In the same way that the Dallas Cowboys are “the team America loves to hate,” my older brother, Severino instilled that feeling in me long before I’d even heard of that pro team from Texas.
I spent my pre-teens dreaming up diabolical schemes to get even.
Some quirk made me grow to the same size as my brother — older than I by three years — long before I was 10. Once, we invested a whole penny in one of those wate-and-fate machines at Newberry’s or Murphey’s, received a printed card, noted the weight and divided by two. Let’s see: 152 pounds divided by 2 equals 76 pounds.
Though we were almost identical in size and height, I was no match for his strength. When he taunted me, I’d say, “You know, I’ve never run away from a fight with you,” and he’d answer, “and you’ve never won a fight with me either.”
Some of our fights were bloody. We didn’t mess around; we struck real blows. On many occasions when he’d won the fight, I’d fantasize about doing him in. I imagined that I’d clobbered him. And that fantasy led to the imagination that when our parents arrived, they commended me for having done the right thing. And I imagined our mom saying, “You did the right thing, Hijito.”
Summers were unpleasant. Why? Because unlike being in school most of the day, we remained at home following the top-down regimentation imposed by our parents. Dolores, the oldest, was in charge of all of us; then came Dorothy, Severino, Evangeline, and me. And the rules were that the authority flows from the top-down. Dolores took charge in Mom’s absence but had a difficult time because any child in the middle could short-circuit the chain and pass the orders down the line. The rules stopped with me.
Some summers were tolerable. In a typical act of big-brotherism, Severino once decided, “I’m going to throw you into the equator. I’d never heard the term and imagined a pit containing a giant cement mixer able to turn me into a smooth glutinous mash. He marched me several blocks north along Railroad Avenue as he described my coming fate. Most humiliating was having neighbors watching that march. He acted like a conquering Caesar.
At the last minute he granted me a reprieve: “I’m giving you a break this time.”
Angry and feeling abused, I told Tio Juan about it, his being the only other person at home at the time. Our usually laconic uncle chuckled and told me that the equator was in the other direction, south, and more than the 20-minute walk we’d just taken.
Severino acquired the nickname “Wow” through a professional-looking photo of him, Dorothy, Dolores and Dad on the lawn where the Highlands administration building sits. Each of the kids is holding a box of popcorn, with WOW in large letters, I surmise WOW stood for Woodmen of the World.
He had a couple more names, not including what I called him under my breath. He was Sef to his friends in the National Guard, Sev to census employees, Savage to his high school buddies.
He was an inveterate mini-scientist. He’d collect some metal CO2 cartridges that create carbonated water, fill them with an explosive, insert a fuse, and toss them. Once the fuse fell out, causing it to explode in his hand.
Playing with our friends, Levi, Cris and Anthony Martinez, he hopped around trying to stop the ringing in his ears. Then he noticed two missing fingertips. The accident made the news the next day. You see, Wow and I were Optic carriers, and the then-editor, Walter Vivian, wrote a blurb about the accident, using the term “young scientist.”
His classmates teased him about a suddenly lighter class load at Immaculate Conception School, as he was unable to take typing, P.E. or chemistry anymore.
There’s a parlor trick in which the actor pretends to detach the first joint of his thumb, by putting both hands together, with the left thumb in a position that seems to be attached to the right hand. Sev shocked and amused neighborhood kids by pretending to sever his thumb. He’d appear to struggle with its removal, then suddenly show the modified thumb, as kids gasped. Some demanded a replay.
Even with two missing digits, he mastered the Rubik’s Cube in no time.
Wow dabbled in many activities but spent most of his career as a radar technician for the National Guard, from which he retired. He met and married Virginia Vigil, from nearby San Jose, and became the father of five children, Annette, Kathy, Steve, David and Artie. Steve joined the Navy in the ‘80s and was lost at sea in Northern Europe.
Age and maturity must have helped Wow and me (I had my own nickname, by the way: Mannie) become closer, as brothers should.
After leaving the National Guard, Wow and I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, Severino in the front office handling paperwork, I as the recruiter for seven northern counties. Once, a supervisor asked my brother to order the printing of thousands of sheets announcing a census-testing date. A rush trip, it was needed “by noon yesterday.”
Severino noticed that the listed testing date contained one too many zeroes, making it some time in the year 20000. The boss had told my brother that the printing was to be done exactly as ordered.
“You realize we won’t even be using paper by then if you set the testing date for 18 centuries from now.” Well, Severino got his way and probably saved the U.S. government money.
We have only memories of our often tumultuous — but eventually loving — relationships.
It would be wonderful to reminisce again with him.
• • •
But Severino, my only brother, died Monday of complications from prostate cancer. He told me recently, “Get yourself checked . . . and tell your friends to do it too.” I hope many follow that advice.
We’re going to miss you, Wow.