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August 15, 2011

A Brother Remembers

One of my favorite blogs is Jeff Damron's Better in Black and White. Not only is Damron a terrific photographer, he also has a unique and evocative writing voice. If you're interested in photography, you'll enjoy his blog. If you don't care a fig about photography, you'll enjoy his blog! Because. Because he traces a portrait of life in his writing and images. Because his blog is real in the best sense of the word. It's the kind of real we need more of in this world. 

Jeff's brother Steve died last May. What follows is a eulogy Jeff wrote on the morning of his brother's funeral, and a stunning photo of how that day began. More painting than photograph, the image appears to move between the two worlds of life and death, affirming one and acknowledging the other, with grace and earthly elegance. With Jeff's permission, I'm sharing this beautiful work of his with you.

Sunrise from My Deck by Jeff Damron

We held the funeral for my brother, Steve, on Memorial Day 2011.  I woke up around 4:30 am, realizing that the minister had asked for a few words about my brother that he could read as part of the service.  I knew I had to write something, and with the funeral at 11:00, I knew I didn't have much time left.  So I got up, brewed a pot of coffee, sat down at my laptop, and started hitting keys.  By 6:00, I had a short essay and I went out on my deck to read and watch the sun come up.  
Above is a picture I took with the Olympus XZ-1.  Below is the essay I wrote.  

... Steve ...

At some point when I was growing up, when I was eleven or so, Steve moved his family back to Weeksbury to help my father with his store.  It was Steve, a few years later, who delivered the news to me that my father had passed on.  And after that it was Steve, and my brother Phil, who assumed the father figure roles in my life - and “cool” father figures they were too.  

This is about the time that Saturday Night Live first hit the air, and every Sunday poor Steve would sit through me reciting every line spoken the night before.  He would actually sit there, on his carport, in his cutoff jeans and those big boots he wore even on the hottest days,  and listen to the whole thing, laughing at the jokes both good and bad.  I hope nobody ever puts me through something like that.

When I would come home from college, it was at his house that I would end up, playing Rook until late at night with him, and Billie and their oldest son David.  And later, it was to his house, and his big yard, that I would return with my own kids when they wanted to go “camping.”  Because Steve’s yard was big enough to pretend we were in the middle of nowhere, but his house was close enough if someone needed a bathroom in the middle of the night.

It was after one of those camp nights that my daughter, Lauren, and I were sitting on the carport watching a thick, fat wooly worm inch along the concrete.  Lauren was quite young then, though she remembers it well.  We were sitting there watching the worm, talking about its life - making up a life for it, Inventing a whole family story for it, discussing how hard it had worked to get to where it was, no doubt far from where it was born because even a few feet must be a great distance to worm.  About that time, Steve came out of his house and walked over to check on us and see how we were doing.  And remember, Steve always wore big boots.  Well, he walks up, there is a loud “splat,” and only then does he move his foot back to reveal the wet mess that remains.  Lauren is silently traumatized.  Steve says, “Huh, didn’t even see that.”  When Lauren and I recollected this recently we laughed and laughed, as did Steve when I told him about it.  I think he was glad to know that the twisted Damron sense of humor has carried on to a new generation.

What really struck me as I was trying to think of something to write about Steve is how nonjudgmental he was of his family.  He never criticized anything I did, anyone I hung out with, anyone I dated.  Nor can I recall him ever expressing any real concern for any choices ever made by his children.  Anytime I ever asked how any of them were doing, he had nothing but pride and never seemed worried, as many parents are, about any mistakes they might have made or might make in the future.  He was so proud that Jason was a nurse, and that Michael was protecting our border and that David had become a doctor, but he wasn’t just proud of their jobs, he was proud of their lives - of their happiness.  Steve, being a Damron, didn’t gush about his emotions, but I know that he loved them, loved their children, loved Billie - loved us all.

As anyone who knew Steve can tell you, he was stubborn.  Billie called and told me he wanted me to come to the hospital just a little over a week ago.  When I got there, Steve had only one request - “Get me out of here.”  He proceeded with a long list of grievances against the place.  Finally I told him that I had been told that he had had a heart attack.  After a moment of reflection, he smiled just a little and conceded, “Well, there is some truth to that.”  I told him I would work on it.  That pacified him for a time, but not for long, as before he was eventually released, he pulled out all his IVs and asked in the hallway where he could find the front door.  In hindsight, I’m not sure why we were all so surprised by this.  Typical Steve.

In the end, Steve did make it out of the hospital, and passed in his chair, in the home he had shared with the woman he loved.  As hard as that may be for the rest of us, I think Steve is okay with that. 

Text and photo, copyright Jeff Damron.

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