I have a wonderful brother. He’s been my brother my whole life because he’s two years older than I am. (That’s a little Norwegian math for you right there)
Corliss (I call him Chummie) is much different than me and my sister, Sigrid (I call her Susie). He’s much quieter and holds his feelings in somewhat. Sigrid and I are very effusive and there is no laundry in the laundry bag of feelings and emotions. We all have one thing in common. We live in our own little idea worlds, totally oblivious to what’s going on around us. Remembering stuff is not one of our strong suits. This was borne out one fall day growing up in North Dakota.
Everyday we took my sister to Hughes Junior High which was about 11 blocks away from Bismarck High School, where my brother and I attended. We had a little brown Renault car. We didn’t know how to pronounce the word the way you were supposed to, you know like how the French would. We pronounced it like it rhymes with the word vault. We’d have to occasionally start the car by inserting a crank at the front of the car, and crank it up. As we did this, the car would begin to shudder, then start. Suddenly, the crank would reverse in the opposite direction…almost ripping your wrist off. Ah, sweet days of automotive opulence and sophistication.
We dropped Sigrid off at school and continued down Avenue D which was a straight shot to the high school. However, this fine day our car started to judder, cough and subsequently gave up the ghost about a block away from where we’d dropped my sister off. The Renault was smoking and fuming, so we just pushed it around the corner and parked it on the street there. From there we walked all the way to the high school that morning. When we got out of school that afternoon, I met Chummie at the parking lot. “Where’d you park the car?” My brother was befuddled because he couldn’t remember where he’d parked. Now you can’t possibly think that I would remember where we parked. That would be asking way too much of this ADHD “idiot savant”…without the savant part. We both looked and looked for the car, but to no avail, so we just walked home. We were sitting around the dinner table that evening and my dad ask, “where is your car? I kinda look down at my plate because I didn’t want to answer… then turned to my brother. He had this bewildered look on his face and said, “I think we lost it.” My dad, who was of course incredulous at this report, used one of his favorite swear words again. “You lost the car you lost the COCKEYED car!!!” My mother pushed further, “Boys, how do you lose a car?” Not skipping a beat my dad blurted out, “Oh, just give them a little time and they’ll figure out a way.” He kept mumbling to himself…”they lost the cockeyed car…. they lost the cockeyed car.” Chummie and I had that effect on our parents…..often times they just ended up talking to themselves…Bless their hearts.
I think my brother and I got into one fight the entire time we we’re growing up. This is a man I revere and look up to. He is amazingly talented and is the kind of person that does not call attention to himself. I talk about our exploits in my book, “Runaway Horse.” In high school, he played violin in the orchestra, bassoon in band and was a soloist in the concert choir as well as lead in the high school musicals. He’s played in a number of bands and after a stint in the Air Force began writing and producing jingles. He was the first artist on Motown’s “Natural Resources” label in the seventies. Later, he moved to Nashville and produced records for time, and now holds a masters degrees in an area related to social services and counseling. He is a fine guitar player, violinist and singer, but his creative woodworking as a luthier and furniture maker is something to behold. Probably my most treasured possession is a pre World War I German made cello that my father bought for me in high school. This instrument was damaged in a move we made to another house. My brother took the broken instrument and spent two years learning how to repair a cello and then brought this instrument back to life. I was in tears at his presentation to me. He’s built violins, and plays them when we get together. He found another old cello, repaired it and started practicing until he had memorized and could play the first of the Bach Six Suites. He is an amazing treasure to me.
Chummie has endured polio as a child, a heart attack….and the greatest travail of his family was the loss of their youngest daughter and sister, Holly. She lost her life in a boating accident at the age of 25….and a part of our hearts went missing that day as well. I can hardly type this part. The waves of grief our entire family feel to this day are unrelenting. You just wake up from time to time in the middle of the night… or in the middle of your day…-and the remembrance and beauty of this precious girl comes pouring over you in a flood of emotion. I look up to the sky and say something like..” Hey Holly girl…I sure am missing you right now. Things are manageable here, but I can hardly wait to see you. Hold down the fort until we all get there, okay. Cheers!!!” I think about my times with her for a moment and then move on. . Funny, but after that time with her, my day just seems better. She’s always a warm presence in my heart. Stoically, and with great faith, Chummie, Donna and Holly’s sister, Serena, carry on with their lives…but assuredly, with a thread of melancholy accompanying their loving memories. I will write one day about Holly, for there are so many amazing attributes she had in her short, but kindly action packed earthly life.
I love being with my brother. We talk music, issues of life, faith and love for each other. Nothing matches the joy we have when we pull out and play our instruments with our sister, Sigrid on the piano, singing to our hearts content. We haven’t skipped a beat since our childhood days marching around in our living room pounding on pots and pans while mother played the piano for us…sometimes singing to us. I am unable to express the joy that making music together brings us…cuz there aren’t descriptive words to match the feeling. I have always looked up to Chummie as the leader of the Nelson siblings, and as you can tell…it’s not hard to see why. He is and always will be …my big brother.