I took care of my baby brother Stephen when he was a baby. I never wondered what he would grow up to be, and I never had the chance to see.
Born Dec. 19, 1958, Stephen arrived just days before I turned 11 — just the right age to start babysitting.
Stephen was the youngest of the Hamilton brothers and the only one born after we moved to the farm near Elkland. Stephen started school the fall after I graduated from high school in 1965, so we never rode the bus together and I wasn’t around much to watch him grow up. Though I was at living at home for three years after high school, I was working and going to college. Before Stephen turned 10 I moved to Springfield, and just three years later I was with the U.S. Air Force in North Carolina.
Though no longer under the same roof, I saw Stephen as often as possible and talked to him when living afar. I recall one particular call from North Carolina when, in his distinctive Southern drawl, Stephen assured me “not much going on” at home, then paused and added, “Well, I did get drug by a horse.”
“Did you get hurt?”
“Naw, not much,” he replied.
Mom later clarified: With his foot caught in the stirrup, Stephen was dragged some distance over rocks, briars and stumps, and bruised and scratched pretty severely on his back.
That was “not much.” That was Stephen.
I was back in Missouri, working for the Bolivar newspaper, when Stephen graduated high school in 1977. That same year I went back to college for a couple of semesters, but was not there at the same time as Stephen.
About two years after I became editor of the Buffalo Reflex I caught a bit on the morning news about a body discovered in a pickup truck on the east side of Springfield, not far from the Ramey Supermarket where Stephen worked. I immediately recognized the truck as Stephen’s and rushed down to my folks place at Elkland.
In short, it seems Stephen had driven a friend to a party because he knew he would drink too much. Stephen didn’t drink, but at that party he was goaded into tipping up a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey, ingesting a lethal dose. Witnesses said he took a dare, quipping “Cowboys don’t get drunk.”
He didn’t, either. That night, Sept.12, 1980, he died in a back yard on the west edge of Springfield and his “friends” dropped him and his truck on the far side of town.
Three months shy of his 22nd birthday, his promising future was cut short.
I’ve pondered ever since what he might have done or become. He would have been old enough for Medicare this December, but in my mind he will always be my baby brother, and the slow-talking country boy who counted getting thrown from a horse as “nothing much.”
Copyright 2023, James E. Hamilton; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online from Amazon or from the author.
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