Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Spirit of Brotherhood

“Bonfire fell”

My brother swung open my bedroom door in our Saddlewood apartment in Bryan, TX.

Immediately I jumped to my feet, got dressed and ran out the door. I remember asking a couple of questions, but it was clear that we would not know the extent of the answer until we got to the site. The fact was this: the facts were not important at the time. What was important was that my brother came to me with 2 words in his mouth, urgency in his heart, and an invitation in his voice.


Growing up, my brother and I did not have much of a friendship. The truth is that I idolized him a bit, but did not show it in a way that he would understand it. My brother is 2 years and 1 day older than I am. To this day, I wonder if it would have been more or less tumultuous to be twins. As twins, we would have had the same peers and similar capabilities. We probably would have pushed each other in competition and sharpened each other. Instead I attempted to include myself on everything he was doing. I will never know what that must have been like for him, but I know I made his life … spicy.

My brother is a pretty patient person. This was nice for me as he did not attempt to beat me to a pulp every other day. I would push his buttons on purpose to see what it would take to “break” him. Breaking him really had more to do with getting him to respond out of emotion. Now before you start thinking that my brother was an angel, and an innocent bystander to his little brother’s antics, keep in mind that he also was very smart, witty, and sarcastic (this is a theme between us). I am pretty sure that he was on to me and would constantly try to turn the table on me (though clearly I was more often than not, the instigator). Looking back, I realize that the better I got at pushing buttons, the more patient he got, which in turn drove me crazy.

As a side note – being the older brother, he was the one that was usually punished for whatever happened between us. Well… being older and having a younger brother that was a self-preserving liar…

Two memories that come to mind as examples. I have a terrible memory to begin with, so I will provide for you the pieces which my memory decided to store.

My parents had a good-sized painting that was framed and hung on the wall in the living room. This story occurs during one of these events where my brother would start pushing my buttons back. I don't remember what we were fighting about, but it was most likely something that I did or said to start with. I remember chasing my brother with a plastic jump rope (quick shout out to jump rope for heart). I distinctly remember my brother running away, not in fear, but with glee that he pushed me over the edge. I am sure he knew at this point that he was already going to get in trouble, so he made the most of it by flashing a grin and accomplishing the twinkle eye effect. Chase in our house was pretty fun because you could run a complete circle from the living room to the dining room/kitchen/laundry room/master bedroom/hallway/living room. He was faster than I was so this was really an exercise of how long I would be willing to chase. After more than a few laps, he slowed down and turned to me in the living room. This was my chance to avenge my honor so I whipped the jump rope at him effectively hitting the picture that up to this point was hanging on the wall.

The picture fell

The glass broke

Reality hit…

I spent the next few hours coming up with a rock solid story. No way my mom could have pinned it on me. I don't remember the exact story but it went something like this:

Mom: “tell me what happened”

Me: “I don't know – it just fell”

My brother got in trouble for it and the case was closed. And by case closed I mean – to this day when something happens that can’t be explained, my mom says something like, “oh, so this is like the time the picture ‘just fell’?”

The second story that comes to mind is in jr high school. My parents worked until 5 or 6 on a normal weekday evening. I think this is why my parents tried to have us involved in every sport possible at the school – less time at home, alone.
This particular event as I recall was soon after we got home from school on a non sports day. Usually my brother would find something to do that did not include me. I wish I could tell you where this story starts… but I only have memory of where it ends. Specifically, I remember lying face down on the floor with my brother sitting on top of me. I am sure he presumed he would get in less trouble than if he beat me, so this was probably a wise move. I remember that it would be a while before my parents got home – at least an hour, maybe more. So 15 minutes into this ordeal, I stop struggling. I realize that he is much stronger than I am and so I lay my head down, and start watching TV. Not long after he realizes I stopped struggling, he looks down and notices that I am watching TV so he, being the just and compassionate brother that he is, gets up, picks me up, turns me around so I can no longer see the TV and hops back on top of me.

Victory was his…

…until mom got home. At that point he gets in trouble for picking on me and not being a good big brother. I don't remember specific instances where my brother would continue to plead his case. He probably knew it didn’t matter because I would relentlessly lie about the situation.

He took the punishment as if he were ultimately at fault.

The next year, my brother went to high school, and I stayed in jr high. By the time I made it to high school a couple of years later, my brother moved out of the house. He would still come pick me up for school every morning. I would also pass him in the hallways at school. For a while, he was almost a stranger. It was also at that time that I realized what he had done for me. It made me want to be closer to him. When the opportunity came up to live with him while he was going to Texas A&M, I jumped at it.

It was during this time that we stopped being brothers, and became a part of a true Brotherhood. A friendship and relationship that nothing could get in the way of. Which is why just before 3:00 AM on November 11, 1999 I jumped out of bed with no questions, got dressed, and ran out of the apartment.

We rode together, mostly in silence, to where bonfire once stood to see thousands of Aggies pulling together, in the spirit of brotherhood ready to help. Ridicule was absent from that field. Spontaneous prayer was occurring.

The overwhelming question seemed to be “How can I help?”

As did many that night, we stayed for hours. Each person had little concern for their needs school/food/sleep and even work.

They were concerned for their brothers.

Were there things that were neglected? Absolutely.

Was this a distraction to the reason people were in the Bryan/College Station area? Debatable. Some were there to work, others were there to learn.

But me? I was there to experience brotherhood.

Here we are, 10 years later looking back and still debating the past and future of Aggie Bonfire. I know that there is no easy answer, and that I am completely biased. Truthfully, for nostalgic reasons I would like to see it come back. I know many speculate that the young men and women would want this to continue. I can’t begin to imagine what the parents must be going through. I don't know how to justify the deaths that occurred.

What I do know is that the legacy of those 12 young men and women is not gone.


Beth said...

I'm glad your brother and you are so close these days. It's good to know that the path to relationship opened for you both.

Wish I had experienced a bonfire...I might better know what to think on the issue.

wade said...

I experienced one Aggie bonfire. I guess there had been heavy rains beforehand, because it was muddy everywhere. That didn't stop my Dad and brother, both former students, from being there. We had a great time, and even went to midnight yell practice. And I'll never forget it. There is a new film about the Aggie bonfire called "The Burning Desire." Check out the preview at
Also, i'm grateful to still have my older brother, who worked on the bonfire.