There are few gifts in life as fine as a brother. I am blessed with three brothers, one whose birthday is today.
I first knew about him on July 23, 1970. I could take you to the place in Miltonvale, Kansas, just down the hill from the old Miltonvale Wesleyan College, near the street by the home where we lived, the old Gathers Hall which had served as a college dorm before our family of 5 moved there. The house was a mansion to me as a 5-year-old boy – long stair case, high ceilings, two floors, old basement, large porch, claw-foot tub, two bathrooms, a parlor.
But on that day I was outside, mid-morning, and my Dad pulled up in our 60's-something Galaxy 500 and called out to me through the window. I still see his smile as he said “Happy Birthday” and tossed me a ball glove. That glove went straight to my heart and is still there. Then he said, “You have another birthday gift – a baby brother! Mom is still at the hospital but she will bring him home in a day or two.”
Being only 5 I probably didn't know how grand this was, though I knew it was special to have a brother born on my birthday. And, happily, I never remember regretting it, like I had to 'share' the day or something. To me it was always a neat thing to get to share it with him. And more than ever, now at 47, I know how grand it is to have a brother born on my birthday, a brother like Rick. He, too, went straight to my heart, and is still there.
If you know Rick you know the kinds of things I could say. I could talk about his strength and steadiness, his smarts, his tenderness and commitment. I would remember his concern for truth and humility, the keen hurt he feels at losing our Dad and the way that loss feeds his love for others. I might boast about his exploits, among them various academic and professional achievements, basketball prowess, climbing three 20,000 ft.+ peaks to celebrate turning 40. I would be happy with you for his recovery from a heart attack last year and the love and determination and restored health that keeps him with us and makes us glad of it. And I would marvel with you about his beautiful wife and family and all he has done to be a blessing in his church and community.
You might hear me echo the words of others who call him a 'rock', a steady influence of integrity in work, family, life.
If you know him you know all that and more. But I have one on you. I got to grow up with the guy and have a nearby seat on his life ever since. And I am glad of it. At various times he has shared words of love and appreciation with me, words that I treasure and draw strength from across the years. But I do not think he can know how much I appreciate him and admire him for the man he has become.
There is a loyalty in this guy, my oldest kid brother – a loyalty to God, truth and loved ones, properly in that order. I remember once we were working together on a roof job and I was the foreman. One of the guys was having a not-so-good day and wound up refusing to do what I said. Perhaps my day was not-so-good either because my diplomacy skills led me immediately to the radio to call the company owner. The guy backed down, tension was thick, and so when we broke for lunch we talked about it. Rick didn't say much – didn't say anything, really, until the conversation died without resolve. Then he kind of cleared his throat and said, “I've known Randy longer than any of you so I might should say a thing or two. He might have over-reacted but I know he is only wanting to get this done right. I think we just need to put this behind us and finish the job.” Rick was the youngest guy there but they all listened and respected his words. I certainly did, too.
There are many other great memories of course. Working together was always central, especially with Dad. In young adulthood we did some larger projects together and I always admired Rick's hard work and his good sense with money. Looking back I can see a real kid-brother love and respect that fed strength into our relationship and helped me be better. I remember when we still roomed together, me 16 and he 11. And then I got my own room and I was sad for the change, the move that can never be reversed. It was a poignant moment, still fixed in my memory.
One winter in that very room we played a marathon game of UNO. We were happily snowed out from school and there was little else to do. So for several days we played, and played...and played. When we finally quit he had won by a score of 11,000 to 9,500! Not exaggerating. Such is the fun of so many memories. There were also monopoly games but I'd rather leave them in the recollection dustbin!
And so what does one say about a big little brother like Rick? For 42 years he has become a treasured friend, a confidant, an inspiration, an example. He is indeed a rock, a point of reference, someone who shows the way by example and word. So when I am sometimes discouraged, forgetting my blessings, it helps to remember my birthday-brother Rick, 5 years younger but right alongside. I've so often wished I could be more like him, and ain't nothing wrong with that. That's the kind of guy he is.
So today on the birthday we share I send happy words of love and tribute, full of gratitude for the life-gift I remember every year on our birthday, my kid-big brother, Richard Lee Huff.