I pushed my little brother Paul down the stairs. He was about 10 and I must have been 16 or so. I know why I did it and knew it at the time. I don’t remember what the silly argument was about. I do remember that of a sudden he reminded me of myself – he looked like me, he sounded like me, he was the mirror image of me. And I was disgusted with me, so I pushed him down the stairs.
He wasn’t hurt, that I recall. Nothing broken. Can’t say we were the closest of sibs from then on. But I was growing up and out. He was going to be sticking around for a while.
The only other vivid memory I have of this little brother is from much earlier. He was maybe 4 or so, and I was 10. We were at a beach somewhere, and Dad announced that we were leaving. Dennis might have been with us then – a babe in arms. Brian perhaps one last sparkle in Dad’s eye, but not yet in sight. Joanie and Randy were already on their way back to the car, but little Paulie begged to go back in the water one last time.
I was never much of a big sister to any of them. It was Joan who would take over that role as I locked myself in a bathroom with a book and made myself hard to find for chores. But that day I decided to be a good big sister. I swooped Paul up in my arms and carried him back to the water for one last dip. But no sooner had I done so, than my Dad, always trying to corral his brood, came back, took Paul from me, and yanked my arm to pull me along, scolding as we went.
So much for being the responsible big sister. Sadly, I was easily dissuaded.
Is that why I don’t remember much of Paul’s childhood? Of course, I was a great deal older, and had much more important concerns. He grew, with his older brother Randy, into sports, in which I had no interest at all.
Then suddenly he was graduating from college and marrying an adorable woman named Barbara. She would later introduce me as “the original,” after which she could do no wrong in my eyes. Somehow he continued through more education, and wound up doing research and teaching early childhood behavior at Southern Illinois University. There was the year during my second marriage that four of us – Joan, Randy’s and Paul’s wives, and I were pregnant at the same time. Two born in August, two in January. The bonds between them have been slippery at times, but always there.
He and his Barbara bought a property outside of Carbondale, Illinois, and made it a homestead. Paul designed the house on a hill overlooking the pond, Barbara made flower gardens, and together they raised three girls and one red-headed boy, Dylan Paul. Paul was the one of us who tried and almost made it to Woodstock.
When our parents grew too old to care for themselves, Paul took them in, and they cared for them as long as it was possible to do so before dementia took firm hold. Then they transferred them to a facility nearby and became hands-on custodial parents. Barbara held Mom’s hand as she died. I think Paul was with my dad. Paul’s house was the last place I saw either of them.
Living away in Seattle, I didn’t get to visit often, but in the last few years I did make it down there a few times when the family gathered. And when the family gathered, so did Paul’s many friends and neighbors. There was always music, and a bonfire and marvelous food and a houseful of flowers. Every year for a while, all four brothers, Randy, Paul, Dennis and Brian, would gather there for a weekend of golf.
The last time I came, I rode down with my brother Randy, from Chicago, and as we came through the front door, Paul greeted me with a big smile. “Barb! Your book is great! It should be a movie!” It would have been the highlight of the visit if it weren’t for the Great Eclipse of 2017. Pond Hill Farm was directly under the path of totality. The house was full, tents were scattered across the huge lawn between the house and the pond. Paul organized a contest to see who could drive a golf ball across the pond to a little green on the far side. The weather was perfect, aside from the heat. Paul handed out glasses. Barbara had bought a bunch of eclipse cookies and filled the house with zinnias. A friend from Chicago had brought a telescope. Other friends found ways to see the eclipse in the shadows of the trees. I edited my last novel, A Dream of Houses, in the air conditioning until time for the sun to disappear. I remember nighthawks coming out over the pond as the sky darkened. I remember seeing the stars. And the black disc in the sky. And my brother Paul smiled at us all, seeing that it was good.
Now we hear that he is suffering, and in great danger from the monstrous claws of Cancer.
My sister Joan writes it best:
With Paul and Barbara VanGelder Bates and Randy Bates in Giant City State Park on 8 Nov '18, thoughts please for Paul Bates as he struggles for health in Carbondale, fourth of six, father of four, grandparent to seven, Paul embodies the open warmth and character of the can do and can help spirit that we admire and strive to emulate.
Anyone want key to the Kubota, Need help across town, come over for live music...brother Brian in town, chop wood for Winter...brother Dennis in town, a read by author-sister Barbara Stoner, the eclipse?! All gather around potlucks and bonfires at their Pond Hill Farm.
And I did not even write the word Sports, OMG, walking the course recently and talking chosen Sports. These two brothers intellect for the plays, the coaching, the stats, unending. And Paul, your wry humor, not a minute angry, you talk and keep talking at the table through any situation...the definition of a peacemaker. Love for my Paul
It isn't right, in my eyes. I'm the oldest. I had a little spot of a little c a few years ago, but it appears to be gone. I have always hoped that we would go in order. Selfish, in a way, since I would never have to see any of them go before me and, since I have been the most improvident, it would only be right to have me safely off anybody's hands before the dementia set in. Alas. The latest word is not good. But whatever the next few weeks bring, we are with him one way or another. As my sister says, Love for my Paul.
We are six
We are one