When they were married, I was 15 years old. She is my oldest sister, and our first family wedding. We met him a couple of times before they were engaged. I think my sister was determined to marry some other guy she'd met at college, and this fellow--NB (for New Brother)--was always turning up to ask her to go with him on various awesome adventures that she just couldn't resist. Well, I have no idea what became of the other guy she had the big crush on, but NB finally won her over. He just kept turning out to be irresistibly fun. And he was ridiculously funny, too. That is certainly one of his traits that endeared him to me.
But, I think that the main reason he is such a favorite person of mine is that he is genuine. He has never pretended to be anything other than he is. He is curious, kind, forgiving, generous, intelligent, hilarious, helpful, thoughtful, unflappable and spiritual. That is quite a list, I know. Let me give you a few examples.
Curious and genuine: He showed up at our farm to meet us--a formidable task. There were, after all, seven brothers and sisters of this woman he was courting. And we were a pretty out-going bunch. Plus, there was the Mom and Dad. Plus, the cows, chickens, horses, dogs, cats, etc. This was a guy who grew up in cities. He didn't have much experience with this life. Did that stop him? No, he put on some boots and came right out to see what it was we were doing in that old red barn for so many hours every day. He asked questions, he looked around, he tried to stay out of the way, he tried to help when he could. He did not ever imply with word or gesture that he was grossed out by the vast quantities of cow manure, or that he felt uncomfortable, or that he might just be gagging on the smell, or that we were somehow hillbillies in our chosen life out there with the animals.
Kind, forgiving: He's been through a lot in this family. We've experienced long, debilitating diseases, marriage collapses, rifts between parents and children, mental illness--all the crises that any family deals with; we're not special. However, he was always there with a soothing word, kind actions, a willingness to extend his hospitality, his car, his time, his long-distance phone bill. Whatever was going on in our family, good or bad, he was a part of it, and usually a valuable part of it, calming the troubled waters. He calmed me down, any number of times.
Intelligent and hilarious: He's really smart and I love to have long conversations with him about anything at all. He and I have always been comfortable talking with one another. In fact, over the decades, if I called to talk to my sister, but she wasn't available, he and I would just talk about stuff anyway. I really appreciated, and still do appreciate, his point of view. He is much calmer than I am, and when I'm pretty worked up over something---spiritual, political, personal, whatever---I often seek out his opinion because I can trust it. Now, about that hilarious...Dry wit--punster--self-deprecating--some of the funniest family moments have come via his reflection on some family kerfluffle or some observation of his that was completely off the wall. I hope he and my sister don't mind my sharing one:
They had been married for quite a few years, and I know that they really wanted to have a baby. I'm confident they'd been trying, but it just wasn't happening. My next older sister, who had been married for a couple of years, too, announced their pregnancy one night at a family supper. We were all thrilled for them--especially the sister who couldn't seem to make it happen. It was exciting! Our first Second Crop kids! Then, NB leaned over to his wife, my sister, and in a stage whisper (so we could all get in on the joke) said, "I've been talking to [other brother-in-law] and ---you'll never guess what he told me!! You won't believe what we need to do!!" Or something like that. It was ridiculous and hilarious and, luckily we were all adults sitting around the table. I think I must have spit supper all over my plate. I'll never forget how silly it was, and how it prevented any uncomfortable, unspoken wondering of when, if ever, he and my oldest sister would be able to have their own child.
Unflappable and Spiritual: First, he has chronicled our family's life with his camera since the day he joined it. He never forgot, he always took the pictures. He joined a family of really domineering women, and just lived his own life anyway. If he didn't want to be in the center of us all jabbering, and arguing, and trying to boss each other around, he'd just go for a walk, or go to a quiet room and read a book. He didn't let our tendency to order around the men in our lives even give him a moment of heartburn. Or, at least if it did, he didn't embarrass anyone about it in public. I also truly appreciate his spiritual nature. He knows that God lives and that life is a gift from Him. He understands the concept of eternity and can have a calm discussion with people who are struggling with their faith. He is a good person to talk to in a time of sorrow and grief. When his dear, dear youngest son was stricken with cancer and died after an arduous period of swooping from despair to hope back down to the inevitable doom of a young person's death, this man was a rock. At least on the outside, to me. His statement to me, "He (the son) was such a great person, that I feel that if God would only let me have him in my life for this short time, that I would have said, "Yes," I'll do it, because I feel blessed to have known this kid."