This watch was given to my brother Gary Stickland in 1966 for, as is engraved on the back of it, “18 months of perfect service” by the Regina Leader-Post. He had a paper route back in our neighbourhood, and I sometimes was his helper.
I often present story structure to my writing students at a very basic, stripped-down level: Situation, Complication, Resolution. There, I just saved you the trouble of reading through countless lengthy tomes on story structure. The point is that in the story of our hero, there will always be hardship and obstacles to overcome before he can emerge, stronger and presumably successful in his quest, whatever that might be.
The complication in my own life story came in 1968 when Gary died in a car accident. He was 16, I was 11. Suddenly, the sweet serenity of my youth was shattered and the hard ragged edge of reality intruded.
It was a calamitous event for my family, one which in many ways my parents never recovered from. It’s true what they say, that parents should never have to bury their children. It’s the hardest thing of all. In my own case, it certainly put me on perilous footing as I was about to enter into my adolescent years.
I have no doubt that all discernible aspects of my character, good and bad, can be traced to this event. For example, I don’t like reality all that much, I really don’t. So I retreated into my own little world and surprise, surprise, I became first a musician and then a playwright.
A character in one of my plays (Dotty in Sitting on Paradise) says, rather famously in Calgary at least: “Change is never good. Nothing good ever comes of it.” People thought I was joking about that, but I really don’t think I was.
I can control things in the world on stage. Out in the real world I can’t. It’s probably as simple as that.
My brother was everything I was not. We were a study in contrasts. He was dark, and brooding, with my father’s deep brown, almost black eyes. I was a dreamy kid, with my mother’s fair complexion and blue eyes.
Gary was a doer, I was a thinker. He was a fighter, I was a lover. Or if not a lover at 11, I sure as hell wasn’t a fighter. He was about the body, I was about the imagination. While I played the piano, he played football and baseball, at a level that was so high and so far above anyone else that no one doubted for a minute that he could have made it to the pros in either baseball or football.
Sadly, I don’t remember much about him all these years later, but here’s one story I do remember and you’ll have to take my word for it that it actually happened.
I was playing Little League baseball for the old Senators team coached by Regina legend (and father to Chico) Joe Resch. I was not playing well, not well at all. I think Joe only tolerated me because I was Gary’s younger brother.
One evening after our game, I rode my bike over to the field where the Pony League played their games. I knew Gary had a game that night. As I pulled up to the screen, Gary was in the on deck circle taking some practice swings. He saw me and walked over to the fence so we could talk.
I felt so special that he did that, you have no idea. He asked me how my game went. I can’t really remember now how it went or what I said to that, but it probably hadn’t been all that good, at least on a personal level.
The batter went out or got a hit and so it was Gary’s turn to bat. He said, “I’ll hit a home run for you.” I said, “OK.” “Which field?” he asked. “Right,” I said. He winked at me and went up to home plate to bat. Three pitches later, he hit a home run over the right field fence. He rounded the bases and then waved at me as he went back to the dugout.
And that was that.
That was my brother Gary, as I remember him at his best.
Thanks for reading.
Here’s my favourite song from 1968.