It’s my brother Al’s birthday today and if he were still with us, he would be making that annual phone call reminding me that on this date we are the same age and my status as “big brother” was null and void…for three weeks until my birthday rolls around. Irish twins some call it, being born less than 11 months apart. Here’s a true story of a day in our life.
It was during our high school days and we had both been drafted by our Dad to help clean out a shop he had been renting for his drilling company. Essentially that meant free grunt work loading up and hauling away a couple tons of material, some bound for the scrap yard and some to be relocated. The problem and the source of this tale was our Dad’s old crew cab truck which had been sitting idle outside the shop for some time had been vandalized. Somebody cut a rubber fuel line and drained out the gas.
Allan to the rescue!! He replaced the cut line and we filled the tank, ready to get down to the dirty work. It was not long after that the weird part of the day unfolded.
Unknown to me that while replacing the fuel line, he had spilled some gas on the sleeve of his hooded sweatshirt. While taking a smoke break, he brushed the tip of the lit cigarette on the sleeve of his hoody and a small flame popped up. He brushed it out and that was the beginning of a very bad idea.
He called out to me, “hey Jamie, watch this!” I sauntered over to see what he was up to and the shit show was about to begin. This time instead of touching the tip of his lit cigarette to the gas dampened sleeve in question, he held his arm out and proceeded to flick his Bic. He uttered the infamous words of the comic book hero Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch at the same time… “Flame on!!” and the show was underway.
This was no flicker of flame on his sleeve, it was a full blown blast of gasoline fueled fire. He was holding his arm up staring at it with a mixture of fascination and fear at which time my reply to my idiot brother’s latest stunt was, “yeah, that’s really cool Al. Don’t run.” It was then he panicked and tried to do just that. I don’t know where he was going but I was going to stop him.
I got in his way and started to pull the hoody over his head and off of him before any damage could be done. That is when Dad got involved. Before I could get the hoody off, Dad came charging over and tackled little brother. I suppose his rationale was to get Al on the ground and smother the flames. The problem was that the position Dad pinned Al to the ground in actually allowed the fire to keep burning.
I pushed Dad off him, hauled the hoody off Allan and rushed him over to the sink in the shop. I ran cold water over his hand and told Dad to find a clean dry cotton rag. Al just stood there staring at his hand, probably going into a bit of shock. Dad came running over with a clean rag and I wrapped Al’s hand with it. An enduring memory was the skin on several of his fingers looked like white wax, all pushed and wrinkled out of shape.
Now came the scary part. We all jumped into Dad’s every day work truck bound for the emergency room. Driving there was faster than calling an ambulance and besides, it never really even entered our heads to do that. Cell phones didn’t exist and there was no land line phone in the shop.
Ordinarily the drive time to good old G.R. Baker Memorial would be about 10, maybe 15 minutes. However, Dad was in full blown panic mode and put the hammer down. I honestly thought we were all going to die in a horrific multi car collision before we got there. We got lucky however and made it there without incident (in damn good time too!!).
Al got lucky, the cold water and clean wrap actually saved the skin on the two or three fingers that were burned. The doctor (Allan told me later) simply pushed all that waxy soft skin back into place, dressed it and sent us on our merry way. With a prescription for some truly ass kicking pain killers of some type in hand, we made our way home. Where, incidentally, Al spent the next several days utterly whacked out of his mind on the Demerol or whatever it was.
There was no scarring or visible damage to his fingers after that but for the rest of his time on the world, all I had to do is say “flame on” and we would both burst out laughing. What a bonehead.
I miss him terribly, every day but more so on this day each year. I will light a candle and have a shot of Jameson’s in your memory tonight. Shine on you crazy diamond, shine on.