Saturday, February 24, 2018




Guichelaar: Quiet on the eastern front ...

Jan. 19, 2018 at 11:39 p.m.


My only and younger brother resides many thousands of miles to the east. He is unaware that the magnitude of my gratitude for this spatial separation outdoes the distance. We hardly resemble Adam and Eve's feuding offspring, because no fratricide has occurred. Occasionally I speak of him with some level of delight, but that stems from the reassurance he is not near.

We do exchange holiday and birthday wishes and for many decades did so using old fashioned mail. He is not one to keep up with the times and resists modernity. Those who know him would not at all be surprised to learn he believes the internet is some kind of international fishing arrangement. Not until recently did he break out of this self-inflicted solitude by acquiring an unsophisticated mobile telephone. This purchase was as unexpected as the series of calls I began to receive from him.

This real-time way of communication reinforced upon me a cognizance of his trials and tribulations. An overdue reminder, as you will see.

A mere three calls in, I learned he had suffered unexpected unemployment. The company that had provided him with a steady line of work for more than three decades cited cost and a changing business climate as an excuse to rid itself of my brother and several of his coworkers. All of them had considered themselves tenured but instead found they were easily replaced with part-time and inexperienced laborers. The supervisor who was tasked with his dismissal will likely never forget the episode, because by all accounts it was beyond ugly. It involved screaming and crying and the casting of several unsecured objects within reach. My brother was overheard to blaspheme at near unprecedented levels, condemning the man's immediate family and, to some degree, many of his ancestors and descendants.

The long-distance phone connection did nothing to mask his torment as he relayed how he was escorted out of the building. The next call suggested the emotion had subsided somewhat and he said that, at the suggestion of friends, he had taken up fencing. Idle time is the devil's playground, so I encouraged his gallant effort to stay positively occupied.

There is an explanation for his demeanor. When very young, about 5 years old, a tumor had begun to grow in his cerebellum. This growth was betrayed by unusual weariness, frequent headaches and a progressively persistent cross-eyed condition that eyeglasses refused to correct.

The days after the somber diagnosis and preceding the extraction, my parents consulted often with the physician who had taken on the task of removing the tumor and whose last name happened to be Doctor. In addition to his medical degree, he also held some other Ph.D. and our mother immediately christened him "Doctor doctor Doctor," or "Doctor Doctor" for short. She knew how to add humor to a tumor.

Nowadays the planned procedure can often be performed with laser instrumentation leaving hardly a trace, but back in those days the only available method was surgical excision of the crudest sort. Doctor Doctor explained to my father and mother that three incisions would be made in the back of their son's skull; two small ones allowing access for the surgical knives and between those a larger one through which the suspected orange-sized growth — as well as some healthy but obstructing brain tissue — would be extracted. My parents' obvious concern was the condition of their child after such a savage butchery. The year was 1969 and Doctor Doctor delivered as much assurance as he could muster: "When your child recognizes you upon awakening from the operation, his continued recovery becomes a reality."

As you justly surmise, matters proceeded according to plan, but the subsequent healing was neither short nor simple. Even though my brother had started life as right handed, the ordeal transformed him into a southpaw. At least he no longer crossed his eyes except for one occasion when he, jesting, scared the living bejesus out of everyone.

Being self-conscious and embarrassed by the grotesque scarring above his neck, he was also the first one in our family granted permission to grow his hair long. He may well have invented the mullet.

Physical therapy, which he found painful and boring, nevertheless caused his improvement to proceed well beyond the barbaric expectations of the time. The entire episode inevitably blurred into the past, and we went on with our lives. I moved, my parents passed away, and an ocean that separates continents did the same to our lives. Until those telephone calls from that brotherly and almost forgotten side began.

When his next call came after several months, it was unexpectedly upbeat. Call it schadenfreude but to my brother's unveiled delight, the supervisor who had been charged with his unfair dismissal had suffered the same fate and found himself discarded for the same corporate reasons.

As mentioned before, my sibling had filled the void of unemployment by taking up fencing, and this demands some clarification because a subsequent phone call revealed he was not practicing the noble swordplay requiring slender and flexible blades. Instead he had picked up the lowborn trading that involves stolen goods. The absence of any previous violations had caused the court to be lenient, my brother stated in a tone as if this was something to admire. He was sentenced to a reasonable period of redemption that excluded incarceration and assigned a probation officer. His desire to regularly speak on the telephone apparently stopped with me, because it became apparent he had no inclination to communicate with his court-appointed official.

"You have not spoken to this guy at all?," I asked him.

"Yeeeeees … he called," my brother said.

"And ... ?"

"Oh, he just blabbered on and on. Legal like stuff about what I need to do and what's next, so I hung up on him."

"Why on earth did you do that?"

"The potatoes … "

"The potatoes?"

He sighed. "They were boiling, I was in the middle of making my dinner."

Before I could say anything, he continued: "Almost immediately the guy calls again and says he's sorry we were disconnected."

"What did you tell him?"

"I said: 'Oh, you mean like this?' and hung up on him again."

Where he lives justice is mostly fair, patient, very understanding and ultimately his saving grace. The next phone call was nothing but joyful. Stumbling over his words, he informed me he had regained full employment with a company that concerns itself with plastic bags. New coworkers met his expectations and he thought of his future as bright. His elation was contagious and from the heart, and I thought it well-deserved. I encouraged him to not jeopardize this new development by placing unnecessary long distance calls.

As of late, it has been quiet on the eastern front. This is an indication that things are going well.

For both of us.

— Hank Guichelaar is a Longview business owner who serves on the boards of Special Health Resources for Texas and One Hundred Acres of Heritage. He is an occasional contributor to the News-Journal.

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