Please welcome Don Ortolano to #BeREALationships.
Where did this relationship between brothers start? Well, actually, it started before my younger brother, Robert, was even born.
I recall the day well, even though it is in many ways, an eternity ago.
It was one of those beautiful, cool sunny days in New York and I was walking with my Mom on 14th street on the lower west side of Manhattan.14th street was a favorite route for Mom. Lined with discount shops, department stores and fun places to grab a slice of pizza, or, our favorite, Italian Lemon Ice, 14th street was a great place for a family on a tight budget , and that certainly described us, to find some excellent bargains. We could walk 14st all the way to Kleins department store.(long gone, but located in the trendy SoHo district today)
It wasn’t a long walk, but not short either for a six-year-old trying to keep up with his pretty energetic mom. On this particular day, after we had enjoyed our Italian Ice, she casually asked me; ” would you like a little brother?”
“Wow, a litter brother?”, I thought. That would be neat… My best, and only, friend, Richard Zimmer had a brother and he seemed happy with him. Besides, if I had a little brother I would always have someone to play with and watch television with.
“Yes… I want a little Brother”, I said.
I remember a sweet smile come to Mom’s face when she said; “Good, I think we will get you one.”
I wondered where we would get my little brother? Maybe we would get him when we got to Lanes (another department store) today? Did they sell little brothers there? Or maybe we would take a bus ride and buy him “Up-Town”, surely they had plenty of good little brothers up town.
Mom assured me that he would arrive in a very special way and I accepted that. Of course, in my young mind i was thinking that perhaps Santa or the Easter Bunny would make a special delivery and I was excited . I didn’t even know when this special delivery would be, but Mom and Dad kept saying “soon”. As you probably know, to a child’s mind, “soon” can be an eternity .
Finally, on May 14, Robert Anthony Joseph Ortolano arrived at 290 west 12th street. I never saw Santa or the Easter Bunny, but there he was, in moms arms; and thus began the brotherly relationship that was, and still is, in my mind: epic.
A major factor in the strength of our relationship, especially in the early years, was an almost complete dependence upon each other for companionship and fun. Mom was very overprotective, leaving us very few friends outside of the home . We became best friends early and that has lasted a lifetime.
Though we are two completely different people, with different needs and affinities, the things we had in common from earliest recollections are almost uncanny.
We loved the same TV shows as kids, laughed hysterically at the same comedy. We could quote lines from Get Smart, F Troop, Gomer Pyle and many more.Good lord , we still quote( and laugh) at the same lines today! But it wasn’t just the comedies: we became engrossed and literally emotionally involved in the TV dramas as well. The members of Vic Morrows squad on the wonderful show “Combat” became very real personalities to us. We lived and died with them every week. A show that lasted only a brief time , The Americans” became an instant favorite. We related to the two brothers caught on different sides during Americas tragic Civil War. We waited with great excitement for the next weeks episode.We both became Civil War buffs and later in life were blessed to be able to visit some of the great battlefields together: Petersburg, Gettysburg and others. The Civil War became a lifelong conversation for us, sharing books, movies and differing views.
Ah, and the Westerns! We became devoted fans of the young scout on the TV hit “Rawhide”. Rowdy Yates was played by a very , very young Clint Eastwood, and thus began another lifelong bond. Eastwood was a hero us. The loner that no one messed with: he was everything that we insecure, not very tough kids ,wished we were. The classic Spaghetti westerns are to this day some of our favorite movies of all time. We could quote line after line and did just that many a night in the bedroom we shared. Laying on our single beds separated by an old desk, we discussed just how cool the “Man with no Name” was.
You see where I’m going with this? We loved the same things. In the face of a six year age difference, we had basically the same taste in everything.
Music! My lord music was,and is, such an important part of our lives. And so eclectic! Everything from the Stones to Queen… Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis… Of course , the Four Seasons….Frankie Lane….Simon and Garfunkel… We knew all the words…. We sang their songs together in some damned good harmony, thank you very much.
We saw the Stones together… Live…. We saw Sinatra live… Once, the Stones and Sinatra on the same weekend! Incredible.
The summers In Lake Hopatcong, NJ. Priceless. Going to the now closed Bertrand Island amusement park on a warm Summer evening with Mom and Dad . The aroma of the park and the lake…always the two of us enjoying every beautiful moment together we still talk and write about those nights .
This is truly a unique relationship. He is me, I am him… In so many ways. A song comes on, a movie airs, a scent fills the night air… a photo of a lake..And it brings back a childhood memory of Rob and I… Always, the Ortolano brothers.
I could go on endlessly, but this is about a relationship… A wonderful and lasting one. We complimented each other well. Every single one of my precious childhood memories includes Rob in one way or another. There were plenty of not so good memories, but, not surprisingly, Rob is nowhere to be found in those. He just shows up when it’s time to heal the bad, to turn the sad face to a smile.
Time is not our friend any longer. We have gotten older, we have moved away, we have ” our own lives” now. We haven’t seen each other in far too long; life just keeps getting in the way. Not that the relationship has soured in anyway… It just is not as “ever present ” as it once was.
Yes, we even differ on some things today, such as politics and, if I’m honest with myself, which I’m not good at, I realize that there was a time the age difference came into play . In my upper teen years, I was a typical selfish person. I lost sight of my younger brothers needs, and became self centered in mine. But , we have talked about that… And,as I should have expected, I am forgiven for that.
When one takes the whole of the lives we have lived, the summary of it all, I can’t imagine it without my brother .
As I sit writing this, the memories come in great waves. Some of the waves make me gasp for breath, some make me smile…. Many cause a tear or two to fall. Not sad tears. Grateful tears… Grateful for this relationship… Grateful for the years…. Mostly Grateful for that day so many years ago when Mom said ;
“Ok, we’ll get you one….”
Don Ortolano is the father of one of my favorite “real life” friends, Anthony Ortolano. He has two beautiful daughters and all of them have written for me here on hastywords. Don is a beautiful man with a very loving heart.