“…I wanted to set my memories down on paper, where I can hold them. You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians….. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to the birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of us. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out.”

--Robert R. McCammon.
Boy’s Life

One of Russ’ earliest memories was when he mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Russ said he was about four years old at the time. He knew that he liked music. And he had already by that time watched a lot of television. So, as innocently as only a youngster can do, he told his mom, “I want to be a BLACK man when I grow up.” Russ explained that, in his young mind, every black man he had seen on t.v. could either sing or dance or play an instrument. Some of them were able to more than one of those incredible musical accomplishments! So, Russ figured if he could just be a black man when he grew up, he’d be assured of having some kind of musical talent. (I’m sure that story was a popular favorite at family gatherings.)

Russ had a hard time living in the shadow of his older brother, Ron. In part, this was just normal sibling rivalry. As oldest child, Ron got to do everything first. Ron could go to school on his own first. Ron could drive first. Ron could get a job first.

This age difference was aggravated because their interests and talents were very dissimilar. Ron was mechanically oriented, and quite good at it. And Ron had financial savvy as well. Russ, on the other hand, was much more interested in music and the arts. And Russ felt that, except for his stint in the Army, his parents seemed to approve of Ron’s achievements more than they did of Russ’.

But growing up, Russ’ brother Ron also instigated some of the friction between them, as only big brothers can. Some taunting. Some teasing. Some “Do this, Russ,” kind of mischief.

One of my favorite stories was when Ron gave Russ an M-80 firecracker. And Ron then told him that it would explode underwater. And he then told Russ that if he didn’t believe him, that he should try it out in the kitchen sink. And then Ron wisely left the scene of the future crime.
Sure enough, while his parents were peacefully watching television in the dining room, Russ filled up a sink (already full of dirty dishes) with water, lit the M-80, and dropped it into the sink.

W-H-O-O-M-P-H!!!!

His parents came running into the kitchen, which was soaked – floor, ceiling, four walls, and one guilty little boy.
“Ron told me to do it!” was all Russ could say.

Russ once revealed that, after childhood, he seldom felt close to his parents. He admits this was in large part due to his musician lifestyle. But he always admired their honesty, integrity, and work ethic.

His mom was an expert seamstress. I forget what he told me that his dad did. But Russ said his dad was the best card-shark Russ had ever known. (As honest as could be, Russ claimed, but incredible at shuffling, dealing, and playing cards. He seemed to always know the odds at any time, as if by instinct, and always played to win.)

As his parents got older, though, Russ became their main support. He helped his dad care for his mom while she was dying. His brother Ron had a very difficult time accepting their mother’s final illness, and had difficulty helping her. Then Ron died shortly after their mom died. (Russ thought it might have been partially out of Ron’s feelings of guilt.) So Russ was left alone to care for his dad in his dad’s final years. Taking him out to the movies. Taking him out for haircuts. Taking him out to restaurants. Going over to the retirement home that his dad resided at and running Bunco games for the residents there. (Ironically, at the same time Russ’ dad was there, I would take my own kids and their friends to the same small retirement home on 95th Street in Evergreen Park to sing Christmas Carols every year.)

Russ’ stories and advice on his experiences in caring for his dad (as well as Russ’ support and prayers) helped me immeasurably when I was going through the same experiences with my own dad.

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