By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
On his days off he wears T-shirts, flat against his thin waist, and he pulls the frayed bill of a cap down close over his eyes.
Once a week Kyle drops his little boy off at my mother and father’s house and uses his few daylight hours to fix things, like a lawnmower for a friend, or the brakes on his wife’s car.
He’s lean, strong and tan and he moves through the world with the compassionate sensibility of a man twice his age.
“How’s work?” I ask him, as he scrapes grease from under his fingernails with the blade of a pocket knife.
We watch little Brandon, now 17 months old, stack blocks in the floor and strike them down with a sweep of his mighty arm.
“Pretty, good, pretty good,” Kyle says, sparing me the details. He won’t burden me with the stories of death, the grizzly visions that must haunt his sleep, of broken bodies and wailing families.
Occasionally he tells a funny story, like when he pulled a fainting victim from the swarm of summer heat in a local church, swatting back the healing hands of the congregation as he loaded her into the ambulance.
More often, though, the stories are too hard to hear, and too hard to tell.
Over my mother’s table hangs a picture of my brother with cornsilk hair. He’s holding an open Bible on his lap and bears a cherubic, contented look on his face.
Today he is much more masculine, stabbing his shrimp and potatoes like a man starved. His face is kind, but sharp. Under his eyes and down his jaw line, the tissue, where it once gathered in soft, ruddy pools, has tightened into a hawk-like composure.
My little brother has been transformed, made more handsome, and older, by the continual sight of death and the happy burden of fatherhood.
His phone vibrates, and he stares at it for a minute. Then he rises and walks to the other side of the room. “Hey boy, what’s going on?” he says, speaking in the masculine, Southern patois that I will never master.
He talks for a minute – of shift changes, and CPR classes – and he ends the call after a couple of minutes, mindful to be polite.
He looks down, lovingly, at his son playing in the floor.
“OK, Homer, you ready to go?” my brother asks, walking toward the child and clipping the phone onto his belt.
“We’ve done enough damage around here, I think.”
The baby raises his arms toward his father, cocking his head back and gurgling joyful gibberish.
“Y’all just take the rest of that shrimp home,” my mother insists, but Kyle refuses.
The baby clamps both hands on the frayed bill of his father’s cap and tugs. His mother kisses his blonde hair and says, “Tell’ em bye-bye.” The baby blows kisses, like a dignitary in a parade, safe in the cradle of his father’s arms.
In the picture, hanging over our mother’s table, Kyle sits forever. He’s holding his Bible open on his lap, and his white blonde hair is spilling over his ears.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org