Picture of old wooden fenceposts in Dayton, Nevada cemetery.

I Had a Brother

A Poem by Ken Adams and a Reflection by Suzanne Stormon.

I don’t know anyone else like Ken, the way he brings the past of his family into his art and his writing. The absolute way he is a carrier of the stories. I believe he feels a responsibility to those who went before him and his story is deeply rooted in Northern Nevada, in Dayton, Carson City, and Reno. When I talk to him these days, I can almost feel the dust of the Nevada high desert in the air around him. The ghosts of his family live with him. He is currently working on an installation, an almost life-size diorama of his Aunt Margaret’s life and death. These stories haunt him.

I Had a Brother

I had a brother,
Born a year before me
But we never met
He died on his first day
Or maybe his first hour

If he had a name,
I never heard it
In fact, my other siblings
And I never spoke of him
Until after our mother died

But now, every year
On Memorial Day
We put flowers on his grave
How do we know where he was buried
I don’t know, but we know

He lies on top of my grandmother
It is very convenient
We might talk to him
If only we knew his name

Suzanne’s Reflection

Ken’s poem about a brother born and died on the same day brought up many memories and thoughts about the missing people in our lives and especially in our families; the silences around them and the yearning to know them. Poems like Ken’s brings them to mind and we can bring them back for a moment.

I don’t know why Ken’s family didn’t talk about this brother, but people didn’t always talk about death like they do now. It was as if there was some sort of shame or failure attached to it. Death often became a family secret. Linda, a woman in one of my writing groups, was in her nineties when she told us this story. Her mother died when she was about 3 or 4 of the Spanish Flu that swept the world right after WWI.  We were astonished to learn that the family never told her what happened until she was in her teens.  One day her mother was there, the next she was gone and no one ever talked about her again. Linda remembers sitting on her mother’s bed and wondering when she would be back, she remembers longing for her. Her aunt moved into the house and took over the mothering, but the hole, the yearning was there for all the rest of her life. I see this yearning in Ken’s poem about the brother he never knew. A hole in the family story that is so important to him. In one of his other post’s Ken talked about how the family stories are so important to members of his family, how the living relatives keep those who have passed on alive in a way by telling those stories. How the Dayton cemetery is where these stories are told. What would this brother’s story be?

My mother had a series of miscarriages between the birth of my brother and my sister. I think there were about seven of them if I remember correctly. Some of those miscarriages came late in the pregnancy when the babies were nearly ready to make it on their own. My mother never talked about this to us until she was much older. I was probably 40 years old when she told me this story. How did she stand that much pain? How did losing a child affect her? Who could those sisters and brothers have become? Ken asks the same question, but he has a place and a time to ask them. The cemetery at Dayton. The place that brother has taken, lying on top of the grandmother. He has a story. The family knows where he is. My almost brothers and sisters were never memorialized. They are lost to the family history unless a poem like Ken’s brings them back to mind.

My daughter has brothers that she doesn’t know. She found out about them through a family story from a part of her family she has recently gotten to know. They didn’t know much about these brothers, but she managed to find them with the help of a private detective.  She found out about them about four years ago and has yet to meet them.  Like Ken’s mother, Linda’s family, and my mother, Hoat never mentioned them to MaiLynn or me. All of them trying to save their children from the pain of loss, often creating gaps in the souls of the people they were trying to protect. Ken lost his brother but knows part of his story.

We all spend a lifetime trying to fill the holes in our family stories.  I thank Ken for bringing these missing people back to light.

 

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