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My Special Brother by Pat Baiocchi

I would like to tell you about my brother Jim. When I think of Jim, my heart warms and I have to smile even while I am missing him. Jim had a heart attack and died quickly a few days after Christmas.

He may have sensed that the end was near for him because several weeks before Christmas he wrote me a beautiful letter full of loving and fond memories of our childhood. I tried to call a few friends to share his heartfelt words with them but I could never finish reading his letter without the tears welling up.

I was four years younger than Jim and I know I was a pain in the neck when we were growing up. He was very creative and I was fascinated by all the things h did. I would snoop around in his room but Jim never held a grudge nor did he ever make me feel like I was in the way. I never felt as though I was tagging along when he took me with him. Although as an adult, I discovered that my mom had often given him the responsibility of taking care of me.

Jim loved magic tricks and on Saturday mornings we would travel downtown to the Mandrake Magic shop on Wabash Avenue to purchase magic tricks paraphernalia. I learned how many of the tricks were done and unfortunately when he put on shows for the kids, I would get so excited that I shouted out how it was done, before he had a chance to finish. .I know that this had to have been very exasperating for him, yet it didn’t stop him from including me the next time he went on one of his special trips to the Loop.

Other times we would go on an excursion to Dennison’s, a combination art and craft store. Jim had a magic of his own in making things. He built his own mobiles and hung them in his room. This was before they were popular. Most people didn’t know what they were. He seemed to always be ahead of his time.

Jim also loved classical music. He introduced me to Dvorak, Stravinsky and the waltzes of Strauss. He seldom purchased records, but we would go into the Ross record store, where he requested to hear one of his favorite selections. The salesman, who had the air of a butler, directed us into a little glass booth where we could listen to our heart content. I always enjoyed watching the way Jim acted with this type of sales person as he seemed to develop an air of his own.

When Jim was out with his friends, I loved to go into his room and get my hands on all his fascinating treasures. I’m sure he knew I was in there because I never left things as they were. He was amazingly patient, maybe because his mind and heart was in his work. He discovered the art of carving flowers in plastic with a small hand held drill, then filled the flowers with dye from a hypodermic needle. Mom tried to convince him to approach Marshall Fields to sell his unusual art work, but he responded that plastic was too expensive to make it a worth while venture. While it was true that plastic was expensive at that time, I later felt that Jim didn’t have the confidence in his ability to promote his own work. In later year I found work resembling his both in museums and Marshall Fields.

Our Dad didn’t seem to know much about helping instill confidence in his children. His own father died when Dad was very young and Dad ran away from home to join the Army when he was only fourteen. He enlisted under his brother’s name. The only way Dad knew how to be a father to his children was the way he had been treated in the Army, which meant that we all but saluted him. This was very difficult for Jim as he was growing into his own manhood.

On Sundays we often visited our grandmother who lived in Fox River Grove. On one visit, Jim said he had a surprise for me. First he blindfolded me and then told me we were going through a tunnel. When we came out on the other side, he removed the blindfold and there was a beautiful garden. I tried to figure out were it was when Jim was too mature for family visits to our grandmother’s house, but I never did find it.

When Jim was in high school his art teacher chose him to take classes at the Art Institute. It was quite an honor. I remember that he once painted his bedroom walls brown and then with white chalk he drew unusual murals. I found his artwork fascinating even when I didn’t understand what he was doing. I would love to bring my friends over to see the treasures in his room when he wasn’t there. I know I wasn’t supposed to do that.

When I was twelve, Jim took me to a dance at the YMCA. It was the thrill of my life. My older brother was actually escorting me to a dance. He was a wonderful dancer and tried to teach me some intricate and smooth Latin steps. He showed me how to dance smoothly, rather than bounce up and down as twelve year olds have a tendency to do. Whenever I hear cha-cha music, or see dance competitions, I have to smile and remember the steps he so patiently taught me.

When I was getting ready for my prom, I bought a very simple white gown and I also bought some tiny red roses. I wanted to add the roses to my dress so that it would look original, just in case someone else would have bought the same dress for the dance. Jim suggested that I insert the tiny roses under the first layer of chiffon in a certain pattern. Then he secretly called my date to describe the red rose corsage I would need to complement my dress. I was amazed at how the corsage matched the pattern Jim had suggested I follow. Of course, I gave my date the credit for such a match and only found out many years later that it had been Jim’s idea. He never said a word about it. That’s how he was.

When our parents retired and moved out of state, Mom asked Jim to look out for my sister and me even though we were adults by then. Jim called at least once a week to “check in,” as he put it and we would often meet for dinner. Having an artist’s eye, he was always ready with a compliment for my choice of color or fabric in my outfit. He’d say, “I like the way you put yourself together.”

My brother was a struggling graphic artist, and several years ago he showed me his latest portfolio. I complimented him on how good his work was. He admitted that he could never make the sort of presentation to a stranger as he had just done with me. This made me very sad, and I said that I wished I could make his presentation for him but he just laughed.

After Jim died it was very difficult to remove his belongings from his apartment. My daughters helped and I invited them to take whatever they liked. After all the times I sneaked into his room to look at his stuff, this was not the same. It was hard.

I have some of the pieces of artwork that he collected and I enjoy having them around me. I also feel that Jim is still watching over me and sharing with me his love for beautiful things. We both loved to read, and I feel especially close to him as I enjoy his bookcases that are now filled with my own books.

On days when I especially miss him, I take out his last letter, and as I read it, I am comforted as I feel his love and closeness. I was truly blessed to have Jim for my brother.

Originally Posted (Jul 01, 2002)

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