Fred LaSor: The gift of a big brother

What do you call a 12-year-old boy who takes you on your first walk along a Pennsylvania farm creek bottom on a summer day, with your dog Spotty splashing through the water, scaring up frogs as you’re walking? And all the time pointing out the wonders of this world you have never before seen?

Or a 15-year-old boy who shows you the intricacies of amateur radio operation, setting up a “shack” in the basement and stringing a wire out the window to an antenna that carried his words halfway around the world so he could talk to people in distant countries?

Or a 17-year-old young man who showed you how to grind a telescope mirror on a wooden bench in the basement, pushing the lens back and forth rhythmically for hours on end, turning it on every stroke so it formed an optically perfect curve that would later be the main reflector of an astronomical telescope?

Or an 18-year-old who came back from a U.S. Navy Mediterranean cruise with stories of port calls in France but most important of all brought you a 40 millimeter anti-aircraft cannon shell (inert) pilfered from the gun mount he was trained on? Or who asked you to start his car every week so it would still run when he came home from that summer away from home but you didn’t, and it didn’t?

I called him “Sandy,” and he was my big brother.

Sandy was seven years older, so he knew just about everything there was to know as I was growing up. Or at least he knew so much I didn’t know it felt like he knew everything there was to know. He could name constellations, knew why the moon had different phases, how cars worked, how to speak French, and so many other things I can’t list them all. He was an “A student” while the rest of us were not, a member of the swim team and NROTC, a fraternity brother, and a computer programmer when that was an arcane science. Oh, and as an NROTC student he brought his rifle home on Christmas vacation and we set up a range downstairs and he taught me to shoot. What more could a younger brother ask?

Sandy wooed and wed an attractive and artistic young woman with whom he raised a lovely trio of youngsters who have gone on to lead full and happy lives of their own, a success we all took for granted in the ’50s and ’60s. Then we looked around at neighbors and schoolmates who didn’t have that happy home life and we realized it was special.

But I always knew, as his younger brother, Sandy was special. I knew it was special to speak a foreign language, to play in the high school marching band, and even to go to college because he did all those things. When he built model airplanes I wanted to do so, and after he learned to fly real aircraft I did that, too.

Sandy’s heart gave out last week, with most of his family around him. It’s an enormously sad time for all of us, but his physical body was failing and I suspect it was relief for him. My wife and I visited him and his wife only two months ago and said our goodbyes, but we shall miss him sorely.

It’s a fortunate younger brother who knows the special magic a big brother can bring home, and that was my good fortune for many years. Godspeed, Sandy, and rest in peace.

Fred LaSor lost the last of his nuclear family last week, when his older brother died. He shares here the happy memories he holds of his brother.


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