MY BIG BROTHER
This past Friday morning, we got the news that my big brother had passed away overnight, near where he lived, in Alabama. When our big sister broke the news to our nearly 95-year-old mother, the words of comfort I offered her included: “Thank you for giving me as good of a big brother as a guy could ask for and thank you for pointing all your kids to Jesus.” My comfort during this time lies in knowing that that’s where my brother is now … at home in Heaven with Jesus. As a result, more than I would ordinarily, I’ve found myself considering what things are like in Heaven.
Chester Richard (Dick) Wiram is my big brother. Of course, there’s a lot I could tell you about him. If you’d like to know some of his biography, I recommend starting with his obituary, that appeared in our hometown newspaper. What I’d really like to tell you about, though, is a bit about the kind of guy he was and how he impacted my life.
When he passed away, Dick was close to 70 years old. I’m nearing 67 so that means Dick got the first three years of his time here on Earth to himself, without the responsibility of being my big brother. If he was still here with us, I expect that he would refer to that time as “the good old days”.
Isn’t that the way it is with brothers? You can say and do things with each other that you couldn’t get away with if it was anyone else. But, you can do so with your brother because it’s usually done in jest and because of the love you share. Dick was great at that. I told my wife, Ruth; it seemed that Dick had done that by taking our Dad’s wry sense of humor and developing it to a whole new level.
LIKE FATHER … ?
Dick was, especially, great at telling yarns and drawing you into them. No doubt, if he was telling you some tale about having cataract surgery and that, in order to get home afterwards, he ended up having to walk tens of miles through sketchy neighborhoods while he was all but blind, nothing would give him more pleasure than to hear you say something like, “No kidding! Then what happened?” Of course, he would never let his pleasure show. With a poker face, he would just continue to spin the yarn, in order to draw you in deeper and deeper.
I don’t recall hearing much about Dick’s life during “the good old days”. You’ll have to talk to our big sister, Nancy, about that. The one thing I did hear about was how our Dad celebrated when he got news of the birth of his first son. At that time, during WWII, Dad was serving aboard a Navy ship in the South Pacific. The news arrived on the Fourth of July and that gave cause to some drunken celebration by Dad and his shipmates. However, when they sobered up and learned that Dick was actually born on July 3rd, I guess it was a bit of a downer.
FILLING THE VOID
When you grow up in the same four-room house … four-room, not four-bedroom … and you share the same bedroom and most of the time you even share the same bed, it’s best if you learn to enjoy the life you share. We succeeded in doing that and naturally, along the way, we had a significant impact on each other’s lives. By far, the thing I appreciate most about my big brother was his taking on a role he hadn’t asked for and his intentionality to have a positive effect on my life in that role.
Our Dad left our Mom when Dick was six years old and I was only three. In addition to not having our Dad around as a male role model, it seemed that no other adult male ever stepped up to fill that void. So, at the age of six, Dick was left to figure out for himself how to grow up to be a man and thankfully for me, he determined to do his best to set an example for his baby brother. Of course, neither of us turned out to be perfect. But that’s also true of guys whose Dads were a constant in their lives.
Of course, the examples my big brother set for me significantly influenced many areas of my life. To illustrate this, let me talk about how I saw it factoring into my work life. For most of my career, I held Senior-Level Sales and Sales Management roles in Fortune 500-level companies. That means that, much of the time, I was “the boss”. In that capacity, I was pleasantly surprised at how often I’d find myself using some of my brother’s homespun philosophies to address employee concerns. These were references like, “Well, as my brother taught me, that’s why they call it work and not play.” And, in looking back on successes in my career, it’s easy for me to see how they stemmed from qualities my big brother had fostered in me. He set the standards for me in work ethic, determination and genuinely caring for others. Thus, when I point to my career’s greatest successes, along with major sales successes, I proudly count the successful career development of others who looked to me as “the boss”.
Though I deeply appreciate my big brother’s intentionally positive impact on my life, I mostly think of him as a guy who was great to have fun with. Although our three-year age difference meant that, as kids, we were at different stages of development with our interests, we had fun together in countless ways … in our home, in our neighborhood, at church, in school, in Scouts, playing sports, at summer camp, earning spending money mowing lawns, swimming, bike riding, hunting and fishing with Dad, going out to eat, learning to drive, watching TV, going to theaters and drive-in movies and at family get-togethers.
During family gatherings, when old tales were told involving Dick and Gary, it seemed that most often they were tales of havoc that Gary had wrought upon Dick. A classic tale involved Dick planting and tending a pumpkin patch when he was in First or Second Grade. One morning, just before Dick’s pumpkins were ready to harvest, he awoke to find that his preschool baby brother had used a screwdriver to turn every one of the nearly mature pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns. Other stories along these lines included: the sailor hat incident, the ratting Dick out to the neighbors incident, the croquet mallet incident, the newspaper route collection incidents and so on.
The only really well-known tale where roles were reversed was the toy garbage truck incident. As a little boy, I found watching the garbage trucks that made weekly collections along the alleys of our neighborhood to be fascinating. So, our parents bought me a toy garbage truck. In those days, that sort of toy was made of metal and it was brightly painted … probably with lead-based paints. Anyway, it was the first toy that I remember really loving. For some reason, that caused my big brother some sort of consternation so he conspired with another older boy, a neighbor across the street, named Jack Gillespie, to do away with my favorite toy. Some place along the way, I heard that Dick and Jack had buried my garbage truck but I never learned of its whereabouts. It is worth noting, though, that since the garbage truck incident preceded the other incidents mentioned, it did serve as a source of motivation for me in carrying out my dastardly deeds.
The toy garbage truck incident leads me to the point I want to close with. I have a belief about what happens when you arrive in Heaven. I think of it as My Welcoming Committee. You won’t find it in the Bible. But, the Bible doesn’t teach against it either so I go ahead and believe it. My belief is that, when you arrive in Heaven, you’re greeted by a group of people who were instrumental in setting you on the path to salvation. As a reward, they get to take you to introduce you to Jesus. Now that my big brother has joined My Welcoming Committee, I’ve begun to consider other possible reward activities for members of that group. Scripture tells us that each of us will have a mansion in Heaven that Jesus has prepared for us. Who better to show me the way to my mansion than my big brother? And since our mansions are bound to be in the same neighborhood, who better to host a housewarming for me? I’m looking forward to opening the housewarming gift I’m sure he will bring. I just know that, when I take off the wrappings, I’m gonna find a shiny new toy garbage truck.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
The words of Jesus, as recorded in John 14:1-4.