A Letter of Love to my Brothers…and Nephews and Nieces.

I’ve been feeling a strange and distant memory that I needed to share with you…

Because of my bad snoring and getting up a couple times a night to take a leak…I’ve been sleeping for some time in the guest bedroom, in the lower bunk.  For some time I have had a wonderfully comfortable feeling when I wake up in the middle of the night, that I couldn’t put my finger on.  Then all of a sudden the other night, it came to me in a flash as I looked up at the slats of the top bunk.  I spent most of my youth crammed into the lower bunk, of a single bed, curled up into a ball, in “my compartment” at the end of the bed.  A thin cotton blanket was drawn thru the slats of the top bunk and allowed me my own space, sleeping in fetal position, because that was all that the space allowed. My brothers, Tom and Dave were always side by side at the head of the bed.  I remember sleeping that way for a long time.  Conversation always ran long with Charlie across the way in his own bunk…until ideas ran out and voices dropped away.  That’s funny…I just remembered that even though my 3 sons had rooms of their own…they all slept together in one bunk unit in one room as well…hmmmm…how did that happen?

What I needed to tell you was this, my brothers…I couldn’t have had better brothers if Walt Disney created them.  Brother Charlie was always the big guy.  We called him “Moose.”  Dave was “Scooter” because he never crawled…he always scooted around and wore out his pajamas on the seat.  Since he was always in that position, maybe that’s why he’s in the ISU Athletic Hall of Fame as a catcher…or was it because I spent half my youth pitching curve balls to him in the back yard?  Do I get to wear his NCAA Championship watch?  No.  But when I followed him to ISU…he treated me like I was important and shared his friends, roommates and team mates and I was always “Young Trays.”  His team mates still have an awesome bond that must come with being a National Championship Team…I wouldn’t know.

I was “Zonno.”  I believe no one outside the family knows that, yet ALL of the nieces and nephews don’t know my name is really John, I believe.  I was a big Zorro fan back then with his flashy sword spelling out his name at the beginning of each show…leaving “The Mark of Zorro!” I used the n from my name…and it stuck.   I’m still trying to live up to the image and have dedicated my life to saving hearts with words…not weapons.

As far back as I can remember…and just where that is I am not certain…there was a bond at our home that didn’t have words attached to it.  It was a feeling. That feeling cemented our tribe together in ways that resonate so far inside that I believe it is coded into our DNA…for sure.  You can see it in the faces of everyone when we get together…the huge smiles, the rib cracking hugs, the smooches.  The quiet one of us, Dave, and I connect in a way that shows as the two middle guys, only two years apart, that he was, and is my best friend for all of my life.  He was awesome at sports, yet had all the ability and humility in one neat and very humble package.

Me, I was a great golfer in high school, all my year book stuff said, “good luck on the Tour!”  But golf is not the big time in high school…NO freakin’ spectators to scream your name as you sink that big putt with 3 other voice changing, young guys gazing off in the distance.  Sure ,there was the occasional drama, like the time where I almost got into a fist fight with a guy that kept cheating on his score…but hell, there weren’t even cheerleaders!

No, I am the running joke of the family because, there are many reasons why most likely, but the main one known throughout the tribe is…”Uncle Zonno! Weren’t you Player of the Week????!!!”  Okay…enough of that tone of voice shit.  I had one really great game in my Senior year in basketball, when the rest of Chicago’s south suburban players all sucked…where I was named Player of the Week.  I’m fairly certain that I married my wife Colleen because she found it in a file and had it plasticized.

Charlie was a football lineman…his number was 76 I remember.  He was not fleet footed, but you had to go where he pushed. He watched over all of us with a quiet eye, and scared the crap out of some local thugs in Colorado who were starting to give Dave and I a hard time on vacation.  He walked up behind them and suggested they were making a VERY bad choice in picking on his two brothers.  You don’t EVER forget stuff like that. 

Charlie, the oldest, was adopted.  My mom had a series of miscarriages and they had given up having a child of their own.  My dad once said…”we just needed the pattern.”  Then they had three more boys.  There was never any stigma to that.  There were times I was unsure about it even…it just didn’t matter.  Their love was the glue of the fabric of our family.  They taught us to watch over each other by example each day.  Charlie died at 52…walking into the movies, hand in hand with his sweet 8 year old daughter Grace and his wife Laura found a great heart in Tom and remarried.  She is still a big part of our family though she lives far away.  It was wonderful to have some great private time with her last year to share some childhood memories with her.

Younger brother Tom, four years my junior, was always “T” and still is to all who know him well. Before my Mom, Grace, died,she told me he was a surprise from an amorous night with her husband Vern in Yellowstone Park. She was amused when I wrote a song about it called “Old Yellowstone.”  The best part of that is that he NEVER new he was a surprise…I’ve heard from friends who were surprises…and treated like that all their lives.  My brother Tom has the largest heart of almost any person I’ve ever known.  His DNA of caring goes so deep that he cries as an overflow of love…anything that would make you go…that’s nice…he’s balling…and NOT embarrassed by it…it is a simple outpouring of pure love. It’s amazing and touching in the blink of a tear. 

Here is a memory from just last year that will cement for you a vision of my family.  It is nephew James wedding.  It’s in a beautiful historical train station.  Big family wedding…we are ALL there.  You can FEEL the joy in the room.  James is a rock solid…very funny young man…who has found the perfect mate in Mandy.  We take up a number of large tables.  I have brought a large photo album of family photos that my Colleen had asked me to do a number of times..and I finally put it together.  I KNOW there are photos that no one else had seen..because I had never seen them.  They had been in boxes that just were moved around…not looked at.  Well, after dinner I took it out from beneath my chair and started to pass it around our table.  The music had started and people were starting to get up and mingle.  After about a half hour…brother Tom came over to the table.  He looked at me and I said…you might want to take a look at these photos.  He sat down next to me and started to open the book.  A lot of the first photos were of mom and dad as very young people..late teens maybe…and then many of their folks…when they were even young.  The thread of DNA love I am talking about was visible in the faces of these photos…you could feel it.  Tribal history if you will.  With EACH turn of the page…Tom cried harder…in public…with no shame or embarrassment…just an overflow of PURE JOY.  This went on for at least a half hour…with various family members…his kids…extended…Dave…all of us just watching his face turn up to us with a look of exultation.  Pure love…

The thread of DNA works two ways…good and bad.  If you need to break a chain of sad family history…I will try to give you ideas that will give you hope for doing that.  It is possible.  You have the opportunity to change history really.  Because if you change it for your immediate family…you can change it for GENERATIONS to come.  It’s that simple…and that SERIOUS.  You can be a hero…anyone can…and say…that’s enough, let’s head in another direction.  What you teach your children today…they will teach their children tomorrow.  What do you want they to be?  Sadness and regret?  Or love and joy?  It is you CHOICE each day.

That tribal effect of watching over each other is actually palpable…you can FEEL it when we are together.  One more short story to prove that point.  One of my oldest and dearest family friends is a guy named Greg Bayles.  We’ve been friends for 40 years.  I started buying guitars from him back then and though he was a very private person I felt…he was drawn into my family as my brother over the years because of the serious leanings in conversation we would have.  Not just the usual how ya doing? thing…but meaty serious stuff from time to time.  I have a few like that.  Well, his two boys are growing up…and mine are growing up…and we put them together from time to time.  Like coming out to ski each spring with us in Montana…you know, family vacation time.  A few years ago his tribe of wife Dawn…sons Foster and Chance…and Greg are invited to a Christmas time reunion at our home…along with Rob Blue and his tribe…Rob is more like another son…who worked for Greg at the guitar store.  Historical friendships.  The evening was filled with laughter, love and killer home made pizza.  We could have stayed up all night to catch up on stories.  Well, the evening ended…and hugs all around…knowing how lucky we were for that time.  The next day Greg called…I thought it was a short thank you…instead he used “the serious voice” and said…”I just wanted to tell you that I hope and pray that someday my two boys enjoy the bond that I see in the faces of your sons when they are together.”

I was floored.  This is a smart, quiet, loving man.  He CARES about his boys in a way that thrills me.  And yet, the vision of my older boys, that he has known from early childhood, being together and seeing the strength of their love for each other…made him pick up the phone and tell me how much that meant to him.  He doesn’t know how rich he made me that day.  The psychic compensation from that phone call, when financial worries were crippling my heart, carried me for months.

That bond of love really is palpable.  You can feel it.  You can have it.  But you have to want it.  You have to CARE MORE every day…EVERY DAY.  If not…life will fly by and you will kill time…not use it.  The seed of love you planted that created your child…needs that kind of serious nurturing. 

Let’s all work each day to create history in your family that will make the tears of joy flow into the future…I’ve seen it work…it is real.  God bless my parents for giving me that lesson…




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