816 North Opinion

Susan Vollenweider: A visit full of brotherly love



“Hello? Did you butt dial me…again?” I asked. My brother’s face had popped up on my cell screen. I knew who it was, but not why he wasn’t talking. Maybe surrounded by cheering baseball parents wasn’t the quietest place to take a call so I hopped down from the bleachers.


More silence.

I hung up and began to text him back, “Good talk…” but his incoming call-face appeared before I could send it.

“Hello. Again.”

“Did you forget?” he asked.

“Probably. Forget what?”

“That I’m in your kitchen.”

For a lot of people, having a brother standing in their kitchen is a normal occurrence, but not for me. My brother had stood in my kitchen exactly once, 15 years ago. He lives halfway across the country (or we live halfway across the country, he lives on the upper right side.)

It’s a fact of life: kids grow up and move away. When I grew up and moved away, I gained a constant, just-below-the-surface, sad/hollow feeling of missing my born-into family. I love that family and we communicate regularly…we just don’t see each other very much. Our visits are a planned event, not a drop-by, “Hey, got any beer?” thing.

Because we talk so frequently my brother and I maintained a crucial childhood (childish?) relationship quality: Every sentence is an opportunity to give each other a hard time.

“Sure,” I told him, “prove it.”

Then my son started talking. A son I know spends a lot of time in my kitchen. “Mom, Uncle DJ’s here.”

“Uh huh, right. Two words: Conference call. Picture or it didn’t happen.”

My phone chimed with a text:

A picture of my brother and his doppelganger, my son, Luke … in my kitchen.

Insert loud, girly screams of happiness here (another childhood habit that I maintained.)

Why DJ was in my kitchen had to do with an opportunity to add a swath of the middle to a long-term goal of riding his motorcycle in all 48 continental states. I was another spontaneous stop on a week-long leg of his journey, just like the largest golf tee and his adventure in the washing machine-esque elevators in the St. Louis arch.

OK, he loves me. The tourist stops only got a short amount of time and I got a whole 36 hours.

We spent that time cramming in as much visiting as possible. Noah took him fishing, Bekah showed off the library where she works, and he met Luke’s girlfriend. We saw a bit of basketball practice, he met my father in-law for the first time and he oh-so-thoughtfully pointed out all the necessary home repairs that my eye has been trained to avoid.

I know views on coincidences vary, but this visit was curiously timed. My sad/hollow feeling was elevated that week and my entire born-into family was experiencing their own varied degrees of sad. The day before my brother’s surprise visit, a male cousin with four sisters died far too soon.

I was enjoying time with my brother while my dear cousins were planning to bury theirs. This brought a level of guilt — how could I be thrilled at such a sad time?

Then I realized a painful to learn but valuable lesson. I’ve heard it from others and said it myself when our father died last year: love with as much joy as you can, every time that you can because you don’t know when the day will come that you can’t.

And that is exactly what my brother and I did.

Rest in peace, Joey, this is only one small way your life touched others; many more are woven into the lives of all who knew you.

Susan Vollenweider lives in Smithville. To listen to the women’s history podcast that she co-hosts or to read more of her writing visit www.thehistorychicks.com or www.susanvollenweider.com .