MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

A very wise and dear old friend of our family named Woody told me almost five years ago as my mother was near death, “Remember, the biggest bunch of pure (b.s.) you will hear from this point on is, ‘I know what you’re going through …’

“‘No, you don’t know what I’m going through,’’’ Woody continued as we stood in the parking lot outside the hospital. ‘You have no idea what I’m going through, any more than I have an idea of what you went through.’

“The only person who knows what you’re going through is you,” Woody told me. “You won’t even know what Kevin will be going through, and your mother is his mother, too.”

Time moves entirely too fast, for just less than five years later, Woody called me to remind me what he wanted me to remember that day as we stood in the parking lot, as last Saturday, my brother Kevin had died.

“I’ve been there,” Woody said. “Last one standing in the family and all that; but I have no idea what you’re going through. I just know you have two choices: Crawl into the corner and let life pass you by, or get back out there and continue to join the party for as long as it lasts.”

I’m not real sure yet what I’m going through myself, but per my brother Kevin’s wishes, and my friend Woody’s options, I will certainly be rejoining the party.

Understand, of course, there was never any doubt about that and, as I said, after we had laid our mother to rest in the more traditional fashion, which is what she wanted, Kevin informed me he would continue to be, at least within our family, a progressive in how his final matters would be handled.

His wish was cremation (a family first) and no “bells and whistles” viewing (also a first) and no church funeral (most definitely a first, and quite a surprise given this was my brother Kevin).

Kevin was 66 years of age, just short of three months before his next birthday. He was born Sept. 30, 1955, the day James Dean died in a car wreck, of which I always reminded him, “Nice work, there, Kevin.”

A 1973 graduate of Fort Hill High School, Kevin was co-editor in chief of The Sentinel. He played one year of football, spent the summer in Europe between his sophomore and junior year, and though he wasn’t a member, he was active with the Fort Hill Drama Club, having been drawn to the theatre in every form.

We were baptized and grew up in my mother’s church, St. John’s Lutheran. Early on it was something I felt I had been made to do before I could get home to watch Notre Dame football highlights (yes, a different church, I know). To Kevin, the church was everything and to his last day, his faith remained his everything.

He seriously considered studying theology at Gettysburg College, but instead chose to be a journalism major at West Virginia University. He attended WVU for two semesters, then transferred to the University of Maryland where he graduated with his degree in American Studies.

Beginning in high school, Kevin always had a job. Beginning in college, he would sell real estate, he would sell cars; he loved cars. He took a state job, working for the Maryland Dept. of Juvenile Services. It was a difficult, thankless, and often dangerous job, but state benefits are good, and Kevin would need them for the rest of his life.

He served with distinction and earned a transfer to the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and worked as a traffic inspector for the rest of his working career. It was his happiest time and the happiest job of his career, because it was all about cars.

While living and working in Frederick, Kevin happened upon the minor-league Frederick Keys and became a big fan. For once, Mother and I had something we could get Kevin for Christmas besides books that he would use and would fit – season tickets to the Keys!

Having been raised in this house, Kevin always loved baseball; it wasn’t a choice. He absolutely loved being a Keys season-ticket holder. They even put his name on his seat at Harry Grove Stadium. Status!

When Kevin had to take early retirement, he came home to Cumberland, where he still held the job he had held for most of his life – being my big brother and taking care of me.

He was the best big brother I could have ever asked for. After all, he had once asked our mother for me. Of course, less than a week after Mom had returned home from the hospital, Kevin informed her that he believed it had come time for her to take me back.

I loved and admired Kevin so. He was most well-read and informed, particularly when it came to the arts, civil and human rights, religion and politics. There wasn’t a book or a newspaper he didn’t read. He had such a subtle wit and dry humor. He had such passion, empathy and generosity in his heart.

Kevin was the writer in the family. I just happened to get the job.

“By God, Woodrow, it’s been quite a party ain’t it?” Gus McCrae says to his friend Woodrow Call as he lay dying in “Lonesome Dove.”

Well, as my friend Woodrow Gordon reminds me, the lights stay on because this party ain’t over.

Kevin did not state this to be one of his wishes, but there will be a celebration/wake for him on Saturday, July 23, 5 to 8 p.m., at Oscar’s Restaurant, Cumberland. All of Kevin’s friends are welcome to join us. Kevin loved his family and friends, and he loved Oscar’s, so why not?

After that? Who knows? Before he reaches his final resting place, Kevin is likely to be joining Billy Feeney and me on a Stanley Cup-style tour to some more ballparks this summer. He did, after all, love baseball.

I don’t know what I’m going to do without my brother. It hasn’t been a week and I already miss him terribly. You just wanted to be around Kevin because each time you were, you learned something and you laughed. You felt good about things.

I used to call him the smartest guy in the room. Thing is, he usually was.

He used to sign Mom’s cards – birthday, Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, whatever – “The Good Son.” Like I said, Kevin was a funny guy.

It’s all just been pretty weird around here, lately, that’s what I know.

But I also know I have been very blessed in my life. Reading and writing are in my blood because my mother Colleen put it there, but I am certain I pursued it the way I did because I wanted to be like my big brother. I wanted to be like Kevin.

Yes, that’s it.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT