Darrell Berkheimer: How a brother prompts enormous pride
My brother has Alzheimer’s disease, and it tears at my heart to watch the waning of such a fertile and thorough mind as his memories and ability to communicate decline.
Writing about my brother and his accomplishments is easy — because words erupt like a volcano from pleasant memories and pride in having Ron as a lifelong resource and mentor.
His photography interests have included all of nature — from creatures so small he could barely see them, to the very largest. He went from photographing the tiniest ones in the farm field across from his old Pennsylvania home, to trips to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to film polar bears, and to Botswana, Africa, to photograph hippos and elephants.
And his photos won awards — one of which came with a $500 check.
Then his dream of a lifetime came true when he visited the Galapagos Islands in 1997.
But for him, taking the photos was not enough. He had an insatiable desire to learn about the habits and life cycles of each living thing he photographed. He bought and borrowed so many books to do that, and the reading in turn led to his environmental writing.
It was from Ron that I learned the joys of reading — as he sparked my own yearn to learn. And it was Ron’s paths that drew me into journalism and the exuberance of photography.
As an elementary school youngster, I was a tag-along who Ron couldn’t shed. And that can be quite a bother to a brother nearly seven years older. But I have no memory of him getting angry or complaining to me about that. I suspect he directed those complaints to our mother.
I remember the many Saturdays he took me to the Hiway theater to see the matinee movies, which included newsreel reports and a weekly serial segment. They usually were segments of a western that left you wondering what was about to happen next — so you would come back next week.
Ron took me to many movies. One I remember most vividly was titled “The Thing.” It was a science fiction type about a prehistoric combination vegetable-animal creature that was killing members of the arctic science troop after they thawed the creature from the ice in which it was encased.
When the dogs tore off one of its arms, it quickly regenerated a new one. And the members of the science troop were having little success in finding a way to kill or render the creature helpless.
I recall how scared I was as I crouched behind the seats in front and continued to watch the movie through the slit between the seats. I was so glad I had my big brother with me.
I also remember the many times Ron either read to me or told me about what he was reading in the various history and nature books that caught his attention. After he had done that the first several times, I began to realize how much I was learning just because I was listening to him.
Ron also was a good listener. He would listen quietly to me whine about a problem I was having at school, perhaps with one of my peers, or a complaint about how strict I thought our parents were. His rare response would be an offer of sage advice.
Despite our seven years difference, we did many things together. He showed me how to shoot darts, and we played a baseball game he created. We spent hours playing ping-pong in our garage, and alley basketball with two of our neighbors and other friends.
Back then, Ron loved reading about sports — especially baseball, which was a frequent topic between Ron and our Dad. It was that interest that prompted him to become a sports writer.
After college, and a brief reporting job with a daily newspaper, Ron had to serve his Naval Reserve requirement of two years active duty in the Navy. It was his Navy travels — twice to Mediterranean countries and once to others in the Baltic area — that developed his lifelong interest in photography.
Then his marriage led to the birth of two daughters, as our lives went in different directions – except for the writing we both were doing. Much of his writing back then was about sports and nature while mine was about school boards, city and county news, police and the courts.
As the years passed, we would only see one another occasionally. But I looked forward to those meetings and the discussions about our common interests. And there were times we would disagree, sometimes adamantly, as brothers do; but those occurrences were inconsequential compared to the love we shared.
We were visiting my brother two weeks ago. That’s when his wife, Barb, helped me raid his filing cabinet of his copies of published nature stories, plus those written about him and a few of his awards. Earlier, his youngest daughter and son-in-law transferred copies of the thousands of his photos from his computer to a “thumb” drive so I can put them on my computer.
I’m currently in the throes of putting together my sixth book — about three-quarters of which will include copies of columns published by The Union. Travels and memoirs with photos will fill out the rest of the pages.
Then, for next year, I’m planning a book to showcase Ron’s nature writing and outstanding photos — both as a family legacy and to display my pride in his accomplishments. When it becomes available, I will be inviting you and others to view the quality of Ron’s work, which evolved from the five “loves” in his life: his family, sports, nature, photography and reading.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He is the author of five books available through Amazon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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