Gandalf, my older brother (known as Lawrence in this world)


Yes, indeed, Frodo, my older brother was the magnificent wizard, Gandalf. Although he hid his identity well, quietly and humbly working as a barber in his own version of Mayberry. But ah! the stories I could tell! I shall call him by his avatar’s name, Lawrence. Most people called him Larry, but for me Lawrence suited him better. Larry is so casual, and in spite of his attempts to be just an ordinary Joe, his inner dignity and majesty was unmistakable. Larry is the guy you go bowling with, Lawrence is a knight of the round table.

How shall I begin? My earliest memories of Lawrence were of a darkly handsome mystery lurking in the background. He was very difficult to get to know, but of course I was a little kid. I remember him teasing me relentlessly. He would tell me that he had killed my cat. I would believe him and get incredibly upset, which tickled him to no end. To his credit, he always apologized for upsetting me, but he would always do it again. He was a clown, very much in the style of Harpo Marx. Most of his humor was nonverbal, facial expressions, the way he walked. His favorite fake-out was pretending to be very sad, in a totally convincing way, and then suddenly smile brightly and give a little skip. This lasted a second, then he returned to the sadness. You had to see it to understand how funny it was. He was a great mimic. He would emulate various people and do it in a way that left you in stitches. He could have been a comedian. He had a sense of the absurdity of life, which I could definitely relate to. He influenced me in ways I haven’t fully realized, but can see now that I think about it. I learned how to be cool from Lawrence. That is something that is very difficult to define, and people either have it or they don’t. Lawrence definitely had it. He could just sit there, not saying a thing, and he was cool. Effortless. My brother David would be doing backward somersaults trying to be cool, while Lawrence just was. I learned from observation I suppose, and once Lawrence was telling everyone about something I said, and said that I was “just so cool”. Coming from him, that really meant something. We reached a point in which we shared the same absurdist point of view. He was a joy to be with, in that he had a comic touch to virtually everything he did. When I was a kid, he reminded me of James Dean or Elvis Presley. He wore his hair that way, and had a kind of brooding, quiet way about him. But I didn’t get the chance to get to know him until I was in college. Even then, Lawrence was difficult to know. He was very much like Dad, quiet, and only speaking when there was something worth saying. You always got the straight stuff from Dad, and that is how Lawrence became, after he gave up always being the clown. He and I spent the most time together around 1973-75, when he was married to Verna. He, Verna, Gary, and I would smoke pot, and go out on various adventures. That was when he and I both wore black suit coats with casual jeans, and all of us were total wise asses. We would try to outdo each other in sarcasm and outrageousness. We would have pot-fueled deep conversations, while listening to Dark Side of the Moon, or Blue Oyster Cult. I also remember him loving It’s a Beautiful Day, and especially the cult favorite, Last Stage for Silverworld by Kenny Young. I remember those days vividly. We all thought we were pretty hip. One time, Lawrence announced to Gary that he had decided to change his name to Fuck. Thankfully he changed his mind. This was my ‘wildman’ period, and I remember bringing Lawrence along when my ‘posse’ and I visited the lair of the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord couldn’t believe Lawrence was my brother. I was excited because two of the coolest people I knew were finally meeting, but Lawrence told me he wasn’t all that impressed with the Dark Lord. But the Dark Lord was impressed with Lawrence, I remembered he said Lawrence was ‘pretty cool’. Well duh! One other encounter I recall was when the Dark Lord visited the Scientology mission. I had told the Dark Lord about how Scientologist’s always acknowledge each other with ‘Thank you’ any time someone speaks to them. I thought it was kind of stupid. So when the Dark Lord was talking to Lawrence at the Mission, Lawrence would say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Thank you for your communication’ each time the Dark Lord spoke. Then the Dark Lord would do the same when Lawrence spoke. So, very quickly it became “thank you’ ‘no thank you! ‘thank you’ and back and forth until Lawrence finally laughed, seeing the absurdity of it. I got involved in Scientology myself until I was kicked out for having an open mind to the point of insanity. Lawrence thought that was pretty funny. It was around this time that I overheard Lawrence talking about experiencing his life as if it were a movie, and how that concerned him. I think everyone in the Miller family has worried about cracking up at one time or another. I could relate to what Lawrence felt. I have had the same feeling. I consider it a part of waking up to how artificial our lives can be. Like myself, Lawrence wanted to get to the bottom of things. He wanted his life to be real. He craved certainty. He wanted his life to mean something. He wanted to lead a genuine life. Suddenly, life wasn’t as funny as before. I think Lawrence saw how much of his life was a performance, and he gave up the performance. After that, the wise guy went away for the most part, occasionally I would see a glimpse of the Lawrence I used to know. He wasn’t a comedian any longer, he became a sincere and brutally honest, but loving individual. Much like his father. His smile became genuine, instead of having a hint of sarcasm. He really changed, he become more gentle, and spiritual. Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with this Lawrence as I had the previous one. But the time I did spend, during a couple of times (at least) that I visited him, I look back upon with great fondness and sadness. We bonded in a way we hadn’t before. We used to be a couple of comedians enjoying each other’s performances, but now we had become brothers. I can vividly recall one of the last times I saw him. I got off the bus in Clinton, and he was standing there to greet me. I was shocked by how much older he looked, but there was such love radiating from him!! I will always remember that moment.

In those later years, Lawrence reminded me of George Harrison. He had a deep soulfulness in his eyes, and a quiet spirituality, as well as a dry wit. Much like his Dad, Lawrence took his time when he spoke. You would wait for what seemed like minutes before Lawrence would finally say something. It used to drive me nuts, because I shot my mouth off all the time, and rarely gave a lot of thought to what I was saying. I was an insufferable smart ass, and at times just about everyone felt taking a punch at me, except Lawrence. He would just laugh and say “Damn!” at whatever crazy thing I said. But Lawrence took his time when he talked because he wasn’t a bullshitter. He said what he meant, and so he wanted to be sure to say exactly what he wanted to say. Whereas, I was used to talking to the consummate bullshitters, Keith and David, and I took pride in my ability to bullshit with the best of them, but Lawrence had little tolerance for bullshit. If it wasn’t real and from the heart, he didn’t have a lot of interest in it. I miss that. I really do.

Lawrence loved the Lord of the Rings, and so I think he would have enjoyed my comparing him to Gandalf.

10 responses »

  1. Wow that was incredibly insightful. I never got to know the cool guy that my Dad was. I have always noticed that people are magnetically drawn to him and that when he spoke everyone stopped what they were doing. The Lawrence that I became best friends with was quietly sensitive, spritely aware, quick to listen and slow to respond.

    I can relate to the both of you joking around, Dad was so funny. Dry and witty but sincere and kind. The son of Gandalf. LOL I like the sound of that. Thanks for the post. I appreciate your memories.
    “Thank you for communicating”

  2. No! Thank you for leaving this comment! I think Chris would give you a good idea of Lawrence back in his pot-smoking days, from the perspective of a young son. Those were difficult days for Chris, I remember him wanting to be a part of what we were doing, but of course he was too young. I was such a jerk back then, I remember when you were really little, and talked in baby talk. You would say something to me and I would say “What? I can’t understand a word you are saying.” and you would get mad and pout. Lawrence would patiently explain that I just wanted you to enuciate your words clearly so I could understand, that you weren’t a baby any more. He was very kind, I was a jerk. He could just have said “Never mind Russell, he’s just being a asshole, Shannon!” But he was too nice to say that. But back in his smart ass days, he would probably have said “hey! get that oatmeal out of your mouth, son!”.

  3. Thank you for sharing your look back at your relationship with my dad. My mom (Verna) and dad are both still kind of a big mystery to me. I don’t feel like I understood them or new the real truth of their earlier days and their later days I feel like I have tried but still somewhat a mystery –wanting me to see them as they want to be seen and not their past. It is nice to see the relationships others had with them. At the time you are talking about I would have just been born til 2 yrs. old. I love them both and miss my dad. I was just getting to know him as a person and wondered if that was sincerely him. I see some of myself in things you have said about the two of you and then things that I am like what? lol. I agree with it for the most part. Thank you for sharing

  4. I didn’t even know you existed, back then. You were a bit of a secret. To tell you the truth, Lawrence and Verna had no business having kids. Neither one of them were really ready for that, and Chris and you both suffered as a result. They were just fun-loving pot heads who wanted to cruise around and have fun. Being a parent isn’t fun, most of the time. Here I sound like my Mother, who was very critical of Lawrence and Verna at that time. Of course, she was very critical of pretty much everyone.

  5. I only knew Lawrence really well the later years and you pegged him. Your post brought him back for me. Thank you. I could relate to what you were saying about him being a darkly handsome mystery in the background when I was little. Then, I only knew him as Mom’s baby brother that was just cool. Lol.

  6. Wow!!!! I also enjoyed that so much my mom Janis, Vernas sister told me lots about dads younger life and they match well I didn’t how ever know what a comedian he was even back then. I knew he always was funny and he was different around me. I have heard so many stories from Shannon and Chris about his silly stunts and jokes he pulled. You did peg most of what I knew of him in his later life. Only thing I could add is the passion he displayed in things and family was like no other. I love the fact that the more you talked about him being a prankster and such, the more I realized that I am just like him in that way. ( Chris can probably confirm this lol I have got him many times) He was that comedian during his last week of his life that us kids got to share with him. He some how would always make me laugh when I was ready to fall apart and cry. Thank you so much for your memories I loved it!!!!!

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