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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dennis

Some folks here may know that my beloved son is named Dennis, whose birthday was yesterday.
Dennis Michael Flynn

He gets his name from my late beloved brother, also Dennis, whose birthday is today.

Dennis Harry Flynn


Dennis was 362 days younger than me, which means I have no memories whatsoever of being alone. Even our birthdays were close enough together that it seemed like one long celebration, which we confused with Christmas (another birthday, now that I think on't.) For three days every year he would go about bragging that he was now the same age as me.  Buying birthday presents was fairly easy. "We'll take two of these." There is a photograph somewhere of Dennis and I wearing identical space outfits, complete with goldfish-bowl style helmets. Another, we were both wearing superman suits. 

When we were 12 or so, Pere made a classic movie in 8mm, "Around the World in 80 Frames," in which we played two spacemen -- this was before "astronaut" had been coined by people too embarrassed to say "spaceman." We piloted a space station around the world, spotting through our viewer (actually a film splicer) denizens on the earth below: Mexico, India, Japan.  (In each case, the denizen was played by 3rdbro Kevin, who was a vast 5 years younger.)

Dennis and I wrote innumerable science fiction stories together, in pencil, in Spiral notebooks, with Magic Marker illustrations. Our first story was an ill-told remake of Damon Knight's "To Serve Man," which our father had told us as a bedtime story. (Another was a Bradbury story in which the Martians slaughter the visiting Earthmen after first disguising themselves as dead friends and family. Pere could sure tell a cool bedtime story. Wait, not "cool." We said "neat" or "keen" back then.)
The proud banner of the Adventure Club

We, along with fellow members of the Adventure Club, explored the region, making maps, naming topographical features, building campfires in the woods and cooking weenies and beans. "Going on hikes" was something kids did for fun. One time we hiked clear across Mammy Morgan's Hill and down the other side to Raubsville, then came back up via the old canal towpath.

In Pere's movies and photographs, I'm always the sober-sided one and Dennis is the cut-up.  One time standing on the platform of the Jersey Central train station, Pere told us to pretend a train was coming and point to it. So I did the Indian scout hand-to-forehead, followed by a straight-arm point. Dennis, sitting on a baggage cart, jumped to his feet, danced like a monkey, and waved his arms. We were a perfect pair.

Briefly, when I was a freshman in HS and Dennis was in 8th grade, we went to different schools for a year. Then we were back together again, for a while.

It's called Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and there was in the 1960s no treatment or cure. Dennis became listless and I, not yet knowing, would tease him, trying to urge him into action. I knew he was sick, but I thought in my teenagerish way that I could get him more active. Then Mut took me aside and explained the matter, and at the end she said, "I don't think he's going to make it," and that was the only time I ever saw my mother cry.

Later, he went into the hospital and one time when we went to visit he started to hurt. His eyes rolled back and the doctors rushed in. My dad hustled me out of the room. I remember that Dennis groaned, but I don't remember that he cried.

One day shortly after I was playing street football with the gang. This is the sort of game where you go long then cut between the Chevy and the Ford to receive the pass. The Mut came to the backyard of our house and cried out in the traditional manner that I was to come home right now. This was a cry that usually went out at sunset from a dozen homes in the neighborhood. And at that moment, without a word being said, I knew that Dennis had died. I walked home, past mother and father, into the bedroom that he and I had shared all our lives, where we had created a world of intelligent dinosaurs, complete with history and languages, and I lay down on one of the beds. For the first time in my life, I was alone.

The Stigmata Chapel at
St. Francis Friary
The year before, the two of us had served mass at the Franciscan Friary, and Dennis had gotten friendly with some of the monks -- the cook was known as the fish friar and/or the chip monk -- asked about the Order, and stuff. Now one of the monks approached my father and told him that he had enrolled Dennis in the Third Order, and he brought a mendicant's brown robe and asked if Dennis could be buried in it. Well, yes, and so he was.

In the years since I have sometimes wondered what he would have been like had he made it past sophomore year. What sort of adult would he have become; what would he have done with his life? My father has no doubts. He would have been a priest. And starting today, and for the next three days, he is the same age as me.

The only thing I have ever really wanted for Christmas is the one thing I can never have.

17 comments:

  1. absolute beautiful tribute and so how I remember those days, cousin jim singley

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  2. Lovely. I know the pain of losing a brother, but I was fortunate enough to have mine longer. Still, I am greedy. More.

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  3. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing Michael. MB Wilson

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  4. will remember you both at Mass this morning

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  5. Thanks for sharing, TOF. Sympathies.

    There will come a time when all our tears will be wiped away. But until then, we walk in the shadowlands, remembering.

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  6. You have my condolences.

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  7. Thank you, Mr. Flynn. That was wonderful.

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  8. My eyes welled up as I read this. It's beautiful. Thanks.

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  9. Thank you, Mr. Flynn. Beautiful tribute. Today is my Mom's birthday. She'd be 77 if she'd made it past 54, et. al.

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  10. I began reading this entry in the barbershop as I waited. I had to quit half way through and finish it later, not because it was my turn in the chair, but because a guy with tears in his eyes would send a bad vibe in that environment.

    A very moving and poignant rememberance, Michael. I never met my cousin Dennis, since I was very young when he passed. But I learned of him at a very early age from Nana Flynn who kept his picture prominently displayed on Firth Street for her whole life. For all I know that picture is still there, and I'd be willing to bet it is. I remember also the newspaper clippings my parents kept of Michael Landon visiting him at his hospital bed. Please know that he and your mother are remembered regularly in my prayers. I also send birthday wishes to you and your son Dennis.

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    1. Michael Landon was in Allentown for a publicity appearance and someone who knew my mother from the Easton Express [as I remember the story] told him about this kid who was a big fan of Bonanza. So Landon made a special trip to the hospital to say hello. He himself gained nothing from it. It received a few column-inches and a photo in the local paper. He did it from his own heart, and I have ever since had the greatest respect for him.

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  11. God love you. And God rest Dennis' soul. And God bless that big handsome kid of yours. May you all meet merrily one day in the eternal Easter for which Christmas paved the way.

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  12. I echo the above - really moving, Mr. Flynn. Thank you for sharing.

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  13. I'll say a prayer for you both at Mass tonight.

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  14. Requiescat in pace.

    Dr. Eric

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  15. A very moving tribute. Your brother will be proud of you.

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  16. He might be looking down from the Empyree on the stellatum which God moves ever day around us. Or be going there after a stay in Purgatorio.

    RIP

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