Sunday, November 27, 2011
Ties that Bind
My Dad has all his financial stuff tied up in a trust. His means are modest, but he didn't want the family to have to fuss with a lot of detail when the day comes that he is not here. We hate to think about it, but he's 91. I'm the "baby", a post Air Force retirement adoption in the family. We all sat as a family and went over details, but one thing Dad said was "decide on who wants what now, so there's no arguing later."
We all wrote down our wishes and Dad would decide. I only wanted my Mom's cookbooks and a couple of pieces of ceramic things she made in art class, a little skunk she made and put in the bathroom the menfolk used, a little black horse, the rest would go to my nieces. She's been gone a long time, but my Step-Mom took good care of that which she left. Everything else of theirs I prefer to just live in my memory.
But when Dad shared the list, simple and no conflicts, there was a note from brother R., which I know was written with a big smile. "I want my Rat Fink ring back".
I'm surprised he remembered; also surprised he knew I still had it, it being tucked away in my little jewelry box in my room at Dad's house.
Rat Fink as one of the several hot rod characters created by one of the originators of Kustom Kulture, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. Roth allegedly hated Mickey Mouse so much he drew the original Rat Fink, playing on an airbrushed monster shirt. The character soon came to symbolize the entire hot-rod/Kustom culture scene of the 50's and 60's. After he placed Rat Fink on an airbrushed monster shirt, the character soon came to symbolize the entire hot-rod/Kustom Kulture scene of the 1950s and 1960s. Ed didn't create the "Monster Hot Rod" art form, but he certainly made it popular.
If you're too young to remember, The Rat Fink is a green, depraved-looking mouse with bulging, bloodshot eyes, an over sized mouth with yellowed, narrow teeth, and a red T-shirt with yellow "R.F." on it.
I was pretty little but I remember it well. My brother was a big fan. One of the neighborhoods original Rat Fink Pack, I'm sure he discovered early on the added benefit the Rat Fink T-shirt had in getting you sent home from school, giving you more time to play with your model car kits. I may have been lagging behind the whole thing by a few years but it didn't stop me from joining in the fun. I swiped his ring and built my own hot rod model, entering it in a grade school model building contest, and winning. But I was later disqualified because I was a girl. My brother stuck up for me, telling them he wouldn't enter any more if I couldn't enter, and didn't ask for his Rat Fink ring back. He was my hero, the one I could always count on.
Soon he was off to school and Navy Submarine service, while I made it through High School with a very loud un-girly car with Purple Horny Headers that made my Dad cringe. I didn't have a "steady', no ring around my neck from some teenage boy. But I did have a close group of chess club/rocket club/band nerd friends who would ride around in my decidedly "un-geeky" wheels. And I had my Rat Fink ring, still in my jewelry box.
I missed him. I remember walking in the woods with Dad's old Savage and seeing an elk crash into flight from a stand of small trees, the sound curving around the whole earth it seemed. I couldn't move, frozen by the sound. I simply stood, open mouthed, gun at my side, incredulous as to how big he really was close up and all the thoughts flowing through my head, turning to follow his now invisible running. For lack of any other response to his leaving, I picked up a rock and threw it hard and deep into the forest in which he ran, the stone, glinting like a knife, disappearing into the last copper ray of sun before it dipped behind the trees.
"Why did you have to go?" was all I could say, as I stood there in the fading light, sounding very small and alone.
Once we hit adulthood, we saw each other only once a year, my brother leaving the Navy to work some serious Secret Squirrel stuff, myself squirreling away in another part of the country. I went to his wedding near the Naval base in California, wearing a lime green bridesmaid thing that I would not have worn for the Pope, The Queen of England or Marshall Dillon (though given how Miss Kitty dressed, Marshall Dillon would have liked it). But I wore it for him.
We keep in touch by email and the occasional phone call but time together has always been limited. But he remembers. As evidenced by a recent Christmas stocking. Not just ANY stocking, but the post 50's one Dad thought was lost forever, complete with my name on it in glitter.
He remembers my birthday, often late, with a funny card with a drawing of him being abducted by aliens, somehow explaining the delay.
I realize from talking with my friends that not all sibling relationships are this close. A lot of kids grow up almost strangers, with personalities and interests so divergent they wonder how they're related. They share no interests, they don't like the same anything. They get along as well as can be expected, playing politely at family gatherings, bound together only by being the children of the same people. I consider myself lucky to having siblings who I would have wanted to be pals with, even if we weren't related.
But it's hard for kids as they grow up, to keep the cohesion we had living in the same house. We are bound together by family, but often scattered by distance, dealing with our own tragedies, things much worse than a failed model contest, keeping it in and not saying much. Perhaps it's the Norwegian in us, perhaps it's the sense of protecting the clan.
The thought of the ring brought a lot of memories back, his laugh as we ran around the back yard playing cowboy and Indians. It is those small, almost forgotten mementos of family, that make us step back in time, before deadline and detail.
I remember him letting me tag along on his paper route, not being ashamed of his little sister as many of his friends would have been, but teaching me the perfect curve ball of paper onto a porch.
I remember road trips where we would playfully bicker and play with toy soldiers in the back of the car, mine in my chubby little hands, his, more grown and nimble, moving on to my side of the station wagon seat with his troops, setting camp until I yelled "MOM". And we'd be told to be quiet, for at least 15 minutes, and we'd sit, in perfect stoic silence, shooting looks back and forth to each other, as if dueling with foils, plotting, planning, waiting for the laughter to burst out because we just couldn't hold it in.
I remember him on leave from the military, teaching me how to do the perfect "cookie" in the snow in a deserted parking lot, Purple Horny headers and all. I remember junior high with "Health Class" and movies that instructed us in such sage things as "Don't let your parents down, they brought you up", and my favorite "Turn away from unclean thinking, at the first moment", which had such a tone of urgency we just couldn't WAIT to be grown up enough to have an unclean thought. And he'd call me from school and I'd tell him about the movies and my friends reactions to them and he'd just laugh. We both laughed, easily and well. We didn't worry about politics, or budgets, or deadlines or knowing that sometimes keeping your mouth shut had to be the better part of valor. We hadn't yet learned to look at everything in a critical eye of war or loss.
Thinking back on those things, I wondered to myself. If we told the stories of those times, would anyone recognize us?
We are completely different now, but we are the same, he and I. As I look around my office, a photo of he and I on a Valkyrie, at some model toys from our childhood, artifacts of childhood, I realize I still miss him.
I will be back West after the New Year. I need to get into that old jewelry box, the one with the little ballerina that danced around. The one that dances no more because I tried to see if ballerina twirling could counteract duct tape adhesion. I'll see if I can rent a little airplane and I'll give my brother a call and fly out to where he lives on Puget Sound when he's not saving the world. For I have something I wish to give him.
His letting me keep the ring all these years was a sign of trust, of his trusting me, of I, him, in the absence of words, to help me through the storms of adulthood. I think it's time I paid him a visit. Maybe we can get a six pack of beer (Health Class tip #2 Stop and Think before you Drink) and tear apart a carburetor.
The world is still full of promise and fun and a little bit of danger. A place even better when shared with a big brother.