December 12th is the 4th anniversary of my brother, Roger’s, death. I wrote this memory piece for him some time ago but am publishing it here as a remembrance of my wonderful brother. While this is personal, I have discovered on LinkedIn and other social media sites that writers are nothing if not a mix of people with thousands of very personal, very thought-provoking stories. And from the personal we draw the life-blood of our stories. If Roger were still here, he would be cheering me on with my writing. This, then, is for him.
His Smiling Eyes
by Elaine Cougler
Roger died. At only fifty-four his heart gave out, his smiling eyes closed, and he left us. Left us all. His children and grandchildren, his wife, his brothers and sisters, and brothers and sisters-in-law, his many friends and many more acquaintances—he just up and died away, from us all.
He died on December 12, 2008 in the evening, at the hospital, after an ambulance ride during which he infuriated the paramedics with his humorous quips. They wanted straight answers from him to assess his situation but he just made jokes and they didn’t know if that was normal or not. Well, Roger was never in his life ‘normal’.
When he was born I was almost eight but he soon caught up to us older children. He mastered adding and subtracting before ever going to school and so quickly that Mom moved on to multiplication and division. Yes, he could do all that before he made his school debut. And he could read just about anything. I seem to remember him with the local newspaper, reading out stories to us at our large family dinner table.
He was a bit of a problem in school because he was way too advanced for whatever grade he was in and frequently found other frowned-upon ways to entertain himself. Once in his grade nine Music class—small, slight Roger played the euphonium!—the teacher lost control of the class, yet again, and ran, crying, out of the room. Roger stepped up. When his teacher finally returned the whole group was playing and Roger was standing at the front of the room conducting.
He had no patience for poor teaching or people who tried to tell him things he knew were wrong. He failed courses more than once, not because he couldn’t master the work but because he so infuriated the teacher or couldn’t be bothered to bore himself with the work they assigned. And he was funny. Although I wasn’t there I know that his class contributions could take the form of smart-Alec responses which entertained his classmates but earned him few points with his teachers.
Roger married young, became a father early, loved his kids and life in equal measures and bumped up against thousands in his treks across the province and the country. On more than one occasion he loaded his wife, three kids and one ‘adopted’ kid into the car and drove the seven hours to Chicago and back in one long uproarious journey. Why? He wanted pizza, specifically Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
But he didn’t stop there. Any one of us siblings can name occasions where he totally embarrassed us. We never knew what he would say next or to whom. In restaurants he made the waitress his best friend, in less time than most people take to order. And, as often as not, he got to know everyone in the restaurant. He would get up and start circulating, joking, talking, laughing, gesturing and just, well, entertaining everyone. In the grocery store in my village he would stop people and tell them he was my brother, ask them how they were doing, what they liked to eat, where they made their money, why they lived in the village, all the while laughingly making them feel special and putting them at ease. Of course I was mortified. It took me years to learn to take it all in stride and just ride his wave with him. Once we were in Swiss Chalet and he ended up with a job offer to go there on Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks down the road and sing for the dinner guests. A paid job, but he never went. For Roger the fun was in getting the offer, not in actually doing such a mundane thing as showing up on time, doing the job, sticking to the plan. Of course with his deep bass voice and his prodigious memory he could have sung all night and everyone would have loved it.
He landed on our doorstep often, full of long funny stories of his exploits. He told of his time in court when he outsmarted the cop who had wrongly ticketed him, of his conversations and meetings concerning the Ontario Corn Producers where he astounded them all with his far-reaching thinking. The week he died he had been working on a plan for the Liberals to propose to Harper in order to prevent an election which no one wanted. His Ottawa friend moaned to me on the phone, “Now, I’ll have to find someone who can take Roger’s place.”
I asked him once to sing the role of Sancho Panza in Man of La Mancha, for which production I was the musical director. He came in to the show late (to fill a gap for us) after everyone else had been working for a couple of weeks. He was amazing. He never missed a practice. He quietly helped others with their parts, kept his practical jokes to a minimum and made me very proud. On the final night of the run we had a cast party and he stood up on the stage, quieted everyone and thanked us all for the experience of acting with the group, mentioning this one and that one. Pretty wonderful, as he totally outshone all of us. He had made his mark with the actors, however, and to this day I get people asking to be remembered to Roger from that time fifteen or twenty years ago.
Just as Roger’s life has ended too soon, so also must my remembrance of him be brief. His joyous laughter and his smiling eyes will stay in my heart forever. And even though he is not here in the flesh, I only have to glance up at his picture. From there he smiles at me still, in one continuous, kind and loving, never-ending grin. I wonder what he’s planning now.
Consider leaving a comment perhaps with one of your own personal challenges which has informed your writing.
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