My older brother, Kenno, died last April, and tomorrow, December 10, would have been his 75th birthday. It’s hard to think of a world without him in it. He was such a huge figure in my life. Being two-and-a-half years older meant that, as kids, he was always bigger, stronger and smarter than me. He was both protector and tormentor; I suppose he felt that he was the only one who had a right to pick on me.
When he went off to college, it was the first extended time that I was truly on my own. Through school, he was always two grades ahead — remembered and known by all my teachers and coaches. I followed him in sports, playing similar positions on football teams and having a similar, if more genteel, notoriety. As first-born, he broke trail for me, and from him I learned how to breach waves, push past obstacles, deal with assholes, and both win and lose. Meeting his expectations for me, not dissimilar from those for himself, kept me pushing myself forward and trying to be better.
I think it was during the last couple of years of high school and then college that I finally got to see myself outside of his shadow. I made plenty of mistakes and learned a lot then that he didn’t have to show me. I also started to see him more as his own person, not as a fixture of my own local purview.
He was pretty cool. He could be tough, and sometimes mean, but he had a deep sense of caring and justice, jealously guarding the people and things important to him. He was real smart, both in the book and street senses, and like our dad, he was a great raconteur and storyteller, often with himself as the butt of the story. He had a wicked sense of humor. And a great laugh.
I never felt that I was as smart as him, except maybe as it related to relationships. He always seemed freer from constraints, and maybe felt less guilty about breaking rules or accepted practices. He rightly saw me as straighter and more fearful than he — but maybe some of that came from having an older brother looking over my shoulder that corrected me as he deemed necessary.
It came as a shock to me when I realized that I could do some things better than him. I became a better shot, since his vision was poorer and his glasses seemed to interfere. We were both football linemen, but I grew to be faster and more mobile than him, particularly after he injured a knee. (Ultimately, I injured my own knee in college football, as well.) We both had football scholarships in college, but I had more success at Oklahoma than he did at Texas.
Kenno followed our father into the law, but where Dad’s was mostly a tax and estate practice, Kenno went directly into dealing with criminal court-appointed cases, representing the downtrodden and lower tiers of society. One of his favorite TV shows was Baretta, “Don’t do the crime of you can’t do the time!” I remember he once represented a street preacher charged with killing his drug dealer over some money. Kenno told me the difficulty he was dealing with in defending this client was that the prosecution had his client’s footprint — in blood — on the victim’s face. Tough case to defend.
He lived with me in Colorado for a little bit, getting out from under some of his troubles in Texas. It was great having him here, the first extended time we had together since he left home for college. My friends and I were, I suspect, a little tame for him, but when his girlfriend moved in, he became quite satisfied.
I think he had a more settled life when they went back to Texas, married, and got to spend time with his daughter and grandson. He seemed truly happy then. He’d earned it.