(Dear Kenny: This is the letter I wrote to you on the day I found out you had died. It’s really just a short composition of memories, trying to remember the good in you, rather than the bad.)
I remember stolen chocolate cream pies, eaten behind the barn, sitting on the dirt, breaking off pieces, eating the whole thing between us. I remember you poking that boy at the bus stop in the chest with your finger and saying, ‘If you mess with my sister again, you’re going to have trouble’. I remember Saturday afternoons, TV wrestling at noon, followed by wrestling in the thick grass over the septic tank afterwards to try all the new moves. I remember that first game of doctor, the first time you got me drunk, the first drive-in movie as a teenager, the first time I hit a home-run, and you making up ‘tackle basketball’ so I’d have a chance. I remember so much more than the bad times. I remember all the good times.
I remember making homemade ice cream on the back steps, with both of us grinding until our arms were tired. I remember the day you saved my life from the cottonmouth water moccasin. I remember helping you skin rabbits and squirrels. I remember Tiger, your hunting cat and I remember Pee-Wee, my protector duck. I remember blackbirds and rice, and fried quail. I remember the first time I ate turtle, the first time I ate frog legs, the first time I ate deer meat, and the first time you got me high with ‘shotguns’. I remember you teaching me how to roll a joint and I remember you driving with your knees while you rolled one in the car. I remember you teaching me to shoot a rifle and how to play mumbley-peg. I remember being the little brother you never had.
I remember being with you the first time I was ever in a car that was going over a 100 mph. I remember the mini-bike and the yellow 3-speed with the banana seat and your first Monte Carlo. I remember wearing your ID bracelet because everyone had a boyfriend but me, and you taking it back and telling me that some day the right person would come along and make me their own, that there was no shame in waiting to belong to someone. I remember the disapproval on your face when you found out I wasn’t a virgin anymore. I remember the one-eyed chicken in the rabbit cage and the mean rooster that made me drop the basket of eggs. I remember you being larger than life.
I remember frog gigging from the bridge, Cast-Crete, and boxes of grapes and bags of potatoes. You were the first man (out of two) to tell me I was pretty. I always thought we would grow up, get married and grow old together, smoking pot in our rocking chairs on the porch. I will never forget that you sent Connie to pick me up from jail, or that you had Cindy take me to get my abortion. Gandy Bridge, Tampa Downs, Dale Mabry, Ocala National Forest, Lake Okeechobee, Six-Mile Creek, Lithia Springs, Cocoa Beach, the Shrimpboat, the Back Door, and Niceville are all names I associate with you.
You taught me bad habits but refused to even let me glimpse worse ones. You were the devil and yet you were my saviour. You were the one I was supposed to hide from but you were the one I sought out. You taught me that being scared won’t kill me, that scars will heal, that life goes on, and to ‘stop sniveling’. I remember drum fish the size of grown men with two of them filling the back of the old man’s Dodge. I remember your broken nose and the lump on your forehead that stayed there. Thank you for being a man; I don’t believe you were ever a boy.
Although I don’t remember his name anymore, I remember seeing you cry over that little boy who got hit by the car while riding his bike down by the laundromat, and Bertha the blind lady, and strip poker with Martha Kirkland. You taught me patience and tolerance long before I ever learned them. You taught me that you can accomplish more with quiet reserve and respect than you can with yelling and bullying. I remember the day I drowned, and the day you stood on the back porch with the 22, yelling out “Run, don’t make me come out there!”. I remember your Stoned Again poster, and Mary, Bambi’s sister. Thank you for Charlee’s first bike, and for being a great uncle; she adored you without a doubt. I remember the old lady growing your “African ferns” in the front yard, and that time you showed me how to deal with a crooked cop. I remember your huge ring of telephone and Coke machine keys. I remember the day “no more beatings” began; you were my hero, that’s for sure.
I remember the kitchen air conditioner and you telling the old lady that you were going to use it, “that’s what it’s there for!”. I remember yo-yos in a drawer, and basketballs and soft balls in a box in the closet. The Eagles Greatest Hits. Jefferson Starship. The “color bands” – Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath. Uriah Heep. Thank you for teaching me how to be gallant to a woman, how to be a southern gentleman. Art’s Drive-up Lounge. Slow-Gin and Coke. I remember five pounds of weed inside my box springs for a week.
I remember making recordings with you on the organ or guitar and me on vocals…Blue Suede Shoes (thank you for doing that for Granny; she loved it.), King of the Road, House of The Rising Sun. I remember you playing the trumpet, the bugle, the guitar. And I remember the look on the old lady’s face when she discovered that the amplifier was completely empty! I remember playing your Hot Rod Lincoln album; did you even know? Roger Miller, My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died. Glen Campbell’s Galveston and Gentle On My Mind. I remember the doughnut in the side yard, and the broken window in the back door, and the consequences for each of them.
I remember when you and your friends drove to California in just one week – were you all of 15 or younger? But y’all made it safe and sound. Amazing. I remember that I missed you at Brian’s funeral and I was so surprised that you weren’t there; didn’t you know how much I needed you that day?
I’m sorry you never got this letter and I’m sorry that you got the letter I did send. I should have understood that we were both under fire, and that you protected me as much as you could. I give you credit for keeping me alive, for feeding me, for answering every phone call, no matter what. I love you, brother; you were more of a brother than blood could of made us and more of a man than most men I know.