I have been blessed with only one brother and no sisters. John, my brother, is six years older than I. On January 14, 2013, he will be 93. Rachel and I plan to be in Florida for that celebration.
After his 92nd birthday John unexpectedly focused on writing his own book, and he has written it, all 140 pages of it. He entitled it, “Me, the Musings of a Dirty Old Man” by John Lehman.
Obviously, John and I live different lives and have different interests. In his book he explains the difference by saying that the doctor spanked the Mennonite out of him and spanked the Mennonite into me. I told him that I liked better the explanation he gave to our friends who gathered for the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Rhoda and me. Rachel had asked her uncle to be the emcee.
As emcee John said that he will never have a 50th wedding anniversary. Why? he asked rhetorically. He answered his question by saying that the difference came from the fact that he and I had made different choices. When I reminded him of that event he agreed, the difference was in our choices. He said he had made the bad choices and I had made the good ones. No, I said, I don’t think it is that simple. He had made some good choices; I had made some bad choices.
Six years is a lot of difference in years when two brothers are young. I asked him once what he remembered of my birthday. He said that he remembered being in the cellar of the house with our Aunt Lizzie when my mother was giving birth to me in our parents second floor bedroom.
John was in the seventh grade when I went to the first grade in elementary school. We had to walk about 1/2 mile to meet the school bus. Part of it was up hill. I remember a morning that he dragged me up the hill through the snow. I was told that when someone in broken Pennsylvania Dutch asked me “whose bublich bis du?” that John responded in my defense, “He ain’t no bublich and he ain’t no bis du either.” He still thinks of me as his kid brother.
We were not close as brothers. So when Rhoda and I went to Florida and John began working in the New England states there was still greater separation. Our parent’s aging began to bring us closer together. They lived at Menno Haven, Chambersburg, Pa., in a cottage for independent living. When they moved from the cottage to receive more care, John and I and our wives spent a day together going through what Father and Mother had left behind. That day meant much to us. We talked as we had never talked before. We learned that we had grown up in different homes with different parents. Our memories were different.
Our memories are still different. I could not write the book my brother wrote, nor could he write a book for me. After I read his book I told him he got some things right. Of course, he got everything right as he remembers it. And of course, he remembers some things that he hasn’t put in his book. One thing we agree on: we had wonderful parents who gave us their best.
John loved and respected our parents and they loved and respected him. John and I love and respect each other. If you wonder why parents and two brothers so different can respect each other, I will tell you this story as I remember hearing it from my father. I don’t know how John remembers it.
There was a time when John was not coming to visit his parents as often as they wished he would. They thought there must be a reason. So Father called John to invite him to come home. As I heard it, Father told John, if you are smoking and don’t want to offend us, we want you to know we want you to come home, you can smoke at home. Then he turned to another matter. John and his wife had divorced, and our parents knew that John was making other friends. Father told John, “Any friend of yours is our friend. Bring your friends with you.” It was in this spirit that our parents received John and his friends and the women he married. Parents such as these influenced John and me greatly.
John, Rhoda and I became closer when he and Sally retired in Florida. Still, I don’t think he has ever heard me preach nor have I heard him give a sales pitch. Yet, when his son’s wife passed away, and I happened to be in Florida at the time he asked me to have a private memorial service in his home, just for the family. It was John’s wife Sally, his daughter Ruth and his bereaved son, John Dennis, and me. John signaled to me when it was time for me to take charge. (Rhoda was in the Goshen hospital.)
I began by saying, that generally there is a time to reminisce, so let’s share memories of Mary. After this I said, usually a scripture is read, and I thought we could say together the twenty third Psalm since that was grandmother Lehman’s favorite scripture. So we recited this familiar scripture together. Next, I said, we usually sing a song, but I have asked and there is no song book in the house. But I had thought of a song we might be able to sing from memory. (which one I can’t recall as I write). Ruth quickly found the song on her smart phone sung by a Gaither group. We all knew the song and could sing along except for Sally who has been a devout Catholic all her life, and confessed that she didn’t know it from her tradition.
Now I said, it is time for prayer. I will pray, but I will wait a while to give everyone here a chance to pray. John immediately said, I want to be first! My eyes came open as I had to see as well as hear. John lifted his face and began “God, you know I don’t pray very often, but here I am . . . and he prayed. Others prayed and then I prayed. The service had ended. It was what could be called “a God moment.”
I expect that many of John’s Mennonite friends and relatives would be offended by the title he has chosen for his book. He sets the stage by writing “This book contains the unrestrained free-flowing memories of my life. It will teach, inform, humor you, and I loved my life and everybody in it. Now some of the content will be dirty, rated R. Some will be funny, rated F. Some will be thought provoking, rated O for my opinion. Some should be researched, rated G for Google. They will teach, amuse, excite, or provoke you. I will never bore you.” He is right. Rachel says her uncle’s book is amusing, mildly shocking, and yes, insightful.
This evening after dinner Rachel, Eldon, and I talked longer than usual. We talked about the stresses experienced by our family, and other families that we know. Rachel seemed to bring it all together by exclaiming with tears that The One who Loves, loves all alike!
If you are a friend or relative of John’s or are simply curious, you may inquire about the availability of the book for $15.00 by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.