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Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

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Bob Bienemann and Jeffrey May 1996  Bob Bienemann joins excellent friends who crafted Jeff’s character …

Throughout the years, Mike has had good ideas.

Your oldest brother encouraged all the Blackwell siblings to see Barry and Florida State play their college baseball arch-rival, remembers Screen Six. In return, your youngest brother delivers a grand slam that may yet be orbiting Earth.

“Don’t forget Mike also talked all of us – kids and grandkids – into going home for a family reunion,” I reply. “And just 10 days afterward, Pop unexpectedly passed away.”

But this latest idea seems strangely amiss, and my six screens resist joining the Mike Mob of Praise. I do not understand Mike writing the family, says One, and declaring:

Mike: From now on, let’s not remember Jeff’s death on July 15.

I, wrestling vocal tremors, whisper, “He, above us all, is closest to Jeff. Inseparable. Picture Mike drafting that letter, collecting thoughts, aches, heart. Read his next words and you’ll see my brother’s reason is … well, reasonable.”

Mike: Annually “observing” the day Jeff passed just saddens us. “JB” was full of life – people loved him for that, for making them laugh! If we’re really going to honor his memory, then laughing is what we should do. So from now on, I am celebrating his birth.

January 4th as a household holiday, claps Two in excitement. How positive! Some men have a mere dash between their birth and death dates, but not JB. He made it a mad dash!

JB trioMike: We can share JB stories, maybe re-telling the many adventures we experienced with him. Maybe we tell new ones that remind us of him. Or maybe we hear the stories his own three children give as eyewitnesses. But however we do this, we tell JB tales.

In honor of Mike’s brilliant approach, I’ve asked all my screens to hit hyperfocus and fire up the cerebral IMAX theater. Pass the popcorn ….

As I, age seven, walk into the upstairs bedroom shared by Mike and Jeff, the latter places a small wooden box in my hands. “Pull the sliding top toward you really fast,” he says with a 10-year-old’s smirk. I do, and a tiny metal snake pops out and “bites” my finger with its swift impact. I yelp, but Jeff wins my silence by promising to show me something even better.

From dresser drawer he withdraws a small, green-metal, alligator head. Answering the question asked by my eyes, he explains, “It’s a clip in disguise.” Pressing the back of the reptilian head opens wide the jaws … which JB happily attaches to my nose. Pain!

I am still screaming and Jeff is still beaming when Dad appears, steaming. Then Jeff and I swap emotions.

A year later, Jeff is 11, I am eight, and we are exploring a housing development being built just up the street. High upon a hill, we see how far we can throw rocks, since the opposing hill is markedly lower than are we. Jeff wonders how close we can get to a VW Beetle chugging up the primitive road’s steep grade. I perfectly ding the car.

“Aughhhh!” hollers Jeff. “That’s not what I meant, dum-dum!”

Dad and Jeff discuss the guiding role of big brothers.

At 15 and 12, two Blackwells stand poised upon swimming pool starter blocks. Soft pop of gun blank compels racers first to dive, then froth chlorine waters with powerful butterfly strokes. An age-group younger, I am not supposed to be in this event, but our backup swimmer is ailing … and I am winning. With five yards yet to cover, JB stretches those long, strong, gonna do-me-wrong arms and wins by tenths of a second.

“You almost beat me!” barks Jeff. “Stay in your own events!”

Pop, serving as a nearby “timer,” beckons JB for a spirited sportsmanship speech.

Jeff BlackwellFinal story. Mom and I drive to The Mall at Short Hills to pick up Jeff, perhaps 23, working his last day for B. Altman’s department store. We find my brother upstairs, helping clean the remnants of his own farewell party. The first five humans I spy are females, not one of whom is dry-eyed. Learning I am Jeff’s brother, a woman hugs me –

My, she smells nice! sighs Three. Quickly now, go introduce yourself to others!

– and wails, “He’s leaving us! Jeff has so many expressions, cartoon voices and comebacks. We love him! This job won’t be the same!”

Mom shakes her head. “Silly girls,” she mutters. But I soon learn my brother, in his tireless hard work and endless humor, is as much a hero to these cute co-workers as is any ancient man of myth. Indeed, the ladies’ compliments about Jeff’s character flow faster than their tears.

Kind. Handsome. Thoughtful. Gentle. Spontaneous. Honorable. Handsome. Funny. Trustworthy. Quick. Man of integrity. Handsome. Solid character. Athletic. Humble. Handsome.

I notice a theme, quips Four.

“JB truly is that H word,” I laugh. “But he’s also – “

Humble, agrees Five. Your brother always downplayed his effect on people, always put others first.

You, JB, walked Earth far too briefly. But you are loved as fiercely and as deeply as if you were among us today. Happy birthday, guy. See you soon. And when I do, I’ll tell Pop you don’t need the lectures any more.


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Blackie’s Weekly Wonders

I Will See You Again [Carrie Underwood]