Happy 50th Birthday to a Brother Who Died Long Ago

August 7, 2012

Today my brother Kevin would have turned 50. Killed in a car accident at age 23, Kevin has been dead longer than he lived.

In 23 years, he did a lot of living. Since he would have been 50, here are 50 things I remember about my brother. They are a random set of remembrances, most from me, some passed along over the years from relatives and friends. Together, they may give others a sense of the young man, teenager, and boy he was.

1. At age 2, Kevin was not thrilled about my arrival in the household. In a fit of jealousy, he toppled me over as I tried my newfound skill of sitting. He fled. Our mother later found him grinning underneath a chair.

2. Our lazy-susan cabinet was always stocked with grape Hi-C. It was Kevin’s childhood drink of choice.

3. He had no fear.

4. He could not sing and loved to belt out rock songs in a hoarse monotone.

5. He could not keep a beat either. He played drum for one year in the junior high band.

6. He was as fussy about his hair as I was about mine.

7. His favorite T-shirt was red, emblazoned with the words “Go with the Flow.”

Kevin and I on spring break together in Utah in 1983.

8. He wasn’t happy to just slalom ski. He liked to show off by skiing with one foot and holding the rope with his other foot.

9. He was neat and arranged his clothes drawers to perfection.

10. He treasured one of his first cars, a lime-green Barracuda and spent hours washing and polishing it.

11. He was the epitome of a dare-devil. At age 8, he broke his jaw racing down a hill on his bike. He broke one leg in four places water-ski jumping in college. He broke another leg snow-skiing.

12. He was the pied piper at Boy Scout camp, where he was a counselor. On my visits to see him at camp, little boys surrounded my brother and called him, “Wert.”

13. He was a big brother to many. He let our youngest cousin, nearly eight years younger than Kevin, follow him everywhere. To this day, this cousin still looks up to my brother.

14. In college, his drink of choice was a strawberry daiquiri.

15. As a teenager, he biked 100 miles on his 10-speed bike in an event called the Hancock 100.

16. At 5’6”, he tended to draw younger girls like a magnet rather than his peers. When he was a high school senior in our small rural school system, the seventh-grader girls all adored him. Kevin, though, had his eyes on the older girls. The problem: He was often too timid to ask them out.

17. Speaking of cheerleaders, Kevin tacked a bulletin board to one of his bedroom walls and filled it with photos of cheerleaders he had taken for the high school yearbook.

18. He knew how to show love to family and showered my mother with hugs and kisses even as he entered his 20s.

19. He was a tease and gave me several nicknames, including “Squirt,” “Squirrel,” “Pud-face,” and “Munchkin.”

20. He was an imp who proved to me that Santa Claus did not exist when we were around 6 and 8. He took me to the basement to show me all of the presents my parents had bought.

21. He was one of my biggest supporters and went to my high school basketball games, bragged about me to his college friends, and never hesitated to tell me how proud he was.

22. He could beat almost anyone in Ping-Pong at our basement table. His favorite move: a behind-the-back under-the-leg shot.

23. He never forgot my birthday.

24. Kevin taught me that sometimes the best gifts are homemade. One year, he spent hours taking photos of our family and compiled a photo album for our maternal grandmother.

Kevin and his Ohio University graduation, 1985. He stuck his cap on my head in jest.

25. He was a model of self-advocacy in college. Reading was always a challenge for him, and he asked professors for more time to complete tests. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and business in five years’ time, making me prouder than I had ever been of him.

26. He followed his dream after graduation. He moved to Colorado because he wanted to be close to the nation’s best ski mountains.

27. He hated books. The only items he read regularly were photo and computer magazines.

28. His strength was people. He could walk into a room and light it up with his smile. He had an ease with himself that endeared him to most people he met.

29. “What, me worry?” was one of his favorite expressions.

30. If he had liked books, he would have liked Tom Sawyer for Kevin was a boy who sought adventure.

31. He talked a lot, but wrote little. Even so, I treasure the last Valentine’s Day card he sent me – in February 1986 – a month before he died. “Happy Valentine’s Day to a SIS,” it says on the front. Open it and it spells out “Simply Incredible Sis.” He signed it, “Love, Kev.”

32. We shared a babysitting job when he was 14, and I, 12, alternating the days we watched three neighborhood children. I sometimes struggled to manage them. Not Kevin. He was magical with children.

33. There was no such thing as low volume on his stereo.

34. Levi’s was his brand of choice. I hung on to the last birthday present I gave him – a stone-washed Levi’s jacket.

35. He could gab or smile his way out of nearly anything. My dad loves to tell the story about how Kevin disobeyed him and parked his car in the garage right before my father got home from work. Before Dad could say anything, Kevin grinned. He escaped a lecture.

36. That grin is the thing many friends and relatives remember the most. It was wide, big-toothed, with a smidgeon of impishness always showing.

37. At 23, he did not have a good handle on money. He thought it was for spending, not saving.

38. He had a soft spot for the elderly, especially our Grandma Pearl. He called her “Cutie.”

39. Family needs came first. He was more than willing to heed my parents’ request to drive with me to Boston as I went there for a summer internship in the summer of 1983. We took turns driving my silver 1978 Honda, which had no air/conditioning. The stereo blasted the whole way as we sang as loud in a discord that now seems heartbreakingly beautiful.

40. He had impeccable taste in gifts. I still remember the purple Lacoste shirt he once bought me for a birthday.

41. He was a great vacation partner. We went on spring break together in 1983 on a joint ski trip with several colleges. At the end of one of the big dinners, each of us had to say something about ourselves. Kevin stood up, grinned at me, and said, “My main occupation is babysitting my little sister.” It was, I knew, said in brotherly love.

42. He looked at life through a wide lens. An avid photographer, he took photos of the seagulls flying above us on a vacation in Boston and the huge American flag in the lobby of a museum. Sailboats in Marblehead Harbor also caught his eye.

43. No ski slope was too daunting. In our early teens, he led me down a trail called the Jaws of Death on Mount Snow in Vermont. He was better and faster, but he never left me behind.

44. The faster, the better was Kevin’s motto for most sports. He thrived on experiencing the ultimate adrenalin rush.

45. Eating ice cream before lunch was always the right thing to do. In the summers, when we both were home and our mother worked, Kevin often suggested we bike miles to the local Friendly’s. He taught me to enjoy the experience without guilt.

46. It’s okay for a girl to beat a boy. He liked to win, but applauded me when I beat him in basketball on our driveway.

47. He hated writing, but loved communication. He always sent postcards when he was on vacation.

48. His appetite for pop music was limitless. For years we gave each other albums and took turns taping them. He, like I, loved the music of Billy Joel.

49. He lived in a time before cell phones and email. He kept in regular contact through weekend phone calls. Every Saturday, I knew to expect a call and a greeting, “Hey, Squirt, what’s up?”

50. He taught all he touched one of the basic truths about life. Life is about living every minute to the fullest.

Happy Birthday, Kevin. Thinking of you today and always.

Love, your Sis, Linda

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11 Responses to Happy 50th Birthday to a Brother Who Died Long Ago

  1. Judy BF says:

    Encapsulates yet so so much. I know you’ll always be comforted by memories of Kevin.

  2. David Colvin says:

    I knew your brother through Boy Scouts at camp Berry in the late 70’s. I too knew him as “Wert”. My memories of him are always of him being tolerant, humorous, and patient with others. I remember him as being true to himself, without compromising his values yet making others feel ok with their’ s. I only worked with him perhaps 2 summers, but he truly made an impact on me. I recently learned of his death, and was quite saddened. With fond memories of Wert,
    David Colvin
    Hopkinton, MA

  3. Dean A. Hankins says:

    Thanks for this Linda!

    I am one of those “Scouts” that had the hone of meeting and befriending Kevin during our few short years as counselors on the Aquatics Staff at Camp Berry.

    I remember you and the rest of your family and the great times when I would stop by your home “just to say HI” and spend some time.

    Kevin was a Great Guy and a good friend. My life has forever been enriched because of the few short years I knew him. He is deeply missed and will never be forgotten!

    Happy Birthday Kevin!!

  4. Linda says:

    Hi, David,
    Thanks so much for commenting and sharing your own memories. Your memories match mine.

  5. Linda says:

    Hi, Dean,
    Thanks so much for your comments. He really crossed paths with so many people. I definitely remember meeting many of his scouting friends and making some visits to Camp Berry.
    Kevin had such a terrific experience with scouts.

  6. Edwin says:

    I just read your story and really tocuh my hearth, what a wonderfull brother he was and so lucky to have a sister like you. I have a big family and i wish we can feel the love you guys had. Kevin will always be with you until you meet again. You sound that you came from a wonderfull family. BIG HUG.

  7. Judy says:

    I never had a brother but if I had I would have loved one like Kevin! Sounds so special.

  8. Linda says:

    Great memories, Linda! You gave us a wonderful picture of life in the ’60s, and the meaningful life Kevin lived. From your pictures, I think the two of you have the same friendly smile!

    I live in northwest Ohio, too, and the places you mention are familiar.

    I wonder, could I think of 50 comments about my only brother, six years older than me? I think maybe I could!

  9. Danny says:

    Loved your list. Very cool. 🙂

  10. Jack Curtin says:

    My brother Jim would have turned 50 too this year too. Similarly, he died in a car accident at 19. Even though it’s been many years, I’ve been thinking about him a lot this year.

  11. Scott Bresler says:

    Hi Linda!

    I have enjoyed reading your writings. Specifically, the ones about your brother Kevin. I had to smile when I came across # 32 in the blog about your brother’s 50th birthday. Unless I was too young to understand, but from what I remember you were an awesome babysitter!

    Scott Bresler

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