This week I’ve listened to a lot of Bon Jovi’s “Never Say Goodbye.” Now, I am a Bon Jovi fan but it’s more about the the memories associated with the song for me. Today, my baby brother would have turned 50 years old. I’ve thought about that a lot the past few weeks. It is life milestone that I didn’t expect to create such a degree of reflection. It’s kind of hard to explain. You see, Kenny would have been 50 today but he died in a tragic car accident 28 years ago tomorrow. “Never Say Good-Bye” debuted that same year and I heard it a lot on the radio. When I hear it I not only think of my little brother, I play out the memories of his life in my head.
I don’t remember the day he was born. I have been told that my parents played Monopoly to the wee hours of the morning. Then, they woke us and took us to my grandparents and that my grandpa, who wasn’t a man with many words, told us that we had a baby brother. My mom said that I told her I wanted a brother because we had enough “gwurls.”
I do remember the day he died though. I got the call at 5:17 am from my dad saying my baby brother was dead. I thought I was having a nightmare and stumbled back to bed but before I could get back in bed, the phone rang again. The second ring was the one that shook me into reality. My brother, who had celebrated his 22nd birthday the day before, had died in tragic, senseless car accident in the early hours of the morning on Joy Mountain. I remember it as well as I remember what happened yesterday. In some ways it seems like an eternity and in other ways, it seems like just yesterday.
When I think of Kenny, I don’t’ think of the grown-up 22 year old man he was. He was engaged to be married. He had a job. Instead I remember the ornery little cotton-headed boy with skin as brown as dirt during the summer. Of course, that might have been dirt and not a tan because he played outside from sun up to sun down. I see his dark brown eyes full of mischief as he and my cousin Jeffrey took off through the woods on one of their adventures. I see him laying in the yard with his dogs. I see Kenny and Jeffrey trying to explain the big hole in Kenny’s face that is gushing blood. They are attempting to convince my grandmother that he ran into a tree. In reality, Jeff had accidentally shot him with the BB gun. They were afraid if they told they wouldn’t let them play together anymore. Though I missed eye witnessing it myself, I can envision my grandmother stripping them naked after they had been in the mud in the creek where she had told them not to go. I can see her getting tickled as she used her switch to get them in action and out of those clothes. One of my most vivid memories is of Kenny running around at my dad’s fast pitch softball games. We grew up on a softball field and always there was an abundance of little boys playing their own version of “ball.” I remember his tiny little self when he started playing baseball at about age four. He was too young but they didn’t have enough players so he got the nod. That was before T-ball and pitching machines.
I see him as a little boy with his friend Cendie, and I do see him at his high school graduation holding my niece Timi. She doesn’t remember him either. While I have many wonderful memories, the lasting memory is that on February 21 every year when we should celebrate his birth, my parents and my sister visit his grave instead. Since I don’t live in White County anymore, I call them and we reminisce a little. It feels odd that he never knew Jonathan and he never met Rachel. He would have had fun with her. I sit and wonder how different our family or the world might have been had he not been in that car that fateful night. I try to see him as a man who might by now be a grandpa. But I can’t. I can only see that pretty little boy with a switch in his hand backing my sister, my cousin Paula and me in to the corner of the room and laughing as he tortured us. I hear my mom yelling for him to stop and then telling us it is our fault for teaching him how to do that. And I will continue to hold on to those memories.
“Never say goodbye, never say goodbye
You and me and my old friends
Hoping it would never end
Say goodbye, never say goodbye
Holdin’ on – we got to try
Holdin’ on to never say goodbye”