On that early Christmas morning in 1993, I had just turned onto Interstate 75 heading to Cincinnati. I was living north of Dayton in Springfield at the time and needed to pick up my kids and my not-yet-ex-wife back at my former place of residence. We were going to my parent’s house in Vevay, Ind., to spend the holiday.
My twin brother Jered was visiting my parents, taking a week off from his job in Seattle. It had been a couple of years since I’d seen him.
I had a bit of a hangover that morning. The previous night, in Springfield, I had stayed much too late at Chuck’s Rollin’ Ranch drinking beer, acting like I was having a good time and trying on for size what it would feel like to be single again. The size wasn’t fitting very well.
When I reached the house, I said hello to my wife and hugged my kids. We packed up the presents, got in the car and, two hours later, were in Vevay.
It was good to see my parents, but it was wonderful to see Jered. His long hug felt good.
All of us talked and laughed and took lots of pictures. We gave my daughter and son loads of attention, especially Jered. He was very interested in their young lives.
Throughout all of this merriment, I was there … but then again I wasn’t. I knew this would be my last Christmas as a married man and that my wife wouldn’t be making this annual Christmas journey with me again. I felt lost and unhappy.
After eating turkey and ham and so much other food my mother had prepared, it was time to open the gifts.
The kids, of course, cleaned up. I don’t remember all the gifts that were exchanged, but there’s one I’ll never forget.
Portable CD players were the rage in 1993, and Jered wanted both my daughter and my son to open their gifts from him at the same time.
You guessed it: He got both of them state-of-the-art CD players.
They were thrilled. They rushed him, almost knocking him over with their hugs and kisses. For the first time in a very long time, I watched my unemotional brother’s eyes fill up with tears. He was touched by their reaction.
Late in the afternoon, Jered needed to leave. It was time for him to head back home. I offered to drive him to the Cincinnati airport, then return to Indiana to pick up my wife and kids. This would give them more time to visit with my parents.
The ride to the airport was mostly quiet. I didn’t have much to say as my mind was still on myself and my own problems.
After Jered checked his bags, we had some time to kill. Turned out he had planned this all along.
He wanted to talk to me, could tell something was wrong and wanted to help. I started crying. I told him everything.
I told him of my pending divorce, of how much I hated Springfield and not living close to my kids. I told him how I hated change and had no joy in my life.
He mostly listened like a good brother, but he did have some words of wisdom for me.
Sitting there at the airport, he told me to look for the joy in life every day. Somehow, someway find happiness in something — even if it’s just a little thing like a smile when someone passes you on the sidewalk.
He said don’t ever take for granted those hugs and kisses from my kids. They should bring me joy constantly.
He said life is too short, so try and make each day count. He said if changes in my life weren’t working out, then find other ones that would. He said he’d be there to help me find the joy.
In the following weeks and months, he was my support. His letters and phone calls enabled me to make progress in my life and deal with change. With his help, I got better.
Now, years later, I sometimes wonder if he knew this encouragement, especially on that Christmas in 1993 at the airport, would get me through the following Christmas.
Having moved away from Springfield and back to Cincinnati, I made that holiday drive to Vevay, Ind., again in 1994 to see my parents. I had my daughter and son with me.
On that Christmas, my parents and I acted as though everything was fine. The kids enjoyed opening their gifts, and we took many pictures of their smiling faces.
We wanted to make sure they had a joyful Christmas, but things had changed.
My now-ex-wife wasn’t there, and neither was Jered. Earlier that year, in September, he passed away.
In the years since, much more has changed. Both my parents are now gone, and my kids are no longer kids. They’re young adults with lives of their own.
Things change. Family and friends get older. They live, die or simply fade away. In essence, that’s life — it is too short, but my memory can be long reaching.
Sometimes when I get a bit down I think of my twin brother and that Christmas in 1993. I think of the advice he gave me at the airport.
I’m still looking for the joy, Jered. On most days, I find it.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org