My parents had four daughters and four sons.
Yes, my mother was a little obsessive/compulsive when it came to things like balance and symmetry — one of many things I inherited from her (along with diabetes, arthritis and the complete inability to refrain from cheating at solitaire).
Among the four boys, we each had a role that we played in the family. Dick was the good one. Bob was the funny one. I was well, I’m not exactly sure, but the words “big and doofy” come to mind.
Bud was the eldest of the four of us. He had a beautiful singing voice — his version of “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” self-accompanied on the guitar, was for many years a staple at Walker family weddings even though there isn’t a smidgeon of Hawaiian DNA in any of us. Bud was also terrific with people. He was incredibly organized and precise. He worked harder than any person I ever knew. And he had beautiful penmanship, which my third-grade teacher Mrs. Campbell said was the mark of true refinement (which seems like a heavy concept to lay on a bunch of 9-year-olds, whose idea of refinement is saying “excuse me” after you burp).
But if you asked Bud, he would say his role in the family was clear: he was the rascal.
The first time I ever heard that word — rascal — my mother was using it in reference to Bud. And it was difficult to argue with her — especially if you didn’t know what the word meant. Bud was a great guy, but he had made some bad choices in his life, no question about it. And there were a number of people who had been hurt by those choices. I understood that.
But I loved Bud. Nothing he said or did could change that. He was my big brother, and he had always been my hero. I didn’t deny the bad choices, but I didn’t dwell on them, either. As far as I was concerned, they didn’t define Bud. For me, Bud was defined by other things: how he taught me how to ride a horse, how he worked with me on creating a really cool signature, how he didn’t yell at me when I wrecked his motorcycle, how he was always there for me when I needed to talk or when I needed 20 bucks.
Bud was the best man at my wedding. And he was the best best man ever. When I showed up for the wedding pictures wearing a white tuxedo (which was really groovy) and black socks (which were really not), he literally ran to the closest store about five blocks away to purchase some white socks for me. And when other members of my family — especially two nephews who shall (Mark) remain (Jeff) nameless — decorated our car almost beyond recognition, Bud helped my new bride and I to orchestrate an escape plan that included us jumping into my Dad’s car and taking off in it.
To be honest, I’m not sure if Dad actually knew about that plan before it was executed (perfectly, I might add). Doing things without asking was right there on the list of Bud’s rascally tendencies. But I do know that he washed my car and had it ready for me the next day.
How can you not love a best man who’ll do that?
I often find myself thinking about Bud this time of year — it was spring 16 years ago when he was killed in a car accident (Bud was also sort of a rascal behind the wheel). Thoughts of Bud always remind me to be less harsh in my judgment of others. Even if my personal experience with someone isn’t positive, somewhere there is likely a little brother or sister or cousin or friend for whom that person is a hero — and usually with good reason.
The fact is, we all have tendencies toward rascalism, don’t we? I know I do. But we are also all capable of heroism. The key, it seems to me, is figuring out how to create a life that draws more upon the latter than the former.
And not in an obsessively balanced, symmetrical way.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to www.josephbwalker.com .