Brotherly Love

My brother, Archie Garth, died recently. He was a widower who lived alone and was a guy who struggled with his share of health issues. Still, his death was unexpected; shockingly so. Here are some things you should know about him.IMG_3646

He was named after our father, Archie Sr., and like our dad, Archie was a quiet man but also a listener – a vanishing skill in today’s world. He gave you his full attention, always.

He was the most kind and gentle man I’ve ever known. This isn’t just family talk. His kindness was pure and absolute, attributes he received from our mother. Caring oozed from him. He didn’t tease. He was void of snark. I doubt he knew what the word meant.

He loved his family and was absolutely silly about my daughters, Rebecca and Sarah, his twin nieces, and they were equally silly about him. It was a mutual love fest. They adored him, and he them. That’s them in the photo with their Uncle Archie.

He lived in the city all of his adult life but preferred country life. He often talked about moving to a small town.

He was a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, and a Green Bay Packers football fan, following the teams faithfully for decades, first on radio then television. To my knowledge he never saw a live game.

He was nine years my senior. He taught me how to drive.

He was a hunter and fisherman in his youth. His support for rod and gun sports never faded but it’s been decades since he was an active participant. We did fish together recently. Only he didn’t fish. He spent the day in the boat but didn’t touch a rod.

He was lefthanded, the only southpaw in the family, and hands down the best shot I ever saw. Rifle, pistol or shotgun. He simply didn’t miss. It was a gift.

He always carried a pocket knife. The last pair of pants he wore had his bone handled, two-blade knife in the left pocket.

He always carried a substantial amount of cash, always the same amount, folded and tucked into his wallet. I know why but won’t say so here. But it was a good reason.

He left home after high school and tried business school, but it wasn’t for him. He spent 40 years working in the auto parts industry. His customers were loyal, as he was to them.

He was a man of faith and believed strongly in the power of prayer but wasn’t a regular church goer. I’ve no doubt his place is heaven is secure. If not, then none of us are safe.

He expected to die alone. He had no fear but a stoic acceptance. “It comes to everyone,” he told me recently.

He fed the neighborhood cats and worried about them when he was away.

He enjoyed television and especially liked western movies and sports. Gunsmoke was a favorite program.

He was politically conservative but humanly liberal. He believed in fairness and was troubled by suffering and stopped it where it could.

He sometimes seemed to have more than his share of trouble. Sadness and heartache recently followed him. A couple of years ago, following a lengthy and challenging illness, his wife of 49 years died. The day after his wife died he suffered a stroke. Physical therapy followed. He was doubtful that it would help. His sister-in-law, Katy, my wife, whom he also adored, encouraged him. It will help, she told him. He believed her, and her encouragement helped keep him going. He regained full ability to write; to speak. When he completed the program, he wrote his therapists a thank you note. They wept with joy.

Then last year, on Christmas Eve morning following a short but brutal illness, his son died.

We saw each other earlier this month at a family gathering. It was a delightful day and when we said our goodbyes he said he felt good; better than he had in a long time. He hugged his nieces, his sister-in-law and me. We’d long abandoned shaking hands. My brother was a hugger. It had been a good day. We agreed to see each other soon. He followed us out of the driveway in his Ford Ranger then my wife and I remembered we’d forgotten something and had to turn around. He pulled around our car, waved, and headed south toward his home in Southaven, Miss.

We lived in different states but communicated almost daily. Earlier this week, after I hadn’t heard from him for a couple of days I became concerned. The Southaven police were contacted and asked to check on him. They did. It was judged natural causes. Details remain a mystery.

The next day my wife and I traveled to Southaven to do the things that the day following a death requires. Later that afternoon, standing in his kitchen, I peeked into a small chest type freezer. It contained four frozen beef patties and box of fish sticks. My brother loved food, but he was not a gourmet. I picked up the box of fish sticks and shook it. It was about half empty. I showed it to a young relative sitting nearly by. “I told Archie these things would kill him,” I said with a smile. She seemed shocked. I returned the box to the freezer and closed the lid.

“Why did you say that?” she asked

“Don’t worry,” I explained. “It’s a brother joke.”

I miss him.