Monday, September 5, 2011

Holey, Wholly, Holy

My brother was born more than 60 years ago with a hole in his heart. I do not ever recall my family being curious about the condition of my brother’s heart. “Maynard has a hole in his heart” was as common a remark as “It’s raining today”. This unexplained declaration was attached to Maynard like those annoying pillow tags that warn not to remove for fear of unknown punishment.

“The doctor said his traumatic delivery caused the hole,” my mother recently admitted. Mom remembered Maynard’s hole with guilt. My father viewed the hole as something to overcome and challenged Maynard’s small wiry frame throughout Little League. The rest of us thought our brother was fun and mischievous. But we quickly became wise to his Huck Finn charm that would often involve one of us four siblings.

Since Maynard was a self-appointed captain of baseball or tackle football in the neighbor’s yard, I would often be his first-draft choice…the youngest, and the only girl. Then he’d position me on first base or as wide receiver. How did a boy with a hole in his heart make others feel like their heart could burst?

Despite his hole or maybe because of his hole, Maynard was the first adventurous one to leave the family nest for strenuous work on a cargo ship. I was in seventh grade when he left home, not too long after our mom ran away. Maynard sent me postcards from foreign places…like Michigan and Wisconsin. One time he sent me a fancy yellow dress with a note included: “I think it’s time for you to start dressing like a girl.” With tender recollections of my eldest brother, I wore a bright yellow dress to his memorial service recently.

More than twenty years ago, Maynard and his third wife moved in with my own family for a season while my husband and I were managing a ski area restaurant. Maynard was hired as an experienced bartender…and then frantically studied in the evenings to learn how to mix drinks. Everyone in town knew Maynard the bartender. I was known as Maynard’s little sister.

Our two boys adored their uncle Maynard who teased them with his stinky feet and shoes. We would unabashedly toss his shoes outside our loft window onto the roof where they could breathe…and we could too. Amused, he snorted his nasally laugh like the cartoon dog, Muttley. A young friend once commented, “Maynard…makes me think of a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard.” Yet, Maynard’s Muttley snicker always disarmed any innocent mockery of his uncommon name. Very little would offend Maynard or his heart.

Earlier this year Maynard and I were sharing rides with one another during a visit to Florida. I was often shivering in the air-conditioned indoors and needed some kind of sweater. So we popped into Goodwill where each of us scouted for practical bargains. Maynard delighted in finding some slightly-worn dress shoes and a few name-brand shirts that golfers wear. I found a sensible green sweater and tried it on. “How does this look, Mayne?”

“It’s okay, but this time,” he said within earshot of two elderly shoppers, “I think you should pay for it instead of walking out of the store like you did the last time. Really, Kid, you need to quit doing that.” The two ladies raised their eyebrows at one another and then shot a disapproving glance toward me. Maynard strutted out of the store in his newly purchased shoes wearing a big grin. I followed carrying my sweater in a bag with my visible receipt in hand.

Through the years, Maynard and I have had many telephone conversations. It seems like we would take turns listening and coaching one another…about relationships and parenting and faith.  We communicated as equal adults, not necessarily as big brother and little sister. And it was during these conversations that I developed a curiosity about the condition of Maynard’s heart. I often wondered if the hole widened when our mother left years ago. And how does a damaged heart cope with — or even contribute to — Maynard’s multiple marriages, job-hopping, financial struggles and single-parenting challenges? But on the surface, Maynard was everyone’s friend, a caring brother, and an indulgent father. I will miss him, his humor, his thoughtfulness and our conversations.

Today I am confident that Maynard’s hole in his heart has been wholly restored…or more accurately, holy restored. However, recollections of my brother challenge me. I’ve noticed lately that I have avoided stepping into key positions—like first base or wide receiver—for several years. Like my brother’s heart, I bear scars from the past. I have been hesitant about exposing myself to the tackles and line-drives of engagement. Now, however, “I’m open! I’m open!” is directed towards God the Healer who revives what Maynard the Quarterback began.