My Brother Dale

I guess I was ten or twelve, flying through the air in the cramped cockpit of a Cessna 140 - an old tail-dragger about as wide as a couple of shopping carts - shoulder to shoulder with the pilot: my oldest brother, Dale.

The engine roared while the hours passed like the ground below – slowly. We bucked a headwind for five hundred miles, from the Keweenau Peninsula to Detroit, occasionally threading knotholes in the cloud banks, landing to refuel once. During the flight, I watched my brother as he continuously surveyed the instruments, periodically pushing in a knob labeled "carburetor de-ice" that kept working its way out with the vibration, and glancing at the watch that he wore on the inside of his wrist so he didn’t have to take his hand off of the control.

Nine years older than me, Dale was about as cool of a big brother a kid could have. He'd been flying since he was sixteen. Before then, he had a motor scooter and took me riding as soon as I was big enough to hold on. And there were always the pilgrimages north to visit the kinfolk. Over the years, he often took me along for the ride, and if not flying, then in whatever fast car he had at the time – a Thunderbird, a Corvette. Sometimes I'd get to skip school for a week. Back at home, if I was moping, he’d take me to the airport just to watch the planes take off and land.

Later on, he was a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. He used to send home picture slides of beautiful landscapes and people and architecture. You'd never have guessed there was a war going on. He never said much about that but, although he made it back alive, he never really came home again, as the saying goes.

I'd grown up too - got married and started a family. Dale became an air traffic controller but his visits and brotherhood dwindled over the years. We always tried to get him to come over for dinner, holidays, anytime, but he was a loner at heart and left us all behind. Slowly but surely he disappeared from radar. No visits, no calls, no letters, and he made it clear he didn't want any in return.

I saw him only once in the last thirty years; he didn’t even make it to dad’s funeral. I practically had to get a court order just to get him to take his share of a small inheritance - something he said he didn't want or need but finally gave us his signature to resolve the family matter. Never saw him again.

I got word just the other day that Dale had passed away of natural causes, alone in his apartment, early last fall.

Evidently, he’d put my name on a document many years ago and eventually I got a phone call from the manager of a self-storage unit asking me what I wanted to do with my brother’s vintage Porsche. That’s how I found out he had died.

Dale was a moral, ethical, and responsible person. He liked cats, homemade bread, bluegrass music, his BMW road bike and the open highway. He was a guy who gives the proverbial edgy loner a good name. But he died an unknown and was buried by the kindness of strangers using funds he’d left behind.

I'll remember the happy-go-lucky days, maybe dig out some old photographs, call my sister and try to track down my other brother. Meanwhile, I offer this meager eulogy just to let people know how I'll remember him. Rest in peace, big brother.

. . .

1943 - 2009


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