‘I tried to save my ‘black sheep’ brother’

Mar 15, 2019
Chet and the Triumphs in 1962. Source: Jacqui Lee

Although we all try to ignore it, almost every family has someone they might think of as the black sheep. It might have been great Uncle Tom who ran away with an actress; Auntie Sophie who married six times; shady Sam, the brother who always had a deal going; Ronnie who couldn’t keep away from the race track. Sometimes they are funny and we tell the stories with a smile, other times we have stories that are not so amusing.

My brother was born nearly four years after me. I was ‘big sis’, he relied on me to read to him and keep him out of fights. He was always saying something stupid or being cheeky, so he got attacked by much bigger boys. I think by today’s standards he might have been considered to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or something like that.

My poor Mum found him too hard to handle, especially after having me. I was quiet and shy and liked drawing and reading. My brother was much happier throwing my China dolls off the garage roof, upsetting the sugar into the chairs, or locking Mum out of the house and laughing as he jumped on the table, and knocked over ornaments. Yet he looked angelic: he was the one with the eyelashes and curls, I had the frizz and no eyelashes.

Our lives went different ways when I moved to New Zealand. At 16, he played in a rock band and it gave him a taste of the high life. Then by the time I returned from living away he was married. His daughter born a year or so later, was adorable. He was working as a builder, it seemed as if he had settled at last.

A few years later it had all gone awry, he had met someone else. It got very complicated when she had his second daughter, and they decided to emigrate with her boys from the first marriage. Perhaps I still hoped it would work out, and for a while it did, he got plenty of work in the building trade, they had a house, and seemed as if life was good. He also had another beautiful daughter.

My mother was pleased when we also decided to live in Australia, “You can keep an eye on your brother” she said. We bought a house in the next suburb when we finally arrived.

I worried because he seemed to be drinking and gambling, his health was suffering, he was not looking good. I tried to talk to him about it, but he denied there was a problem. He became aggressive at times, or fell asleep. I realised he smelled of drink at breakfast time, and his hands shook. I knew I had to do something. Before I could, his wife threw him out so he was homeless.

I didn’t blame her; she had already had to deal with so much. Then I found him a flat and helped him move in, gave him furniture, got him some vitamins, stocked his larder. I also insisted he saw a doctor. He cheerfully told the doctor he drank a bottle of brandy a day and ‘about’ six beers, but denied he needed help, and would not accept it. There was nothing to be done if he didn’t want to change. He decided Alcoholics Anonymous was not for him… He was ‘fine’.

Not long after he got into serious trouble and went north. I tried to keep in touch but he was soon lost to me. He came home once and saw my son, but he only did so because he had been beaten when he was drunk and obnoxious. He needed help and transport, which he was given. Family to the rescue again.

For two years I couldn’t find him. I contacted the Salvation Army. They said they couldn’t tell me if they found him, but at that time were willing to pass on a letter. I had to send them an open letter and they promised nothing, merely they would do their best.

It did find him; and he rang me, so began another period of contact. We talked on the phone, I sent letters and photos of his daughters (who by then had disowned him) we talked of family, of our childhood. He lived rough on Magnetic Island, he cooked on an isolated property, he worked in a hotel, he made enemies because he borrowed money or got drunk and said annoying things. I had two letters from people whose path he crossed. But through it all we talked and I always said “Love you Bruv” and he said ‘Love you Sis”. Finally after almost five years he seemed to have a safe home, but his health was very poor.

One cold May morning I got an early call to say he had died in his sleep. He was only 63, our black sheep had gone at last to a place of peace.

I am glad I found him, happy we talked, sad I could change nothing, and when I look back at what he almost had, I am distressed he lost it all. His band was on the same bill as the Beatles in 1962, who knows what could have happened if that dream had come true.

Do you have a ‘black sheep’ in your family? What makes them that way in your opinion?

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