By Alec Clayton
On Father’s Day 2020 my niece Allison posted on Facebook: “Happy Heavenly Father’s Day, Daddy!” And another niece, Angelina posted: “Happy Father’s Day to my Dad that’s in heaven.” Allison’s dad was my big brother, Buster, and Angelina’s stepdad was my identical twin brother, Bill.
Bill and I adored and hated big brother Buster. I remember a home movie from about 1950 (remember home movies—not videos but film: black and white and silent?). I no longer have the movie or a projector to show it if I had it, but it’s indelible in my mind. We were in the back yard. Buster was about twelve years old. Bill and I were about six. We had put a pad on the ground and a big pillow bolster on one end of the pad. Buster dove over the bolster and did a somersault on the pad, scrambled back on his feet and quickly ran around and did it again, and again, and then turned around and did it backwards, flailing his arms and generally acting the fool. And Bill and I followed behind, imitating his every move. We kept following behind and imitating him from then until we were grown. He teased up unmercifully, picked on us; beat us up, but playfully, never intending to really hurt us. “Mama! Mama!” we would scream when he was beating on us. From the kitchen, Mama would shout back, “What?” And before we could say, “Buster’s hurting us” he would shout back, “What time is it?”
By the time I was twelve years old, I had just about had all I could take of Buster. Except, of course, when he was being funny, which was often, or when he took us places in his awesome red MG convertible (it wasn’t really his, it was Daddy’s, but it might as well have been Buster’s). And then a year or so later I discovered something totally unexpected. A whole passel of fourteen and fifteen-year-old girls had mad crushes on him. I’m talking about the best looking and most popular girls in Hawkins Junior High. He was a freshman in college then and disdainful of their attentions. Suddenly he was my hero again.
Buster joined the navy reserve while still in high school, and so did my twin brother and I a few years later. In college, I pledged the same fraternity he had been in. He worked at our dad’s store, and after he got married and moved to the next town, I took over his job at the store.
Buster died from a sudden, massive, and unexpected heart attack when he was only forty-seven years old. His father-in-law called me the night of his death to tell me the news. I was the only one of six siblings still living in the same town as our parents, so it fell to me to spread the news. It was late at night. Gabi and I went over to my parents’ house and woke them up to tell them their oldest son had died. I remember my mother saying, over and over, “He wasn’t supposed to go before me.”
I remember his wife, Diane, saying her two teenage daughters slept in the bed with her the night after he died. The one thing I remember thinking at his funeral and in the days shortly thereafter was we can’t let Diane and the girls ever think they’re no longer a part of this family. I was happy to see Diane and Allison at a family reunion two years ago, the first time I had seen them since we moved cross country almost thirty years ago. Diane has happily remarried, and both girls are married and have given their mother almost-grown grandchildren, but despite distance and time, they are still very much members of our family.
Until his death in November 2018, I jokingly called Bill my no longer identical twin brother. Because even though we still looked alike, we had grown so much apart in other ways as to be hardly recognizable as brothers. He lived in Texas, where he had a whole bunch of step children and in-laws, most of whom I either didn’t know or hadn’t seen in decades. I lived in Washington state. He still loved fishing, and I hadn’t been fishing in about forty years. Politically, we were exact opposites. He wore cowboy boots and loved country music and for a time had been a rodeo bull rider. There’s no way anybody could have been more different than the two of us, which we both found to be very strange because for the first eighteen years of our lives we were like one person in two bodies. We not only thought and talked and acted alike, each of us even knew what the other was thinking. When he joined the navy and was stationed in Pensacola, 150 miles from where I lived at the time, I knew when he got sick before he called to tell us he was in the hospital. That’s just the way we were, had always been.
Bill and I didn’t communicate much during his final years, but everything we had ever done together came flooding back at his funeral, aided of course by the fact that his wife and daughters, and even the preacher, spent practically the whole time at the funeral home telling twin stories.
Anyway, on this Father’s Day 2020, I am thinking not so much about my father, whom I loved and admired, but about my brothers.
Left: Buster Clayton with Diane, Allison and Lee Ann, 1984. Right: Alec, sister Lynda Littlejohn, and brother Bill.