The Poisoned Ink Well

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

The Day before Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day, and The Day After Thanksgiving 1970 for my brother Alan

The last time I saw my favorite brother alive was 32 years ago today. He was 17 and it was the day before Thanksgiving 1970. I was playing in the front yard with my best friend, Renea. He came riding up on a borrowed motorcycle. He was wearing a blue jean jacket that afternoon and he had soft red brown hair that fell in loose curls around his shoulders. He was 5’9, with a slender build and he had lovely hazel eyes and they looked so blue to me that day as the leaves fell from the hickory nut and oak trees in my parents front yard.

We wanted him to take us for a ride, but he said, he was too busy, and he promised to return. I didn’t know if he would or not, I didn’t get to see him very often in those years. He’d spent the previous summer attending Rock Festivals in Atlanta and other places and was always headed out on the road for another adventure.

He didn’t show up on Thanksgiving morning and we went to my Aunt’s house and our Thanksgiving was like most other families, with a few drunks, many different kinds of pies, and lots of turkey and all of us children playing the instant games of cousin friends. We ate and played hide and seek until the sun set and our weary parents, firmly planted us in different cars to return to our homes with the food, covered in tin foil plates, and the smell of pumpkin spice, intermingled with the new plastic scent of our mother’s sedans.

My father put the meal away in the freezer and made sure that he fixed my brother and his friend’s each a plate of food for whenever they wanted to eat it. I hoped so badly to see him again, I was eager for a chance to be his special girlfriend and ride on the back of his bike clutching his waist as we breezed through the streets of Baton Rouge.

The next day my parents awoke early and my dad had the day off and he and my mother started painting a spare room and doing the things that people do over long holiday weekends in the suburbs. I played with my dolls and listened to Credence Clearwater on the AM radio in my bedroom. The phone rang and it was the hospital and everyone started running. I was left at my friend Renea's house and we wondered if he’d still take us for a ride once he got back from the hospital with stitches or a cast or if the motorcycle was still running. There was no thought of death in our Barbie doll lives with plastic babies and bubbles and playing beauty shop.

The phone call came and my parents picked me up from my friend Renea's and brought me to our house. I was sleeping in my bedroom and I heard my father crying and I walked into the kitchen and he was standing over one of those tin foil plates that he’d put away for my brother. His tears were falling on the frozen turkey and the stuffing was becoming damp. My father had a bewildered look on his face when he turned and saw me standing there.

He looked at me and he said in a quiet voice while shaking the tears from his eyes (it was the first time that I’d ever seen him cry) “he’ll never get to eat it now,” as he sobbed and dropped the plate on the floor and crumpled down besides the freezer and I walked over and he rocked me and held me in his arms, kissing me, and running his fingers through my long hair while hugging my head.