When I was about three years old, I was out for a ride in the car with my Mom and my Grandmother. We were heading to a restaurant to grab some lunch in our little yellow Volkswagen bug. There was something that caught my eye and I was curious as to what it was. It was a question that had actually been bugging me for some time, but I hadn’t yet asked about it. It seemed that every car that went by us had a pipe sticking out the back-end of it just beneath the bumper. “What is that thing and what is it for?” I thought.
My mother and grandmother were deep in conversation but I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer. “Ma,” I said, “what is…”
“I’m talking,” she scolded, “don’t interrupt.”
I huffed in frustration and waited in silent anger as she parked the car along the curb of a busy avenue in front of the restaurant. My mom took my hand as we walked around the back of the car from the driver’s side toward the sidewalk. As I passed behind the car, I noticed, our car also had one of those things! This was my opportunity. If I didn’t ask now, I might never find out what that thing was.
“Ma,” I called above the roar of the traffic. She didn’t hear me. She and grandma kept talking as they walked.
“Ma! What is this?” I asked stopping just before the curb pointing at the curious thing on the back of our little VW. Again, I got no response. Well my three-year-old temperament would have none of this. I had a question dammit and I would be heard!
“Ma!” This time I really yelled, yanking my hand from her grasp.
“What?” she snapped turning toward me.
“What is this?”
“What is what?”
“This!” In my anger, I stomped my foot, asserted myself, and grabbed hold of the thing. Sharp pains ran through my fingers and around my hand. OUCH!
Well, I got their attention. Lunch was cancelled as I sat at the table with my throbbing hand in a glass of ice water. My Dad, a Chicago police officer, was on duty at the time. My Mom was able to reach him somehow in the days before cell phones and we waited for him to come pick us up and take me to the emergency room where I was later bandaged and scolded for getting scalded.
I learned three lessons that day:
1). Exhaust pipes get extremely hot. Don’t touch them. And especially don’t grab them like you would the handle of a baseball bat.
This is one of those lessons you only have to learn once. To this day, because of that incident, I assume anything on a car is hot until I know otherwise. It is a lesson that has served me well.
2). Losing your temper and asserting yourself are two different things. The first seldom helps your agenda.
This is one of those lessons that doesn’t stick the first time, nor does it stick the first hundred thousand times. I have to re-learn this lesson over and over. Hopefully one of these days it will stick.
3). Don’t ever try to interrupt a conversation between two women with an unrelated question. Chances are you’re going to either be ignored or get burned.
I tell this story to explain the title I’ve given my blog: Oh Brother Here We Go Again. But before I really get into that, I have one more short story to tell you.
My great-uncle LB had Down’s syndrome. Though he was much older than I, we were fast friends since I was a young boy. I come from a large family. LB, my grandmother’s brother, was the second youngest of ten children. My dad is the oldest of five boys. It’s a big family.
Every year, the family gets together for a fishing tournament in Wisconsin. Most years the fish are safer than the bartenders. We do try though. We fish in some inhospitable weather. Snow, rain, sleet, nothing can stop us from standing around the river with a fishing pole in one hand and a beer in the other.
One particular year, LB decided the weather wasn’t up to his liking and stayed back at the house rather than freeze on the banks of the Wisconsin River with the rest of us. He was often much smarter than most gave him credit for. The house was warm, the fridge was full, and the river, as usual, was producing little in the way of walleye.
Meanwhile, one of my dad’s four brothers was enduring the weather in search of the elusive Wisconsin Walleye when a DNR officer out inspecting fishing licenses approached him. There is a hefty fine if you are caught fishing without a license.
My uncle reached in his pants pocket, then his other pants pocket, then his shirt pocket, then his wallet, no license. He knew he had purchased one, but he couldn’t find it. Convinced he’d left it back at the house, he charmed the DNR officer into accompanying him to the house to retrieve the license he swore he had purchased. “This kind of thing never happens. I always buy a license,” my uncle told the officer as they went into the house. “It’s got to be here somewhere.”
Having lived in the apartment below where my father and his brothers were raised, LB had seen his share of the craziness that’s bound to occur when five rambunctious boys are growing up in a two-bedroom apartment in a blue-collar Chicago neighborhood. I am certain, there was rarely a dull moment.
Well on this particular spring day in Wisconsin, LB was sitting in the front room watching TV when he saw my uncle enter with the uniformed officer. Now LB didn’t know if it was a police officer or a DNR officer, all he knew was it looked like trouble. His response: “Oh brother, here we go again.”
The DNR officer raised an eyebrow at my uncle and said, “this never happens, huh?”
Well, it turns out, my uncle had bought a license and it was in his shirt pocket the whole time, hidden among some other papers and things. But the story of “Oh brother, here we go again” is a favorite of his to this day.
I can’t think of a better summary statement about life than that: Oh brother, here we go again. Life is a cycle, it repeats itself. We go round and round and still we don’t change all that much from our first go ‘round to our last. Some lessons we learn right away, “Don’t touch the tailpipe”, others have to be learned over and over again.
At least that’s been the recurring theme of my life. So when I was searching for a title for my observational-life-examining-reflectional-blog, I came up with a few. I thought, “This is it! This is the one,” and I’d register the name and then a day and thirteen bucks later, I’d dismiss it. This happened several times until one day I sat at my computer eagerly about to register yet another .com domain when I thought to myself, “oh brother, here we go again.”
Well, that one stuck.
I don’t expect you to always agree with me, in fact, I’m doing something wrong if you do. What I do hope to accomplish here is to reflect on life thoughtfully while at the same time hopefully making you smile a little, making you think a little, and sharing with you those lessons I’ve learned and re-learned and forgotten over the years.
LB passed away in 2009. This blog is dedicated to him.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Now if you’ll excuse me, one of the kids is screaming that she skinned her knee and she’s going to bleed to ‘deaf’.
Oh brother, here we go again.