HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOE!!

My brother Joe would have turned 50 today and last month marked the 30th anniversary of his death. He was only 19, a month from turning 20, when he died. He has been gone 10 years longer than he lived and I have lived my life almost twice as long without him than with him. Today, I am 28 years older than he was when he died. Impossible for me to reconcile, because no matter how old I get, in my heart and mind, he is still my big brother.

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Our siblings are part of our identity. Growing up, they are the witnesses to our lives and are the people we know, and who know us, better than anyone else. My twin brother Grady and I are the youngest in our family, we were born with two older brothers. The only world we knew was with Cliff and Joe. Our bonds which began circumstantially, became part of our being. We depended on each other for teasing, support, fun, arguing, generosity, selfishness, secrets, betrayals, physical violence, protection, and a union for or against our parents. These dynamics were confusing to my parents who were both only children; they simply could not understand how you could be threatening someone with a butcher knife one minute and then going outside together to play catch the next. Lucky for us, we loved and liked each other in equal measure. Which is why when Joey died, the loss created an agitating insecurity as we all struggled with the repositioning in our family. Only now, 30 years later, have I come to understand that we didn’t, or couldn’t, reposition ourselves at all. We have spent decades trying to adapt to the holes in the nucleus of our family. The first created when Joe died and again nine years later with the passing of my dad.

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I can vividly feel and see how Joe would walk into a room jiggling his car keys, front pockets of his jeans slightly turned out, oxford shirt mostly untucked, dark curly hair a halo around his head, green eyes twinkling with a huge smile on his face. He had a great sense of humor; he was usually laughing about something: his energy kinetic and warm. If he wasn’t entering a room talking or laughing, he would have been humming and drumming Seeger, Clapton, Springsteen or another Classic Rock artist who met his approval. A great music enthusiast, he read the “Rolling Stone Record Guide” cover to cover multiple times.  A “guide” intended as reference material was a feast for such a trivia buff and voracious reader as he.

Joe was my mentor of many things, but especially music. “Robin, there will be no B96 played in this house!”  I desperately wanted him to think I was smart and cool. So, I obediently listened to and learned to love classic rock. But only after we had a couple of disco parties at the neighbor’s house where all three of my brothers stood on the street holding up Steve Dahl posters, made by my brother Cliff, chanting’ “Disco Sucks! Disco Sucks!”

Joey had this way of teasing me and making me feel better at the same time. The summer between 6th and 7th grade, one of my closest friends and I ended up with the same bathing suit. She was much thinner than I which caused me a bit of angst. Joe’s response was, “Oh Robin she will look like a little twig in it and you will look like a NICE. PORK. SAUSAGE!”

Joe and I shared sturdy statures and a great fondness of food; of course, a pork sausage was appealing to him, but none of the girls photographed in their bathing suits on the pages of “Seventeen” magazine resembled pork sausages! Even so, I felt better.

I definitely was not as intellectually curious as Joe was, few people were, other than EVERYONE else in my family. I leaned more toward physical pursuits; dancing and working out, my appearance, my peers, and thumbing through fashion magazines. This was troubling to Joe. So, one summer he spent a lot of his free time following me around reading aloud from “Time” magazine. His frustration grew as I stalked around rolling my eyes and sighing. So, he made me a deal. He said he would leave me alone if I could name the presidents of the United States backwards starting with Ronald Reagan. With a lot of coaching we got back to Herbert Hoover. “Come on Robin, he’s served more terms than any other president!”

I replied, “Wasn’t he the one who was married to Marilyn Monroe?”

Exasperated, Joe froze, looked over his glasses through the tops of his eyes and said, “President DiMaggio Robin? President DiMaggio!”

We didn’t get any farther, and I now understand that he was trying to get me to say FDR.

 

 

We were 2 years three months and three school years apart; he was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. Only two inches taller than I, when Joey would introduce me to his friends, he would stand up tall as he could, puff out his chest, rear back and proudly introduce me to people as his “little sister Robin” filling me with love, pride and a sense of protection.

Joey loved music as much as he loved books. When he turned 16, he drove my mom’s hand me down, two door, V8, rear wheel drive, Oldsmobile Delta ‘88. He had a boom box he kept in the front seat plugged into the cigarette lighter and about 200 cassette tapes loose in the front and back seat. Every time he turned a corner the tapes would slide one way or the other thrashing around, not that we could hear it, the music was too loud. Lucky for Grady and me, Joe drove us to school every day our freshman year, which meant we didn’t have to take the bus. We did however have to ride in the back seat because Joe also drove two of his friends to school. Every morning we would climb into the back seat and Joe would drive us to school talking, singing, air guitaring, drumming and fishtailing the entire way. We arrived at school nauseous, bruised and slightly hard of hearing, but extremely grateful not to have to ride the bus and able to walk into school with our brother who was a senior; another example of the dichotomous manner our siblings look out for us.

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Joe read constantly from the time he was about 2 and knew more trivia than anyone. He loved sports, especially major league baseball, and was a sport statistic fanatic. Instead of playing sports in high school he competed on the Academic Bowl team, was the announcer for the varsity girls’ basketball team, served as student council vice president, was a little league umpire and wrote for the underground newspaper. Wise beyond his years Joe possessed a revolutionary outlook on his establishment. He revered men and women who fought for the underground, underrepresented, under privileged and underserved. He had a profound interest in current events, the human condition, and our environment. In fact, when he died, we set up donations to Greenpeace in his name. He was able to perform uncanny impressions of Jesse Jackson and John Belushi and loved an audience. At the same time, he knew how to make people feel seen. With his gregarious charm, he connected with people easily. It’s that that has remained with us. I am proud to say that in the years following his death, I have received many notes and emails from people with whom he connected.

 

I credit Joe for my love of classic rock, great books and true friends. He instilled in me intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm for food, revolutionary outlook, and ability to laugh at myself. I am glad that I see glimpses of him in my nieces Mary, Molly, and Rory and my nephew Mitchell. I am grateful that almost every Bob Seeger, CSN, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, David Bowie, James Taylor, John Lennon, song and John Belushi line I hear, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I can hear him belting out, see him playing air guitar, turning cartwheels or air drumming away like it was yesterday.

Of course, I have tried to age him along with us. I just can’t seem to do it. I can’t make him older than he was when he died, just as I can’t make myself older than he ever was. It’s okay, as my brother Cliff says, I think I’ll keep him right where he was; because he was pretty cool.

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33 thoughts on “HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOE!!”

  1. Robin – You light up a room, just like him. You adorn that dark hair and those green eyes, just like him. You have a intellectual curiosity, just like him. And you have an immense love for life and sense of humor, just like him. He will always be your big brother. Happy 50th Joey!

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  2. Wow – just lovely…reading this brought back so many memories… Joe was one of my first friends when I moved to Cary from Nebraska as a very scared and alone 15 year old – meeting him and having the privilege of calling him my friend was a turning point in my life. Thinking of the Ireys ❤️

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  3. So beautifully written. I loved your brother. We were so different but such great friends. He was so so smart and yes way before his time. He was such an old soul in so many ways ans wise beyond his years. Joey announces our names for basketball games with such vigor and pride. Each time my name was announced for my college career all I could here was Joe voice. I will forever hear it and treasure the memory. Happy 50 !

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  4. What a wonderful tribute to a great man. You possess so many of those qualities you admire him for. This was so great for me to read….someone who never met your brother, but loves you very much. 💗

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  5. Robin, I never had the honor to meet Joe. But I always felt like I knew him. You have so much of him in you. You look alike and sounds like you have so much of his spirit in you. So well written. Happy 50th in heaven Joe. Keep watching over your people. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  6. Robin, This is Beautiful!! What a Wonderful tribute this is to your brother Joe! I never got the pleasure of meeting him, but reading this blog I get such a complete sense of what an Amazing big brother he was♥️ Love you my friend, and thank you for sharing your story and memories with us!!
    an

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  7. This is so damn amazing. I never knew him but this is so personal and heartfelt I feel like I can experience him through you. Thank you for sharing. Happy birthday to him. Love you, Jorge

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  8. Oh, Robin, this is an absolutely beautiful tribute to your brother. You have succeeded in bringing Joey to life for me. I’m sad I never had the good fortune of knowing him, but I feel like I do after reading this – and because I know you. Thank you for sharing a piece of him in this blog!!

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  9. This was sad but very lovely to read. What an impression Joe made on his family early on. It is very comforting to hear about the great kind of man he was especially to his younger siblings. And, to understand how the admiration of a loved one can impact you in such a positive way even when that person has been gone for the greater part of it. I’m a puddle after reading this.

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  10. Robin – your tribute to Joe brought back a flood of such wonderful memories! Even though he was young, he was larger than life – that smile, his humor, his love of family, friends, music, reading, trivia. . . . . I am so thankful our families were neighbors! Happy Birthday Joe!

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  11. To : Robin, Your Mom and I were great friends before you were born. Then your mom and dad moved away from Buffalo Grove, and we lost touch with your family. I had returned to teaching and was so absorbed in it that I didn’t pursue our relationship. I missed all the years of your growing up. The picture you paint of Joe is really beautiful. It makes me feel like I know him. I wish I had! He sounds like my kind of person!

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  12. What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute, Robin!! By sharing these lovely memories he still brings love and joy to you and others. I’m certain you were (and are) are an amazing sister (and someone I consider a dear friend)!

    Happy Birthday, Joe!

    Love ya, Robin!

    Nancy

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  13. Dear, Dear Robin. Because of your beautiful words, I am finally able to get to know your brother Joe. This was filled with raw emotion and gentle grace. Everytime I hear classic rock music, eat pork sausage or remember the terms of office of President Joe DiMaggio, I will remember Joe and smile.

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  14. Dear, dear Robin. Your beautiful words have given me the chance to know and love Joe. What a wonderful tribute that is so raw with emotion, yet full of grace. I will always think of Joe when I hear classic rock, eat pork sausage and remember the terms of office of President DiMaggio. You are a gift.

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  15. Oh, Robin – you brought tears to my eyes and provided such an understanding of the greatness of your brother and the terrible loss for you and your family. Your story gave me so much more insight into you and your family. I am so deeply sorry for your loss but so grateful to hear the role that Joe played in your life❤️

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  16. Beautiful sentiment for your brother, Robin! He will be with you forever. Sounds like he was a wonderful brother. You were (are) an amazing sister and friend to me. Happy Birthday, Joe!!

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  17. Robin, such a touching and beautiful tribute to your sweet brother Joe. After reading this (more than once) I feel I know a little bit more about the person he was and I think there is definitely a lot of him in you! Your positive spirit and humor shine : ) I love seeing the wonderful family pictures and send love to you and Jacquie on this day and always ❤

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  18. I read your beautiful words three times yesterday with tears in my eyes and couldn’t begin to put words together to express all that was on my heart. You brought Joe back to life and I could actually picture him in every story. I saw his beautiful big green eyes and smile and his curly dark hair and the glint in his eyes that was always there as he would be contemplating his next move. I love that he wrote for the underground newspaper!!! Of course he did… he’s an Irey!!! I’ll always remember the time at the baseball field when he came up behind Ray and put his arms around him and tried to pick him up and Ray was able to do some wrestling move and the next thing I saw was Joe and Ray both on the ground and I’m yelling “Don’t hurt him!” …. meaning both of them!!! I was so mad at Ray. But they both got up smiling and laughing!!!! I can honestly say I never saw Joe without a huge smile on his face as he would greet me. He was truly such a huge adorable presence and such a powerful beautiful gift to this world ….as you are my dear Robin. Your Mom and Dad did an amazing job with all of you!!!! What a fun family!!!! I am blessed beyond words to have you all in my life. Happy Birthday Joe!!!! I will see you again one day and you will give me that handsome mischievous smile and I will give you a big hug!!!❤️ Love you all soooo much❤️❤️❤️Such Beautiful Heartfelt Words ❤️Thank You 😘Thank You!!!!!

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