Tim and Me


Yet one smile more, departing, distant sun!

One mellow smile through the soft vapory air,

Ere, o'er the frozen earth, the loud winds run,

Or snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare.

One smile on the brown hills and naked trees,

And the dark rocks whose summer wreaths are cast,

And the blue gentian-flower, that, in the breeze,

Nods lonely, of her beauteous race the last.

Yet a few sunny days in which the bee

Shall murmur by the hedge that skirts the way,

The cricket chirp upon the russet lea,

And man delight to linger in thy ray.

Yet one rich smile, and we will try to bear

The piercing winter frost, and winds, and darkened air.

--William Cullen Bryant, "November"

I'm not normally a fan of Romantic poetry. However, I like "November" more now than I did a few years ago. One reason is that I've matured enough to see deeper levels of meaning to the poem. A more powerful reason is that November was the month of my late brother Tim's birth. He was younger than me. Substance abuse and alcoholism essentially caused his early death at 41. The poem now catches for me even more the feelings that the month inspires.

Tim was born on November 1 at 2 a.m., and Dad always called him a "little pumpkin seed spook." I loved him very much and it's been hard to bear that he's gone. As Bryant mourns the November sun's smile, so I'll always want to see Tim's "one more smile . . . one rich smile" again. There seems no way that I could ever have passed up a chance to see him. But I did. Fall always reminded me of Tim. Now my memories bring him back in a different way. The Fall now reminds me of what a hard time I've had in putting him to rest.

November, in the poem, can be seen two ways. First, it is the last fleeting time before cold weather. Equally fleeting are the moments we have in life. When we miss an opportunity to be with a loved one we sorely regret it later. So the "November" here can also be seen as a magical, perfect time--one we wish we'd held onto and made more use of, thinking that might make our bereavement easier to bear. I see now that those last years were, in terms of Tim's life, his "November" days, those last days before the cold winter of death.

"One smile more...yet a few sunny days"--this is what November offers us, before the deadly cold of winter. Though Tim died in Spring, his death no doubt actually began when "snows are sifted o'er the meadows bare." He died of cold and exposure as he drifted from town to town as a hobo. November must sometimes have offered him, as it did Bryant, a last few, warm days.

The love of a brother is a special, incredibly unusual thing. How could anyone who has a brother describe what that relationship is built on? A brother is a possession to be truly prized. He is a friend when no one else is, usually a non-competitive friend in any area of life or endeavor.

For most of our early years together, Tim was a tender little guy--almost too tender. I can recall how downhearted he'd get when something or another would go wrong in his life. It's difficult to describe how this made me feel. I wasn't his father, but I'd almost wished I were at those times. I was the older brother, so Tim looked up to me. I was his teacher and his protector. After he was older, he acted as though he was tougher than me sometimes, saying macho things to me. But he'd soon relent--sometimes quite a good while afterwards. I'm surprised, when I think back on it, at how long he could remember some incidents, come back and apologize to me for them--sometimes long after I'd forgotten they'd even happened.

I didn't often follow Tim's advice while he lived. Upon his young death, however, I became determined to respect his wishes for me. And my memories often now seem to flash back to all the years we had together, growing up. I search them for things I did that might have led him astray into negative, self-destructive thinking and behavior.

My vividest memories about him cover the time from about 1960 to 1987, mostly in Northern Arkansas.

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