And Then There Were Six: In memory of Edward (Jahn) Bronson

I didn’t plan on my youngest brother dying so soon. None of us did. Never even crossed my mind even though he has had seizures that almost took him out for years. It was the biggest shock I’ve had in quite a while.

When we were kids, he was just Eddie.  And as the last of eight children, he was very spoiled by my mother. He didn’t have to do the same amount of chores the rest of us had to do, and he relished in that. There were six of us in a house with one bathroom and we RUSHED to get in and out before he did in the mornings to go to school. He was the absolute slowest person I ever had to wait on, and this was all his life.

He used to lift weights when he was young and he was so trim by the time he went into the Air Force, that my mother (quite a seamstress) used to have to tailor all his shirts and pants for his trim waist. He was sharp! And, he knew it. He spent four years in the Air Force, mainly stationed in Hawaii.

He used to look in the mirror at his naturally wavy hair (that men used to pay to have conked that way), pat it, and rather than kiss the mirror, he would kiss his finger tips, place them on one cheek; kiss them again, place them on the other cheek, to give himself his approval kiss before leaving the house. This was his Fast Eddie phase.

When he was a teenager in Milwaukee, some doctor saw his artwork and thought he had talent, so he paid for Edward’s scholarship to Messmer Catholic High School. I was so jealous, but that guy saw Edward’s gift long before we did. In turn, Edward had to provide a copy of his grades every semester. We just knew he would be famous and wealthy.

When my oldest sister, Annie Doris, was declining in health, we were kept abreast of what was happening to her, so her death was gradual, in some ways, an easier thing to experience. I thank my niece, Pat (Mattie), Doug’s wife, for taking the lead on that. We were able to visit her as a group, have dinner, laugh, reminisce, and tell very expanded (and hysterical) versions of our personal historical truths before she died, so that when she died it was more of a celebration than mourning. We didn’t get that chance with my youngest brother.

My brother, named Edward John Bronson at birth, but renamed himself artistically as, Jahn, later in life, was the youngest of eight children. He was vain and funny and would talk your head off. He was a smooth talker, and would quote scripture that always made him right and others wrong, did I say smooth, stubborn, an artist (talented, too), never really liked to work (but loved to get paid), creative, loved his daughter Tracey (even though they didn’t spend much time together), sweet, used to always have a toothpick in his mouth (thanks for that reminder, Kay), loved-loved his family—especially his brothers, always ended his conversations and visits with “love you,” stubborn (yeah, I’m repeating that), and was a real ladies man in his early years.

Honestly, I don’t remember the exact date when we last talked, a month maybe, but I know we were able to have lapses like that and just take up where we left off when we talked again and we laughed—a LOT. Just like old friends. At the end of every conversation and/or visit, we each told the other we loved them. Always.

He tried to spoil my mother when she, on her way to one of my sister’s homes in Milwaukee, took ill when she got to Las Vegas (where he lived at the time) and ended up staying with him for several years (she never made it back to Milwaukee). I tried to get him to let her do things for herself, but he would say, “She took care of us, now it’s my turn to take care of her,” and continue to do as he was always doing. He insisted that he needed to treat her like a queen. My blood would boil every time my mother would try to get up and get something, and he’d jump to her rescue to get it for her. Note: That kind of treatment, however kindly, further handicaps an older person because when they stop moving around their muscles atrophy and they deteriorate more rapidly. Regardless, he laughed a lot and we could send each other into giggle fits in our conversations. I don’t ever want to forget what he sounded like when he laughed.  And he talked softly in almost conspiratorial  tones as if you and he were only to hear his words.

We talked more on the phone than we saw each other even though we lived about two hours from each other. Of course, if you ever had to drive in that LA traffic, you’d know why we didn’t get up there much, and he didn’t have a car. We saw each other last summer in Las Vegas at the mini-family reunion. I am so glad I was able to provide him with a room in a very nice resort hotel.

One brother, Rowan, aka The Colonel, lives on the East Coast. The three brothers on the West Coast, James, Fred, and Edward, spent an inordinate amount of time together—on purpose. Weekends and most holidays would usually find them together at James’s house, talking sh*t, laughing, and drinking (moderately, of course). A while back they used to smoke weed together, but I thought he stopped that because of his medications; he didn’t and it attributed to his death.

Edward, as I prefer to called him as an adult (he was Eddie when we were kids), had many nicknames: Fast Eddie, Rev. Eddie, Edward, Uncle Eddie, Eddie, and later, Jahn. As an artist, he felt he should have an artistic name, so he just changed the “o” in his middle name to “a,” and put an exotic twist on it and he became “Jahn” (pronounced Zha-an) about 20 years ago. We used to laugh about that for ages. He didn’t announce this change, mind you, just let it creep up on us, and during a visit at his house, his girlfriend (at that time) called him by that name and I didn’t know who she was talking about. While I understood his desire to rename himself, I could never—or seldom—remember to call him that. He forgave me and said Edward was fine.

His death made me think of the analogy with my back. I have degenerative discs, and they are deteriorating from the top of my spine down, and from bottom of my spine up. My sister was the top like my spine, this brother was the bottom of my life. We never worried about having connections, or someone to talk with because there were so many of us. I always loved that, which is why I wanted so many children. Shared pain; shared happiness. How I got all those children wasn’t as important, for some reason. Andre’ used to call them mine, yours, ours, and somebody else’s.

Edward was a grandfather, but I have never seen any of his grandchildren. His daughter lives in New Mexico, and has been there since she was a toddler. I remember how it crushed him when her mother moved from Los Angeles and took her away.  I think I have seen her once as an adult. He always, always wanted to have more contact and be more present in her life, but he was not one to push to make that happen, nor could he afford to.

As an artist, Edward was frustrating as hell. He was good, granted, but he wanted to charge amounts for his work that no one would pay to an unknown artist, no matter how good.

He took an album cover of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and made a portrait that looks better than the album cover. Edward took his hair clippings and mixed it into a high-gloss paint and it turned out so beautiful. He used the same technique to another painting of a woman in profile. The album cover painting was so nice that Barry Gordy offered to buy it to put in the Motown lobby. We all knew that would be a great advertisement, and Carla, my sister-in-law, told Edward to do it at the price they were offering (in the hundreds). Well, Edward didn’t think that offer was good enough. He felt that if he sold it at (what he considered) a low price, his work would be devalued. He wanted thousands. He was a horrible businessman. Carla tried to convince him to let her be his agent, but he thought he would be better cutting out the middle-man/woman. He never sold anything. He artwork ended up in James’s garage, some beaten by the weather. He was very, very stubborn.

But, after all, he was still funny, sweet, never rushed for anything, loved his daughter and grandchildren as if he saw them very day, loved God and his family so much that we always knew the love was there.  He loved sweets, especially peaches.  And he could play whist and dominoes with his brothers for hours on end.

Just by coincidence I happened on a voice mail he left me June 21, 2013 at 4:47 p.m., so my phone says.  He says, “Hey, Big Sister, it’s me.  I’m trying to find out the information for, for the, uh, place down in Vegas.  It’s about 5:00 now.  I’m getting ready to step out now.  I’ll call you a little bit later.  It’s a Friday.  Bye.”  In all it was 17 seconds.

We had a glorious time in Las Vegas in 2013, catching up.  He loved his suite at the resort and didn’t want to get out of the jacuzzi tub at night.  He was disappointed that his daughter, Tracey didn’t come.  He held onto the belief that she would come to the last minute, but she didn’t.  While there we worried once that he didn’t answer his door or phone and one of my brothers went to check on him.  And now, that’s all I have left to remind me he was alive, 17 seconds of a recording to hear how he sounded.  Occasionally I play it just to hear how he sounded.  And cry.  I miss the hell out of him.

In the end following the shock of his death, I am left with this: Always, ALL-WAYS, ALWAYS, tell your people (friends or relatives) you love them at the end of your phone conversations. If you’re mad at them tell them you’re mad, but you still love them. I’m so glad we always left each other with love.  And I am glad for all the time we had together, 65 years, one month.  I love you so much.