Oh my! So much to say . . . yet so much I can’t say! Jon and I are just over five years apart. I read somewhere that five years is a big dividing line between kids. You sort of end up with two separate families. I have to say that is somewhat true. I had already started Montessori school and Pam was in the First Grade when Jon appeared. Pam and I had well established sibling boundaries set up when Jon showed up and busted our routine.
I remember it being exciting to have a little brother. I think Pam enjoyed it more than me, but I definitely thought it was cool. We were too old to be jealous, but that certainly popped up later from time to time. I find it interesting that although we hung out a lot together as a family, that five years was just enough to ensure that Jon and I never got too close. Unfortunately, due to a combination of factors, we never did. The good thing is that we still have time to change that!
Jon loved cars. From a very early age, though, they seemed to get him into trouble. That did not change until well into his adult years. Because Jon was so into cars, he got cars for Christmas, birthdays, etc. He had Hot Wheels play sets and a little red car with pedals. The latter got him in trouble many times as he’d end up lost several blocks away from our house. Fortunately, he was smart enough to avoid the steep, half-mile hill in front of our house that would have deposited him, and his little car, into the Mississippi River.
Our dad had a 1965 baby blue Mustang convertible. Jon would watch Dad drive away in that car every morning and would go for rides with Dad any time he could, even if it was a quick trip to the gas station. One day Jon decided that HE would do Dad a favor and fill up the tank. So, he grabbed the hose in the driveway, turned on the water, and inserted it into the tank. No one had a clue until Dad got about a mile away on his way to work one morning! Jon got a good yelling at.
Jon’s next auto adventure was in our family station wagon. It was parked in the driveway on our Beverly Road home. Back in those days, there was no such thing as an ignition lock. Both the steering wheel and gear shift lever were operational without a key. As Jon pretended to drive the car one afternoon, he pulled the shift lever and it stopped in neutral. It wasn’t long before Jon was on the road – in reverse down the driveway hill. He must have been steering since he continued backing down the street and then around the corner. Fate was watching Jon that day since the car’s wheels got jammed along the curb several yards down the dangerous Beverly Road hill.
In addition to Jon’s fascination with cars, Jon went through various phases in his early life. I guess we all go through phases, but Jon’s were interesting! First, he became a mini-me of Fonzie from the Happy Day’s television show. There were times when I think Jon thought he WAS the Fonz. He slicked back his hair, wore sunglasses like Fonzie, and wore white t-shirts with a cigarette pack rolled up in the sleeve. He had Fonzie posters in his room and read anything he could get his hands on about he Fonz.
Following the Fonzie craze was the exact opposite. Jon had a complete make-over thanks to Papa Grayson. When Papa and Grandma came to visit for six weeks over the Summer, Papa took over Jon’s room. Jon became his protégé. Gone were the Happy Days paraphernalia and welcome to the fastidious, Felix Unger-like Jon! Papa must have put Jon into some kind of boot camp. After Papa left, Jon’s bedroom could have passed any inspection. Everything was in its proper place. His underwear, socks, and other clothes were impeccably sorted in his dresser and closet. From what I recall, this version of Jon lasted quite some time.
Because Jon and I were five years apart, I think I lost track of him by the time I was about 15 or so. For the next five years I was into girls and other high school hi-jinx, and except for the realization that there was another human in the house, I have no clue what Jon was up to. I suspect, though, that he endured a whole lot of teasing from me during this time! It wasn’t until Jon got into high school that I began to slowly take notice of my younger brother.
Jon followed me to Cretin High School in St. Paul. From what I could tell, he was very well liked and far surpassed my academic achievement at school. Much to my father’s delight, Jon played football. He made the varsity as a senior and was an undersized defensive end. Jon used his height disadvantage to get low on his opposing player and more often than expected, ended up disrupting the offensive plays. In my dad’s eyes, Jon had come close to, if not surpassing, elder sister Pam’s elite status.
Once incident that sticks out to me even now during Jon’s high school years was when he, as a junior, decided to throw a party at our house. My parents were away, but Grandma Grewe was staying at our house on Summit Avenue since Pam and I were way to busy in college to deal with younger siblings Jon and Jenifer.
We got suspicious when Jon started rolling up the carpeting in the family living room. He and his friends then hauled in an old claw-footed bathtub that my mother had used in her garden. I quickly and correctly surmised that the tub would be used for multiple beer kegs. Always the entrepreneur, Jon had advertised the party at several local schools with a modest entry fee.
Grandma was happily tucked away in the back bedroom – far from the main level of the enormous house – and Jenifer was sent to a friend’s house to spend the night. Pam and I were curious, so we stuck around to see what might happen. Well, before long our house was overflowing with well over a hundred high school kids. It was quickly growing out of control. There was at least once incident where Jon had tried to turn some kids away, but they wouldn’t leave. He found me to get them out of the house.
Pam and I were in the back yard shooting baskets. All of a sudden we heard police sirens. We spied police walking into the house to break up the party. Both of us suddenly realized that, as adults, we could be cited for “hosting” an underage party. So, we ran! We took off down the alley with high school kids streaming out of all the doors of the house. Only later did we realize that we had left poor grandma alone to deal with the fiasco. We slowly made our way back to the house. Somehow, though, grandma remained unaware of it all. When we got back Jon was sitting in the kitchen counting his money. He was actually glad that the cops had broken up the party. For him, it was a huge success!
Jon followed Pam’s path by choosing to become a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Birmingham, England, after he graduated from high school. By this time I had finished college, was married, and was serving in Germany with the Army. During a break from school, Jon came to visit us in Germany. From the little kid who annoyed me terribly, who irritated me further by becoming dad’s new favorite, I finally got to see Jon in a new way. He was a neat young man. He brought our dog, Schatzi, a British dog toy – a bust of Ronald Reagan – that became Schatzi’s favorite toy.
One thing that I recall from that visit of my grown-up little brother was that he had become infatuated by a young girl from one of the St. Paul suburban schools. He eagerly shared a photo album of her Senior pictures. Even after being away from this girl for many months during what would have been her senior year in high school, she was still HIS girl. Despite the time and distance, and the many opportunities that he had with young British women, Jon was quick to show everyone the album of his sweetheart. That was remarkable for a young man his age. His loyalty and love was evident to all. And, yes, Jon did end up marrying that girl!
There are various other stories that I could tell about Jon. More than a few of these are about Jon and cars, trucks, and motorcycles! Jon, like all of us, has his odd characteristics (like suddenly disappearing during family gatherings and ending every conversation with his tag line, “Blessings”), but he is genuinely a nice man and almost universally liked. I admire the way that he can interact with just about anyone he meets. I was especially touched with his calm demeanor with our sister, Pam, as she was dying. Jon was there for Pam (without disappearing!) and offered her regular foot massages.
Both Jon and I spent years raising our respective families, so outside of family events and a couple of family vacations, we’ve gotten together only occasionally. For the past twelve years I’ve lived away, so we haven’t had much time together. He has, though, served as a terrific dog sitter, traveling to Maryland to watch our dogs. The dogs always seemed to love him more than any other sitters and I think Jon enjoyed them just as much.
On a few limited occasions Jon and I were able to travel together. The first was when Jon and I accompanied Dad and Uncle E.C. to the Bohemian Grove in California. We had a terrific time together. The second was when Jon and his wife visited me in Heidelberg, Germany, during my deployment there in 2007. We had a grand time touring Germany and enjoying one of my favorite activities, lounging at the wonderful Friedrichsbad in Baden Baden. Finally, I joined Jon and son Eli to visit E.C. and the California Graysons in San Francisco and Tiburon in 2010. We enjoyed each other’s company immensely.
Jon and Kristy raised two delightful young men, Owen and Eli, who grew up mostly while we were living away.
I am looking forward to moving back to Minnesota soon so we can reconnect. Here’s to you, little brother!