By Chris Hunt
We had a moment this week, my youngest brother and I.
As we struggled through the instructions that came with the Sam’s Club charcoal grill we’d hustled to the store to acquire while three juicy ribeyes sat stoically on the kitchen counter, we connected through music and memory.
We have one thing in common these days. Our middle brother is dying from ALS, and he’s never far from our minds or from our hearts. We’d spent the better part of the day with Brice, and, exhausted from the effort it took to keep our emotions in check and our tears at bay while our brother literally wasted away before our eyes, we retreated to my youngest brother’s back deck in south Denver’s Baker neighborhood, poured a couple of gin and tonic spritzers and set out to “assemble” the new grill. I “created” a Pandora channel based on the Wreckless Eric version of “Whole Wide World,” and we proceeded to let the tears flow and the memories rush over us.
Kids of the 80s, our collective memories generally come down to two things. Music and fishing. As kids, we’d spend summer weeks in Colorado’s high country dapping flies for backcountry trout. The shoulder seasons were spent chasing bass, catfish and bluegill in the Sabine River of East Texas or the many nearby lakes where bream were more than happy to hit Beetle Spin lures pulled near the pilings.
But no matter where we were, we had our music. Brice, my middle brother, was a Def Leppard guy. I was a bit more eclectic, ranging back and forth between the classic country of Willie and Waylon, to the delicious licks from Brian May’s guitar that washed over me while Freddy Mercury sang operatic rock that moved my soul. Andy, he was a hybrid, who eventually settled on Phish, with some traditional 80s stuff thrown in.
But this “channel” was perfect. Every song came with a story and a memory. As we assembled the grill, realized we’d put the legs on backwards and started over, wonderful memories washed over us of swinging off of wrist-thick vines into the muddy Sabine or collecting around a campfire to keep the cold Rocky Mountain night at bay.
We remembered better days, when Brice would wake up and wander out of the tent with this shoes on the wrong feet. Or the foot of snow we got the Memorial Day weekend we spent at 11,000 feet above the town of Leadville … and how the fishing was still unbelievably good, despite being cold and wet for hours at a time, and how the three of us huddled together around a desperate fire for warmth. We remembered July Fourth family gatherings where it never seemed to get dark and backyard swimming on sultry Big Thicket nights where only the bats that would swoop down and glide their tongues along the water would convince us to get out of the pool.
Music stirred memory. And, after a fashion, the grill came together and the steaks came shortly after that. I handed Andy a small box of “spare” parts and uttered the line from the old film, “Doc Hollywood.”
“There’s always some extra parts,” I said, with a grin.
We laughed some more. Drank too much. And we toasted our brother who, whether we like it or not, will leave this world sooner rather than later. It was a bittersweet night, remembering who we were when the cares of the world were simple and centered on the next adventure, not the pending death of a guy we both dearly loved.
A dear friend once told me not to mourn the living, and I’ve largely taken that advice to heart. But that night, with my youngest brother—he will soon be my only brother—we mourned our lost past and our brother who was such a big part of it.
What I’d give for one more night around the campfire with Brice. One more day on Elbert Creek. One more grin as he held up a fat trout, fresh from the creek. One more float along the Sabine.
One more song. One more cast.
Chris Hunt is the national editorial director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.