Observations of an older brother

Father David Epps's picture

I was 8 years old, almost 9, and an only child when my mother informed me that I was about to have a little brother or sister.

I had cousins that I liked a great deal, so the prospect of a brother (I thought I had a choice), even if he would be a baby, was very exciting.

In the spirit of inclusion and realizing that I might see the new arrival as a competitor, my mom even consulted with me in the naming of the child, should he be a boy. My first choice was “Robert E. Lee.”

“I think we should call him Robert E. Lee Epps,” I said excitedly. I was, after all, a Southern child. Wisely, my mother asked me for a second choice in case the first one was taken. “John Wayne. He would be John Wayne Epps.” I was a child of the movies, too.

Sometime later, Robert Wayne Epps made his appearance. He wasn’t much good for playing football or wrestling, like my cousins and I would do, but he was cute and so very small.

When he was about 3 or 4, I would break his leg in a bicycle accident as he rode on the handlebars (an event that still haunts me). My mother forgave me because she could see I was terribly upset as they placed a cast on his little leg.

When he was about 5, I would spit on him as he looked up at me as I was sitting in a tree. For that, my mom gave me a spoonful of Tabasco sauce, permanently ensuring that I would never spit on him again.

When he was 11 and I was 19, and a brand new U.S. Marine, I was home on leave when I discovered that a 17-year-old bully had hurt him badly at the city’s public pool. My brother and I went back to the pool and the 17-year-old would-be-tough guy never bothered him again.

Wayne would play football and run track and later get a degree, get married, have a daughter, and become the grandfather of a boy and a girl. He has turned 50 and has become eligible to join AARP. When did all that happen?

When my father became sick with cancer, I was living out of state and Wayne was the good son who was there nearly every day to do what needed to be done. When our father became unable to care for himself, Wayne bathed him and changed him when he soiled himself. I helped him do it one time and, knowing he did that every day, he became my hero.

After Dad died, Wayne was at Mom’s house almost every day, mowing the lawn, making repairs, taking her to the supermarket — whatever needed to be done. When she died six years after Dad, Wayne was at her hospital bedside, along with my youngest son, as she slipped the bonds of earthly life.

My “little brother” and I have never had an argument or a fight, although when he was 12 or so, he dislocated my left middle finger during a karate class. My father used to say that he wanted his sons to grow up to be “good men.” He was and would continue to be proud of his youngest son.

Although the school he attended was nowhere near Knoxville, Wayne is an avid University of Tennessee fan and, like all true eastern Tennesseans, bleeds orange.

In a region where the two leading denominations are the Baptist Church and the Tennessee Volunteers, Wayne is both. He has served as a Baptist deacon, has participated in domestic mission trips, and has experienced the heady atmosphere of Neyland Stadium as the sacred hymn, “Rocky Top,” blasted from the sidelines.

When I was a child, my two heroes were Robert E. Lee and John Wayne. Now that I am no longer a child, I find that one of my heroes bears their names. Happy 50th birthday, little brother. They don’t make them any better than you.

[David Epps is the priest and pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277 between Peachtree City and Newnan (www.ctkcec.org). Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Mission in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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