Three days before his birthday my brother phoned me.
“I’m not calling to remind you of my big day,” he said. “I’m just calling to, uh, check in.”
“No,” I said. “You called to remind me of something. And I’m glad you did because I have no clue what it might be.”
He belly-laughed about that. He loves it when I tease him.
“Sister,” he said, “you always remember my birthday. I’m not one bit worried you’ll forget.”
That was a polite lie, the kind Southerners (and others who were “raised right”) employ to avoid being rude. Lying is bad, but rude is flat-out tacky.
My brother thinks he’s the only one in our family who never forgets a birthday.
Actually, he is. Joe was born blind with cerebral palsy. He can barely walk, but don’t tell him I said so. He has trouble at times with some basic concepts (such as a three-hour difference in our time zones and why I’d prefer he not phone me at 5 a.m.) But in many ways, he is head-scratchingly smart with a memory like a steel trap.
He never forgets a birthday. Especially his own. And he tries to make sure no one else forgets it either. Especially me.
“I didn’t forget your birthday,” I said. “I’m in California, wrasslin’ my grandbabes. I’ll fly home to Vegas tonight and mail your card tomorrow. But I’m sorry, it’s going to be late.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “I’ll be glad to get it when it gets here. How are all your young ‘uns?”
Joe was married 10 years to the love of his life. She, too, was blind. He led the way wherever they went, tapping with his cane, and she’d follow, holding his hand and smiling.
He lost her 12 years ago to cancer. Now he walks alone, pushing a walker, pausing at times to reach behind him as if hoping to find her still there.
Having never had children of his own, he loves hearing about mine. So I filled him in on all the latest. Finally, I said, “And how are you doing, darlin’?”
“I’m hangin’ in there, Sister, doing pretty good for an old man,” he said with a chuckle.
Then he told me a bit – only a bit, as he hates to complain – about the pain in his foot from the metal braces he wears. The ache in his heart for all the loved ones he has lost. The length of his days with so little to do and so much time on his hands.
“I’m still hoping to get a job,” he said. “I feel like I’ve still got something to offer. And I need something to keep me busy. The days get kinda long ...”
He applied to an organization that hires the handicapped, he said, but hasn’t heard back.
“They said they’ll call me soon and I’m sure they will.”
Some of us expect life to be easy, to have things handed to us, as my mother put it, on a silver platter. Then we get what we want and it’s never enough.
Joe asks for precious little and appreciates every gift, big or small, whether it’s 10 years with the love of his life or a late birthday card from his sister.
I like that about him. It makes up for his stubbornness and habit of calling me at 5 a.m.
“Joe,” I said, “if you keep having birthdays, you’ll get old.”
That joke is not as funny as it was when we were kids, when growing old seemed as likely as the odds of sprouting horns.
But Joe laughed anyhow.
“I promise I will call you on your big day,” I said.
“I know you will, Sister.”
Sometimes it’s hard to stay hopeful. There are days when I feel like hiding under the porch with the dogs. I don’t have a porch to hide under. Or dogs to hide with. I’m just saying it’s a feeling. Maybe you’ve felt it, too.
The feeling never lasts for long. It makes me think of my brother and count my blessings. Then I go looking for hope.
I look for it the way I look for my cell phone, certain it has to be someplace. I’m never sure where or when I’ll find it. But I know this: If a blind man can find hope in the dark, the least I can do is keep looking for it.
Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077 or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.