Mark was the youngest member of my family of origin. He was my brother and consistent friend. Mark and I were inseparable. Whenever our family changed addresses, Mark, my sister Deb, and I were a clique.
Because my sister was “daddy’s girl” she had a major parental ally. Meantime, Mark and I were equally loved by both parents. I know it’s not “politically correct” to make such statements, but in the real world of families, there are favorites. Dad and mom frequently told me, “You are your brother’s keeper”, so I ended up becoming my brother’s advocate. It was a role, I gladly accepted. At the same time, Mark and I were each other’s best friends.
I’m thinking about Mark today on Brother’s Day. I wish he was here to celebrate the unofficial holiday with Deb and me. He died on January 3, 2011 after a seven-hours-long surgery. His official death certificate said the cause of death was a “postoperative Multiorgan Failure”. He died “as a consequence of: Ascending Thoracic Aneurysm dissection.”
When the surgeon telephoned me to inform me of my brother’s death, he affirmed that a major factor of Mark’s condition was due to cigarette smoking. My brother was a moderately heavy smoker. Whenever I saw him, he had a cigarette between his lips. Because of these factors, I am very much in favor of smoking cessation programs. As a former smoker, myself, I hoped Mark would follow my lead. The inability to quit smoking was my brother’s tragic flaw.
Due in part that Mark was the youngest member of the family, he was the most adventurous and rebellious member of us three kids. I sometimes wished I wasn’t the oldest, semi-parental sibling who was assigned to keep watch over my sister and brother. I would like to have let go of convention as often as Mark did.
Fortunately, as we grew older, our relationship became much more egalitarian. There was considerable give and take between us. When Mark was a fifth and sixth grader and I was attending junior high, our mutual friendship bonds became stronger. He came into his own as a more autonomous individual. Mark began to stand up for his own rights when he was a tween. These developments even enabled him to sometimes advocate for me when he saw parental injustice that overstepped my rights. You might say we had each other’s backs.
There were two main things in life that defined my brother: applied commercial arts, and automobiles. He was fanatical about both. He studied commercial arts at Metro Tech Community College near Omaha. He graduated with honors.
Mark’s love of cars edged out his love of commercial art by a long-shot. His car fetish was centered around 1957 Chevrolets. I could write a small book about Mark’s love of ’57 Chevies. His first project car was a 1957 BelAir four door hardtop. He purchased the car from our paternal grandmother. He painstakingly restored the vehicle to working order, then had it painted bright yellow and outfitted it with chrome plated “Crager” five spoke mag wheels and white letter Goodyear tires. The finished car was a real head-turner.
Mark’s most successful restoration was a 1957 “Nomad” two-door station wagon. It was a “factory spec” rebuilding project that was correct in every detail. He displayed it at a car show in Omaha where it earned a prestigious trophy. A prominent vintage automobile collector from Southern California purchased the “Nomad” for his personal collection and had the car shipped to his home shortly after the car show ended. No, the collector was not Jay Leno.
Mark tinkered around with other 1950s Chevrolets and had a small hoard of them stored on a patch of rented rural farmland. His last project was a 1957 “panel delivery” that he never finished. He eventually sold it in order to pay off some financial debts. From that time onward, he drove pickup trucks–ironically, two of them were Fords.
Although Mark passed away nine years ago, I still think about him every day. He was a mighty fine brother.