I've known for a few months that I would be writing this story. It is a story not about yarn or knitting, but it does have llamas. It is a story about my older brother, Doug who lost his battle with cancer this week.
Doug was the second son of the five boys that my parents would have. I was the third son with four years between Doug and I. As children, those four years were a world apart. Doug was my older brother and he didn't mind reminding me, daily if needed. As adults, those years disappeared completely. That said, Doug was country, I was rock-and-roll.
As kids, Doug and I weren't close, the gap between ages was just too wide. That said, I probably spent more time with Doug than any other brother. We were roommates. With five boys and parents living in a two-bedroom house, a few of us had to share. Even when Dad finished a couple of bedrooms in the basement, Doug and I were roommates until our oldest brother moved on.
If you could ask Doug, I think he enjoyed being an older brother sharing a room, than I enjoyed being a younger brother, sharing a room. It was nice knowing your big brother was in the twin bed three feet from you while you slept in the event of the boogie man crashing into your room. Unless of course, he decided to be the boogie man. There were those days when you found strategically placed "surprises" in your bed.
I learned so much from Doug that I never took the time to thank him for. He taught me to "serpentine" ( the art of running side-to-side. A few weeks ago I told a story of "disappointing" my mother and having the need to run from her. I learned from Doug if you don't run in a straight line you can extend the chase and possibly tire Mom out before she caught you. That only worked if Doug didn't decide to catch you and bring you back to Mom.
When I got to high school, Doug was one of the most influential people in my life. Doug was married to the mother of his children. Doug was working in the family concrete placing business (We are going to talk more about that in a minute) On Friday evenings, after Doug would return home from work, my friends and I would cruise over to Doug's (and wife's) house. We would ask him to take us to the liquor store. He never let us down. He didn't even charge us for the service. I'm sure we told him thanks at the time, but I wish I could tell him again.
Doug had the misfortune of being born at a time that made him eligible for Vietnam. He didn't end up in Vietnam, but he did enlist in the Army Reserve. At Basic Training and he became an expert at operating heavy equipment, but we aren't going to talk about that now. We are going to talk about what he left behind for me. His white 1963 Chevy Impala, 327 cubic inch, four on the floor, Chevy Impala. I taught myself to drive in that car. While he was being trained to build roads for an army, I was driving his car. I guess I should admit I might have done some street racing with that car. I won a bunch though. He might have even been proud. I doubt it, but maybe. It was all in knowing how and when to shift.
If Doug were here, there would be another thing I wished I would have thanked him for. But the truth is I didn't remember this until I started writing this story. I would have liked to have thanked him for getting me fired from the family business.
As I have said, when I was in high school, my parents owned a construction company specializing in the placement of concrete. Both of my older brothers, including Doug were "bosses" for the company. For summertime employment, I worked for the company. Doug was my older brother "boss". If I was expecting to get the "be nice to the family treatment", I didn't get it. Doug made sure I was staying in great physical shape working my (construction language) off.
So one particular day, Dou's crew was going to build a concrete loading dock. For those of you, without construction backgrounds, I will explain concrete. Concrete starts out in almost liquid form, about the consistency of a milkshake. A milkshake with rocks in it. As soon as the milkshake is poured on the ground it begins to harden. The time for it to harden depends on the weather, the ingredients of the milkshake, and luck.
Before I go any further, Doug was an expert in placing concrete. He had every intention of teaching me the concrete business. So this summer day was hot. As a crew, we were pouring concrete from trucks creating this loading dock for large trucks. The concrete we were pouring was extremely thick. To place the concrete we needed to wear rubber boots and walk in this super thick milkshake-like material. If you can imagine your snow boots, that's how deep the concrete was; to the top of our boots.
Doug liked to keep me close to him while we were working. For two reasons, first to make sure I was working harder than anyone else and second, to make sure I wasn't making mistakes. Doug positioned me behind him in the "boot" deep milkshake (with rocks). My job was to push the liquid concrete to Doug while he made it flat and pretty. I wasn't pushing fast enough. Doug insisted I push faster. It became a problem. I didn't push fast enough. But what I did was push the concrete over the top of his boots, starting to fill the boots while he was wearing them. He used some really bad (construction language). I got myself out of the liquid concrete and removed my boots. I walked home.
The day was hot and the walk home was at least seven miles. I was in the shower at home, I heard angry beating on the door. It was Dad.
Dad: What happened out there? Me: Doug's an (construction language) hole
Dad: You're fired.
Do you think anyone else has been fired by their dad while naked in the shower? I should have thanked Doug, but I never did.
As time went on Doug and I became more alike. He was less country and I was less rock-and-roll. After hanging out with Elaine and me, Doug developed an interest in llamas. After borrowing one of our llamas and competing in a human/llama race in Fairplay, Colorado, Doug ended up buying some llamas of his own. I need to add, Doug might have been the last person in the world, to have forded a waist-deep fast-moving river dragging or being drug by a llama. He had a ball.
But, long before the race Doug was helping Elaine and me halter two llamas Elaine had bought at an auction. These llamas were wild. To halter them, we needed to grab them around the neck and hold the llama while someone slipped the halter over the llama's nose. Doug volunteered to hold the llama. The llama had other ideas. The three-hundred-fifty pound llama didn't want to be held. Doug wanted to hold the llama. I will never forget what happened next. Six legs were off the ground. Four from the llama, two from Doug. Doug could have just let go. He could have, but he didn't. For about eight seconds Doug looked like Chris LeDoux. (Construction language) that was cool. We haltered that (construction language) llama.
A few years ago, Doug followed his kids to Wyoming, No income tax and wholesome values were just too enticing. We didn't get together as much after that. Neither one of us were llama ranchers. I telephoned him almost every morning since he moved to Wyoming. That's what the relationship became.
Once in Wyoming, Doug started taking health seriously. He went for miles-long walks every day. He was careful about what he ate. He fished. He took summer jobs as a camp host in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana. About six months ago, we were talking on the phone. he dropped the bomb that he had a little cancer. No big deal, a tumor the size of a nickel, a small surgery, maybe some chemo. Looks good.
It wasn't good.
Sitting in hospice, Doug mentioned he tried some brand of ghost pepper whiskey while being a camp host in Montana. The story was he hadn't been able to find it again. I found it. I was able to have a shot of ghost pepper whiskey with Doug in hospice. I don't know what it meant to Doug, but it meant everything to me.
This story is for Douglas Wayne Sipes and me. Rest in Peace. I wish I could call you. God Bless.
Our crazy lives!