and then S brought out the branding iron. it is a heavy, old iron “S”, blackened with age. and it is one of S’s prized possessions. he intended to try it out and actually brand something, not his brother, like wood or something. mark decided with his supervision we could try it. while the iron sat propped in hottest coals, we roasted marshmallows and talked and laughed around the warm, flickering fire, imagining the cowboys that must have used that branding iron in the old west.
1974. we took a trip to tuscan arizona, my mom, my brother, and i. dad couldn’t take the time off work, so the three of us went on our own. it was a really special trip…my first time to fly, seeing my grandparents and enjoying their pool in the arizona heat. while we were there, we went south of the border, crossing into nogales mexico to shop. this held a few more “firsts” for me: visiting another country and seeing real poverty for the first time. as we crossed the bridge over the gully at the border there were mexican children far below with large funnels at the end of sticks begging for coins to be thrown down. they would catch the coins in their funnels. and i will never forget the image of the old tattered-looking woman searching through garbage for something to eat. this was a shocking thing for my young eyes to witness.
there seemed to be endless streets of stores with their shopkeepers standing at the doors calling to the tourists and shoppers to come in and look, calling out their best deals. we came upon an interesting junk shop, full of old metal parts and tools. i remember the walls were filled and things even hung from the ceiling. there were boxes and boxes of things sorted by category: old locks, keys of all shapes and sizes, tools, hinges, and branding irons. my brother searched that box for what seemed like an hour until he pulled out the one with his initial, “S”. i picked out a large key and wondered if it was a jail key that had locked up some notorious bandit or horse thief! then my grandpa proceeded to bargain with the shopkeeper for the best price. i wish i remembered what we paid, i am sure it was not very much. what we didn’t know then, was that my brother would pass away ten years later. how precious those memories are to me now.
last year, as we were sorting through my mom’s house before moving her to a new home we came across that old branding iron. mom gave it to S, after all, he bears my brother’s name.
on a hot summer day in 1974, my brother bought a unique souvenir to remember our trip to arizona. on another summer day in 1984 we had to said 'good bye' to him when he lost his battle with cancer at the young age of 21. i find it strange that his souvenir now serves as a remembrance of him.
fast forward to a hot summer day at the present. another boy with the initial “S” handles that branding iron, a boy that bears more than a resemblance in name, but in an easy smile and cheerful laugh, and a love of the outdoors. how I wish my brother could have know his nephews and niece on this earth.