I lost my eldest brother for a week. I rang him up one evening and he didn’t answer the phone. That was unusual. A few days later I rang and the phone had been disconnected. He’s getting close to eighty, is diabetic and has been sounding unwell. Grader driver, worked on farms, ran the metal crusher for the county council for a number of years, so his body’s had its share of hard work. I like my brother. He’s a man you’d go to war with if you had to go to war – one of the old fashioned trench wars. You’d trust him to watch your back, to not panic.
A couple of years ago his wife of forty years left him, drove off into the sunset, never to be heard of again, so he sold the house and shifted into a unit. Perhaps she’d got sick of everything in this small Hawkes Bay town, tired of watching tellie and staring over the neighbour’s garden. My brother would sometimes drive down to the main road and sit there, watching the traffic wash by. It was a second marriage for both of them. She had a number of children. One was a bit simple and after she got pregnant they’d had to bring up her child. They did a good job. My brother’s a fearless sort of bloke. I remember one of the kids falling foul of the local Mongrel Mob and him going and sorting it out single handed. Fearless and moral, a good union man.
The kids seemed to lead lives like an American movie: mobile, changing partners, having an assortment of kids and the occasionally serious car or motorbike accident, almost trailer park material. Christmas Day was like a railway station, different partners coming to have a couple of hours with their offspring. My brother and his wife had a big collection of photos of these children in their album, sometimes had difficulty remembering names.
Anyway, I rang another brother who lives in the region (our family disintegrated when we were kids and we went every which way but have met up as adults) and then a nephew and tracked my brother down to a rest home. Seems like the diabetes had created an ulcer, he hadn’t been eating properly, dodgy hips, got bronchitis and the health system had found him a place. I got hold of him. They put me in here, he said. I’m not happy. I think I’ve had enough.
My daughter said it’s sad that he’s ending his life so lonely. She’s right, and when I think of his family (our family), there can be an alienation to the working class life nowadays which is Victorian in its nature. Those country folk were herded into the factory towns, got lost in gin-soaked alleys, old ties were broken, children dosed with laudanum to keep them quiet when their mothers were down mine or in factory, or gone to the colonies. A transitoriness penetrated all facets of life.
Anyway, at least he’ll be fed a balanced diet and taken care of. The rest home staff sounded pleasant enough. They’re often from developing countries, got their own story of traditional ties being broken. I’ll go and see him at Christmas, spend a couple of hours… It’s a wet Sunday and I sit and ponder him saying, I think I’ve had enough.
My brother as a young man
Last night we performed the play in Hokitika. Big vibrant audience keen to be part of a simple prophetic process. What impresses me is the percentage of people saying yes to organic dairying, our own food supply, having our own energy supply, to a hemp industry, to processing raw materials here, to a universal basic income, to welcoming refugees…There’s another world out there in peoples’ heads, waiting to happen.
It’s just a matter of going and confronting the various Mongrel Mobs who go by other names.