One, two, three, parachute

One, two, three parachute.
One, two, three parachute was an unusual name for an unusual game invented by my two big brothers that involved the three of us and a piece of playground equipment, no doubt since discontinued by the Canada Safety Council shortly after my near demise. Those two pioneers of early space travel, Max and Gerry, or the Wrong Brothers, as I like to call them, came up with one, two, three, parachute when our mother entrusted them with my safety during a forced march to the park.
I can only remember trying it that one time when Max and Gerry volunteered me as the guinea pig to put their space travel theory to the test.
But, 50 years later, the images remain vivid, stored within the darkest vault of childhood memories, like a slow motion replay shown one frozen frame at a time.
I was a terrified five or six, forced to lie on the ground, sweaty little paws gripping the ends of the ladder’s rails, looking up at Max and Gerry high above me atop the metal support while I implored them not go through with their plan.
Max, 13, and Gerry, nine, brushed off my futile pleas and assured me everything would go exactly according to plan as they towered above me, gripping the ladder’s rails at the opposite end of where I was stationed before they jumped to the ground to the sound of one, two, three, parachute.
My grip slipped as they landed with a thud a few feet away, their momentum launching me skyward in a series of somersaults that catapulted me up, providing me with a panoramic, topsy turvy view of the playground before gravity took over and plummeted me to the ground.
I’ll never forget the look on the face of a woman reading on a blanket nearby who happened to look up as I hurtled past her because I saw her from a number of angles before impact.
Miraculously, I landed flat on my back with an audible thud, dazed and confused but still in possession of the majority of my motor skills, a few feet from where the horror-struck woman sat in a frozen stupor, transfixed by what she had just witnessed.
After ensuring that I was still breathing, she immediately tore into Max, mostly, because he was the oldest.
Gerry tottered nearby in disbelief, fluctuating between bouts of ‘that was so cool’ and ‘boy are we going to get it’.
Once the park stopped spinning and I was able to stagger with assistance from my brothers from the scene of the crime, Max immediately began to bribe me with promises of Coke, chips, chocolate bars and ice cream cones to keep quiet about what had just transpired.
After some shrewd negotiating back and forth, I agreed to sell my silence for the rough equivalent of a couple of weeks of Max’s allowance.
And Max followed through on his promise, as he always did, whether it was a promise to someone else or himself, like the oath he swore as a child to become an artist.
I remember Max coming home from his clerk’s job at Cominco, gulping down supper and any leftover potatoes right from the pot (God, how he worshipped the lowly spud) before he’d dash off to plug away on assignments from the Famous Artists School correspondence course he was taking.
I took each instructor’s written critique of Max’s work personally, painfully aware of the effort and enthusiasm Max poured into each assignment, having put in more than a few hours posing in a variety of back-breaking positions.
He often worked well into the wee hours in the makeshift, dimly lit studio he cobbled together in the unfinished basement of our home, insulated from the cacophony of our family.
Max kept at it like a man on a mission from beyond, moving on after the correspondence course to attend Montreal’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts and whatever workshops he could find or afford.
He persevered with a missionary’s fervour, putting what he learned to diligent use after the demands of his day job as a graphic designer at McGill University, expanding his own distinct body of work.
Driven with a determination that would make a monk jealous, Max willed his dream to life, quietly establishing a reputation of note within the art world not just for his artwork, but also for his ability to teach.
That came as no surprise to me, because I learned much about the creative side of the human condition growing up with him as my mentor.
Although I hadn’t been on a plane since a white knuckler in 1977, when I heard the end was near, I headed home to Montreal, weighed down by a heavy heart and the finality of what awaited.
I saw Max for the last time for a couple of weeks in November, as he staggered through the last rounds of his fight with the cancer that surfaced so suddenly in August to wreak its havoc within him in such a short time.
That last visit turned into the best of times, a bittersweet sojourn where we rekindled, connecting in ways that are only possible when the end is in sight.
We tempered our dread of the inevitable with heavy doses of laughter and memories from when we were younger and invincible, laughing until our lungs collapsed, like we used to when we were kids.
I got to know his wife, Lise, and tried to lighten the load she so bravely shouldered, her stoic nature tested to the max watching the love of her life slip further away with each passing day as the cancer raged within him like a wildfire, burning a hole through her soul.
I spent special moments with my niece Kim, the child I babysat, now a mother and artist in her own right, equal parts daughter, kindred spirit and soul mate to my brother.
The end came, mercifully, Friday, Dec. 8, Lise and Kim by his side sharing his last breath, each clutching a hand gently. It was the day before my dad’s 91st birthday and two days day before the anniversary of my mother’s death, which also happens to be my nephew’s birthday.
It’s funny, the things you think about when you have to bury your brother, the games you recall while trying to deal with the dull, incessant ache for what’s no longer there to share.
Somewhere on a far-off celestial horizon, an artist looks down long enough to frame his final sleep.
So for you, big brother, one, two, three, parachute, one more time.
May you soar onward and upward, never to come down.