I am an observer, always have been. Being the youngest of five children and the only girl, it was a role I fell into easily. As a child I rarely participated in supper conversations because, frankly, they bored me and I had nothing to contribute. My parents and brothers seemed to (and still do) always talk about orchards: what scion wood should be gathered, what spray to use, what pruning needed done. I would rather have talked about people.
And so I watched them all and pondered the lives behind the tree-talk. My oldest brother is the most enigmatic, partly because 16 years separate us. I don't know him except through observation. Conversations with him seemed seeped in subtext; always beneath words was a joke I didn't get.
My brother owned his own orchard for 25 or 30 years, and during that time he had many accidents that should have been fatal. His relationships invariably failed. But in spite of injuries and heartbreak, he remained to me like some Greek hero: sharp-tongued, sharp-witted, powerful, brilliant, and arrogant. Light on his feet and absurdly confident, he was like a black cat with all its nine lives. Below is a poem I wrote years ago after a tractor accident that he somehow survived.
His girlfriends are always leaving him, crossing
the line to someone with a little less
question in his eyes. Each time one zips
up her bags, he tries death,
teasing it like a slick black
shrew, tossing it in the air like a catnip
mouse. He laps it up, then turns
his back and twitches one ear
toward the sound of tunneling
underground. He blinks, twitches
again, resists the instinct to finish
what he started. He is subtle: a fall
through the ice, a slip off a roof,
a sleep in the snow, a bottle
of whiskey. How many more times
can he escape
with only scratches, broken teeth,
frostbite on his fingers and toes?
He wears his scars
proudly. Women listen
to his stories and flock
to comfort him, running
down his spine.
~Sarah Cummins Small, 1999
His worst brush with death was yet to occur. Just two years after this was published as part of my master's thesis, my brother had a bicycle accident and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was given a slim chance of much of a recovery. I fed him strained plums and observed him in a whole new way. Here is a post I wrote once about that time period. Today he continues to live on his own and manage a small orchard, as well as lend his extensive expertise to the fashionable Eve's Cidery. According to my parents, he continues to improve both mentally and physically.
And that's all I know. He didn't return my text message when I was in New York this summer. He didn't come to our brother's wedding last summer, and the summer before that he told another brother and me to "come back when it isn't the busy season." Like a cat, he remains aloof. Observation is all I have.