was a kid I thought my big brothers were the doppelgangers of  Dick Van Dyke (Jim), Steve McQueen (Tom) and Ryan O'Neal (Don).  They are the life of any party.  They are the expert in any debate.  They are each proficient in the physical world.  They can dance.  They all love babies and Christmas.  Who could ask for more?  Their wives could.

I love these men...don't get me wrong...whatever turbulence has existed over the past 46 years or so in our relationships...the Householder boy's own me and a place in my heart that is entrenched beyond excavation (trust me I have tried to dig them out of my affections many times).  But I know first hand what a handful each of these extraordinary men can be.

Along with those extraordinary attributes come equally strong peccadilloes.  They are all a bit temperamental; sometimes with an emphasis on "temper", occasionally more "mental."  They tease and torment incessantly, which is cute when you see them at at family reunion, but wearing when you live with it daily.  They are experts, so they are always right.  They can be a bit judgemental.  They are obsessive about their various interests.  They each have some control needs.  None of them ever really learned how to express feelings very well.  And, probably because they had such a strong-willed mother, they all can be a just a little bit hard on women.
I am a lot like my brothers ...without the movie-star good looks.   

When I was a kid people would say to me, "It must be so fun to live with (fill in one or more of my brother's names here)."   And I would answer, "oh, yes!"  And I would think, "Are you nuts?"

So, I have watched in wonder as Jim and Tom and Don married and stayed married, each over 30 years to wonderful women who were willing to put up with the sunshine and the shit this trio doles out.  Cherry and Judy and Anne have always fascinated me.  I have admired, loved, emulated and scoffed at them all.

Loving my brothers is a crummy job, I know this first hand, but someone had to do it and Cherry, Judy and Anne stepped up.  My admiration knows no bounds.

Jim lost Judy yesterday. 

Jim and I have not been close over the past 30 years or so.  Every few years we try to reestablish our relationship, but it is always a fragile reconciliation and breaks quickly.  So the emails and phone calls taper off.  Or one of us loses our temper and lashes out (last time it was me) when we get our  feelings hurt.  I would feel guilty as hell about not being in my Jimmy's life, my mother's voice in my ears reminding me that my most important role in life is to "take care of the boys."  But, I have never worried about Jim because he had Judy in his life. 

30 years ago Jim and Judy spent Thanksgiving at our home on the near-north side of Chicago.  They had not been married very long...2 years maybe?  It was the first time I met Jim's second wife in person.  She was cute, petite and quiet.  She was a few years older than Jim, who is 12 years older than me, it felt a bit awkward...Judy was an adult. 

Jim's first wife was a girl I had loved intensely.  I was 9 years old when they got married and she was an adorable, drama-prone, fun-loving blond that treated me like a little sister.  She set my hair and painted my toe-nails and when I was a teenager she shared clothes and the secrets of my crushes and heartbreaks.  We were girlfriends and when she left my brother it was a blow.

So when Jim married Judy so quickly after his divorce I was skeptical that it was a wise move.  And when Jim had business in Chicago and visited us without Judy a couple of times, before that Thanksgiving weekend, I retained my doubts...he was obsessed with her...calling her every 20 minutes and panicking if she didn't answer the phone. (It never occurred to me at the time that of course he would feel this way, his first wife, feeding her appetite for drama, moved out of his home without any warning, took everything in the house... including his  four children, when he was on a business trip and just took him years to find the kids again.)

So, we welcomed Judy into the family and our home that weekend, but I was reserved.  I still missed the first wife, I thought Jim had rushed into this marriage and I was concerned by his obsession.  That late Wednesday afternoon when they arrived at our apartment on Sedgwick Ave. we talked and took a walk through Lincoln Park and played with my 4-year-old son.  Judy was quiet and I was struggling to find any point of shared interest or common experience.

When we returned to the apartment, Kem and Jim built a fire in the fireplace and I took Judy into their room for the weekend and sat on the bed chatting while she unpacked.  She pulled from their suitcase several hangers with a pair of pants, a shirt, a folded sweater or sweatshirt and matching sox pinned to it.  Jim's clothes.  Beautifully laundered.  Perfectly pressed.  Coordinated.  She noticed me staring at them and said, "Your brother Jim is a great looking man and he deserves to look great...but if I leave it to him he dresses like a 9-year-old-boy who got dressed in the dark."

And with that, I fell in love with Judy.

Something about the way she touched his clothes and spoke of him communicated such a depth of love that I was brought to tears.  I realized that a good girlfriend for me was not necessarily a good wife for Jim.  But this woman, this grown up, was taking care of my brother in a way his first wife never thought to do (Jim always did the laundry in his first marriage...even as a teenager I thought it was unfair that he had to travel on business all week and then come home, clean the house on Saturday and spend Sunday doing his and every one else's laundry before leaving on the next business trip).  And I sent a little prayer up to my mother to look down from heaven and see what was happening.  Judy loved Jim.  Judy was taking care of Jim.  It was old fashioned, yes.  But it was endearing beyond words.  Jim is a handful, he needed taking car of!

In the last 24 hours I have read on Jim's Facebook wall  many postings lauding my brother for the care he has given Judy during her long illness.  I am proud of him for being such a good and caring husband.  But he had a great role-model in Judy who took care of him every day of their marriage.  I know for a fact that Jim has basked in the warmth of Judy's style of love and affection.  Making a cozy nest, cooking meals he loved, watching his diet, doing his laundry, dressing him in clean, well pressed clothes and being so proud of him, his talents, his good-looks and even his passionate peccadilloes.

Judy showed her love in old fashioned ways, that's ok, my brother is an old fashioned guy.  With her passes a style of feminine affection that we all should mourn.
  Jim and Judy when they first married.

My heart is breaking for my oldest brother.  The first widow among our siblings.  The first to experience this loss and as always, in the role of oldest brother, to pave the way for the experience ahead of each of us, this time it is the inevitable profound loss that accompanies profound love.

May perpetual light shine upon Judy Householder.