It was 11 years ago this month my 'baby' brother sat down and left this earth.
It was such a shock when he died. Last night I woke up thinking about him and his birth.
You see, when he was born, it was into a tumultuous time for our family. The pregnancy had not been an easy one, then my uncle was killed in a car crash, my aunt in a coma from a severe brain injury, 8 children left behind. And my mother had to pick up the pieces.
When Don was born he 'failed to thrive'. So on top of everything else that was going on in her life, mom was faced with an infant who might not make it through the night.
It was 1956 and breast feeding was the norm. But every time he fed, it all came back up again. Mom agonized - was something wrong with her milk? With her? She remembered a cousin who died because of 'bad mother's milk'. No such thing, of course, but no one knew why these things happened.
So all the available alternatives were tried - cow's milk, goat's milk. Eventually baby formula was tried. When it, too, came up, the doctor advised mom that if Don could keep it down for 20 minutes he had enough nutrition for 2 hours.
A schedule of 2 hour feedings with cleaning up after it came up again kept the washing machine chugging. We had a wringer washer and a line outside and mom would get the machine going, the diapers and onesies washed and hung and when I got home from school it was my job to take them all in. During the winter the diapers freeze dried and taking them off the line was an exercise in frozen fingers and a stack of frozen diapers piled high and placed by the wood stove to thaw.
Somewhere mom got a 'Jolly Jumper' and after feeding Don, he would get placed into the jumper which was hung in a doorway central to our little house. Mom didn't have to worry about him choking on his own spit up and he seemed to enjoy the gentle action of the swing on the giant 'bungee' cord.
His survival became an exercise in perseverance and - ultimately - resilience.
He grew up into someone who pretty much rolled with whatever came his way. He was in many ways fearless - but not entirely reckless. Having survived such a risky entrance into life he didn't seem particularly eager to leave by doing dangerous things. But neither did he seem to have much fear. Or, if he did, he did what he wanted to do anyway.
He was fair minded, didn't like bullies, stood up for those who needed support. He loved life, was a keen observer of what was happening around him. Enjoyed the outdoors. Respected others who knew more than he did and wasn't afraid to say he didn't know something when he didn't.
His dream as a child was to become either a fireman or a railroader. When he wanted to leave school at grade 10 because that was all that was needed to get a job with the railway, the entire family came down on him like a load of bricks - he would not be leaving school until he graduated. He accepted that but not exactly with good grace. Since dad was already in the final throes of multiple myeloma, Don didn't fight it too much, knowing dad was thoroughly against him leaving school.
So Don continued with school until he got his diploma.
It took him some months, but he got his job with the railroad. It wasn't the 'best' job due to the travel and being posted to other towns for weeks at a time but again, he persevered. He worked his way up until at last he realized his dream of driving the locomotives.
He was part of the crew that learned how to drive the big GE electric engines that took the coal out of the mines at Tumbler Ridge, and in the end, drove the last engine out again when they were mothballed.
After 27 years with BC Rail, he took retirement and became the park manager for the railway museum. And that was where he died.
When I think about my brother, I remember his steadfast desire to be a better person. We often sat and talked about what that meant. I miss those conversations. He challenged me to be a better person as he sought to be one himself.
No, he wasn't 'perfect'. He didn't pretend to be. He just wanted to be better. He understood that life is a journey, with ups and downs and adventures along the way.
At his memorial, one of his friends called Don a catalyst. I had to agree. Don would come up with an idea, plant the seed, encourage it to grow, celebrate when it happened, expressed appreciation to his friends who helped make it come to fruition.
He was also very supportive of me and my weaving. In many ways we were different, but in many ways we are/were the same. And 11 years on? Yes, I still miss him.
Don, in his happy place, driving The Little Prince steam locomotive