Curtis was more than an older brother. He was a father surrogate, since our father died when I was in Mother’s womb and he was only five. From the beginning of my life, I looked up to him, admired him, wanted his approval and tried to be like him, with certain variations that suited my nature. So, when he was killed as co-pilot of a B-47 when we were both in the Air Force, I truly lost a father, brother, mentor and friend.
Mother married a carpenter when I was six and Curtis was 11. Mother told him she would marry him if he would quit drinking and build her a house. He built her two houses but could never commit to perpetual sobriety. So, like most childhoods, ours was rough at times. I accepted and loved Pop like a father, but Curtis, not so much. After all, he had known his real father. Curtis and Pop had some serious run-ins through those early years.
The first house Pop built had a small basement room, and when Curtis reached the point of wanting to avoid the fray, he converted that room into a nice bachelor’s pad. I helped him work on it and enjoyed the project immensely. Pink and gray were THE colors of the time, and Curtis chose those colors for the brick walls and concrete floor.
I was helping him paint the walls pink, wearing my Pat Boone style white bucks that Mother had bought me for band. All marching bands in those days required white shoes as part of the uniform. I splashed a little pink paint on one of the shoes and, when I tried to wipe it off, it spread out. Impulsively, I painted both shoes pink, while Curtis fell backwards onto the cot laughing hysterically.
When Mother came home from work it wasn’t funny: “Daniel Gordon Ford, what do you mean ruining those band shoes. I worked my fingers to the bone to be able to buy those and you have ruined them. If you think I am going to buy you another pair of white bucks, you are mistaken, sir. You will either earn the money yourself or get out of the band. And, if you ever leave this property wearing those ridiculous things, you will be in worse trouble than you have ever been in, do you hear me?”
I heard her, but I wore them to my Western Union messenger job one Saturday anyway, thinking I wouldn’t have to be out much, since Saturdays were usually slow. But, I got sent to the top floor of the Lion Oil building and Uncle Herbert saw me and looked at my shoes. I’m not sure he was the one that told Mother he saw me downtown in the garish footwear, but someone did. Her anger was ice, not fire, and that’s the worst kind. It took awhile to thaw. She warmed a bit after I threw those pink shoes into the trash and bought some new white bucks with my own money.
When I think of my late brother, I see pink, and hear him laughing through my sadness.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.