Val was 6 feet tall when he was 12. He finally topped out at 6’ 4”. I was three years younger and of average height – if not a little small for my age. I didn’t reach my full height until college.
During our early years, we tried to kill each other on a regular basis. We fought, as brothers do, about everything and anything.
One of our on-going quarrels had to do with the light in the bedroom we shared. I was a voracious reader. I would start a book and stay up until I finished it, often reading far into the night. Val complained the light kept him awake and responded by opening our bedroom window, letting in mosquitoes, moths, and half of flying creation. I would tell him to close the window. He would tell me to turn out the light. Often or not, a fight would break out somewhere in between.
One night I fell asleep with the light on. Val got up to turn off the light and noticed my mouth was open. Out of irritation, he took the opportunity to teach me a lesson. He caught a live moth and dropped it in my mouth. I woke with a start and then threw up on him.
Largely, we entertained our selves by aping whatever we saw on television or in the movies. We watched wrestling with our grandfather so when my brother grabbed me by the seat of my pants and threw me into a corner bedpost, splitting my head open, I knew what to do. I hit him with a folding chair. Chipped two teeth.
When we saw Clark Gable playing a big game hunter catch a tiger in a Burmese tiger trap, we thought that was pretty cool and had to give it a shot – never mind Burma was on the other side of the world and no one could remember the last time anyone saw a Tiger in Utah. We dug a pit in a vacant lot between our house and the Parmaleys – our neighbors to the left – and camouflaged it with weeds and dirt. Two days later, we were excited to see the trap had been sprung and disappointed when we found the pit empty. We decided we hadn’t dug the hole deep enough until we found out Mrs. Parmaley had fallen in and broken a leg.
The movie Ivanhoe inspired us to organize our own jousting tournament. We invited the entire neighborhood to compete. We cut off the end our mothers’ brooms, sharpened the ends as best we could, and rode full tilt at each other on our bikes, trying to unseat each other. It is a wonder we didn’t kill someone.
Westerns were far and away our favorite form of entertainment. When we weren’t watching cowboys and Indians, we were played cowboys and Indians. Once Val let me be the cowboy, a treat because everyone knows the cowboys always win. My excitement disappeared with I found myself “tied to the stake” in the coal shed. Val piled some kindling at my feet, lit a fire, and left when mom call lunch. I wriggled free and joined him without thinking much more about it until the fire department arrived. We burned the coal shed to the ground.
The fighting diminished as we got older and stopped when Val went off to college. I followed him to Washington and attended GWU for no better reason than Val was there. He was a political science major. I became a political science major. He went to law school. I went to law school. And, of course, we both went to work on Capitol Hill.
Marty Walsh, our friend of long-standing, gave me his perspective on our relationship last week. “You and Val were more than brothers,” Marty said. “You were each other’s inspiration. He was Butch Cassidy, you were the Sundance Kid.”
In many ways, Marty is right. When Val wanted to test the quality of care in Medicaid clinics, I was the one who led a team of investigators posing as Medicaid patients for a year while Val provided political cover for the effort. When Val said it would be neat if we could get a look at the second set of books we knew suspect clinics kept, I was the one who found a clinic for sale in the Bronx, posed as a buyer, and tried to get a look at the real books, winding up with a mobster taking me for an enlightening ride in his car, his German Shepherd sitting on the floor between my legs, his head inches from my crotch.
At one point, we held parallel positions at the House and Senate. Val was Counsel and Director of Oversight for the Democrats in the House. I held the same position working for the Republicans who controlled the Senate. A hired gun came into my office with his tail in a bunch one morning. He said those guys on the House side were giving his client a hard time. I asked him if the lead investigator was a big guy and he said, “Yes.” Was he tough and aggressive? “Yes. Yes.” Sure sounds like my brother, I said. I wouldn’t mess with him if I were you. We never saw him again.
When one of the six trade associations representing the home health industry approached Val looking for an executive director, he recruited me. Four years later, when we merged these associations into the National Association for Homecare, I recruited him. Two years later, he recruited me to run a related foundation. In all, we worked side by side for more than 30 years.
As I think of Val now, the words of Henri Nouwen come to mind. “The great challenge remains to find the eternal in the midst of the temporary,” Nouwen said, “to touch what remains in what passes and to love the ever living God in the love of the quickly passing family of people.”
Amen to that, Big Brother. Rest in peace. Life pulled us apart from time to time, but we were always at our best when we were together. We will be together again.