January 16th, 2011
When Lisa and I got married, my older brother Bruce built us a wedding present. It had an open storage shelf, a 2-door cabinet we use for cookbooks and at the bottom, a two-tier wine rack. Since the handsome, but quirky, piece of furniture had so many functions, it has become known simply as ‘Bruce’s Thing’.
Bruce’s Thing is strategically located in the hallway by our back door where it has served as a transition spot for mail, scarfs, sunglasses and ‘stuff’ associated with the comings and goings of my family for years. On the side, a row of key hooks is where we are supposed to hang the car keys of whatever happens to be in the driveway.
Can’t find something in our house? Check Bruce’s Thing and there’s a good chance it will surface.
As a young man, the eldest of my siblings was a handsome dude, kind of a cross between Elvis Presley and James Dean. Even Bruce’s middle name, Sterling, was much more sophisticated than the Wayne I was stuck with.
Being almost four years older than twin Larry and me, Bruce was like a demi-god to us. He always knew who the bad guys were in the TV shows on our black and white television. If the local bullies zeroed in on Larry or me, the mere mention of his name quickly diffused the situation and sent them packing.
My earliest recollection of wheeled transport involves Bruce. He taught me to drive a two-wheeled bicycle and the first time he pushed the balloon-tired monstrosity and sent me solo down the hill in front of our house, I sailed down the street, forgot how to work the brakes, and piled into a wooded lot.
“Let’s do it again,” Bruce advised, “now that you know how to crash!”
Bruce’s first car was a 1953 Ford Mainline sedan with a flathead V-8 that he painted flat black with one of dad’s paint brushes. A little sign on the rear fenders read ‘Scum Wagon’. It might as well have been a Ferrari to this 13-year-old and when I painted fake mag wheels on it while he was sleeping in one morning, all he said was “You really should ask someone before you paint their car.”.
There were plenty of outings to the beach and the local drag strip in the Scum Wagon. When he couldn’t afford brake fluid because of a leaky brake reservoir, he used a quart of milk. When the engine was running hot, no problem, he just took the hood off and put it in the ditch outside town then picked it up on the way back.
Bruce was a bit of a scrounger, ‘borrowing’ Dad’s car for late night excursions from time to time. One Sunday morning, when I was allowed to back Dad’s ’61 Mercury out of the garage, I asked Bruce where he went last night. I noticed gravel marks on the tires that weren’t there when I had put it away the night before. Bruce was grounded for a while and it took me years to convince him I didn’t intentionally rat on him for his late night venture to lover’s lane with his future wife, Sharron Loat.
Once he borrowed Dad’s 1963 Mercury Custom Monterey to take us to the drag races. Just before the bay booth at the entrance, Larry and I got into the trunk, a sage financial maneuver. I can still hear the growl from the 390’s dual exhaust from inside the trunk as he got shut down by a 409 ’64 Pontiac Parisienne on the way down the apron to the parking area.
Bruce bought a new 1968 Plymouth Road Runner (beep beep) and installed a set of Englewood street slicks and noisy dual flow-through exhaust. You always knew when Bruce was coming or going, much to the chagrin of my parents and the glee of his younger brothers. Eventually, the Road Runner was allegedly torched by an irate neighbour who was awoken every morning at 6:00 a.m. by the sound of Bruce winding out the 383 Super Commando V-8 on his way to work.
Yes, Bruce was the big brother any kid would want. Fun, full of mischief and a protector from the local thugs, he taught me plenty about cars and lots about life.
Bruce enjoyed a career as an air traffic controller and as the years went on, car talk was a big part of our get-togethers. Upon retirement, he took up woodworking and built all kinds of things including the oak bookshelves in my office and the table on which I write many of my columns.
Sadly, my big brother passed away four years ago, leaving an enormous hole in the lives of his family and many friends.
But in many ways his influence is still with me and I think of him every single day when looking for car keys, my cell phone or that errant glove that inevitably turns up on, or in, Bruce’s Thing.
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