Honoring My “Big” Brother Rod
RODNEY LYNN BUCHELE is my big brother, well really, my only brother, and as a 6 year old, my mystical hero. Mystical because he was so much older, and into cool manly things like cars and electronics. I remember Rod working on something at the Clark Street house with a soldering iron. It wasn't one of the small ones they make today, it was big and unwieldy, like the size those police flashlights that take four D-size batteries. It was big, and had a difficult electric cord. Rod had just soldered something and I overheard him say to the friends that were helping him, “this will heat up the whole world” as he stuck it in the ground to cool. They walked away, and after they were gone, ran over there to feel earth getting warmer. Problem was, I couldn’t feel it, so I inched a hand closer and closer, still not feeling anything until I got too close, and burned a terrific burn on my left hand.
Of course Dad was furious, but it wasn’t his fault. For me, who always had difficulty in distinguishing left from right (and still does), I could now easily differentiate left from right by looking at the back of my hands, for the scar.
We moved to the Parkridge house, and his Rod’s room was downstairs in the unfinished part of the house. It was a cool room full of manly older-person stuff: Mad Magazine, Popular Science, and stuff. I loved to hang out there even when he wasn’t around to kick me out.
[black and white Rod]
The Story Begins
Rod left for college when the rest of the family moved to Ghana in 1968 and never moved back. After college, Rod moved to Washburn, Wisconsin and that is where our story began. It was the summer of my 5th grade year, and the year before he moved into the bank. I took the Greyhound from Iowa, and Rod met me halfway, took me to 4H camp, and then I spent a few more days after in the exciting town of Washburn.
The next summer, after my 6th grade year, Rod had moved to a former bank building and I was learning to play the guitar.
I would take the bus up, Rod would meet me in Ashland (the “big” town on the other side of the lake) and we would go to Lake Galilee, where the 4H camp was held. Sometimes I drove with him, sometimes I rode in the back of the pick-up. We would go a few days early and get things ready for the campers.
Camp was where I became who I am today. Iowa and I didn’t always get along so well, or maybe I should say Ames. For whatever reason, I never found my place there. Never felt like I belonged. But when I came to Washburn, and went to Lake Galilee, people liked me. Girls liked me, and we spent the next year writing letters to each other. I remember having to ask my sister Sheron, was does SWAK mean?
After 4H camp was over and we went back to Washburn, my schedule was, well… there are basically three things to do in Washburn:
- Walk down to the docks on Lake Superior and around “downtown”. Downtown was two blocks and 5 bars long (this was Wisconsin after all).
- Play guitar and sing - it was a perfect place to, as Malcolm Gladwell observed, get my 10,000 hours in practicing guitar. Rod had a song/chord books, it was legal sized, bound at the top with a clip and had 256 pages. I learned every song.
- Safe Cracking – Rod’s apartment was in a former bank building, and it came with its own vault. The Vault had a typical 6” thick vault door (I was always afraid of getting locked in it). Rod kept is his record collection, clothes and books in the vault (in that order), but those things were either not of interest or off limits. Inside the vault was a smaller safe—about the size of a large microwave--that was locked. Only the universe knows what was inside it, and how many hours I spent trying to find out, wondering what secrets it contained. I listened to the tumblers with my ear on a glass, I sandpapered my fingertips for more sensitivity (not a good combination for guitar players), and kept charts and combinations tried but that safe never gave up its secrets.
When Nixon Resigned
By the summer of 1974, my third summer there, Nixon resigned. Rod and I were eating dinner and watching the president address the nation:
…To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.When suddenly Nixon said:
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.And I never heard the rest of what he said because Rod was shouting: “I don’t believe it! The son of a bitch resigned. I don’t believe it!” It’s was the only time I remember Rod swearing, or what we took for swearing in 1972 Iowa:
On special occasions we would have a Rum and Coke, and by rum, I mean a few drops of artificial rum flavoring, in coke over ice. It felt adult and exotic.
And the Pizza. Over in Ashland there was a little pizza place that we used to go to after camp, and sometimes just cuz. Rod will remember the name, and also the name of the dreadful cook at Camp Galilee who had supernatural abilities to extract flavor from food. Where she put it nobody knows, but it certainly wasn’t in the camp food.
After a few weeks of camp food sensory deprivation , this pizza was some of the best food I remember tasting. It was rectangular, and flavor exploded in the mouth (there were green olives). The first time Rod took me there, I ate all but two pieces of small pizza. For those who have not had the pleasure of eating with Rod, to say he is a slow eater, would be like saying congress might be a bit dysfunctional. To say Rod’s speed of eating is glacial, well let me put it this way, if glaciers melted that slow, we wouldn’t be concerned about the rising sea level.
The next time we went for pizza, my own brother divided the pizza with a clear line of demarcation. There was my half, which would be gone in minutes, and his half, which would take hours. Even today when I order a pizza with green olives, I’m transported back to Ashland, and I have an unnatural desire to eat slowly, and divide the pizza in half.
[The Sibs, circa 2007]
[and the rest of the family, the summer after our first year in Ghana]
They Can Share the
Of course, there were the in-between years, when I was in college, or my early 20s and not so communicative when Rod and I lost touch. So to Rod can’t take all the credit for how I turned out. He shares that with my sisters. My sister Beth, as the surrogate mother, when my folks were off on some year long adventure, far away and I could call and talk to her almost weekly. She was a good listener, and felt a little--what’s the word-- miffed, when our folks returned, and I called them instead of her. Beth flew to South Africa about five months after the family pictures were taken, and stayed with me while I was recovering from injuring my shoulder. I shall always be grateful for her rescue. And my sister Sheron, who called me Tiger. Sheron encouraged the quirky, creative side of me, and always believed in me. She was fun to visit in Minnesota, when she was working at IBM, or in West Des Moines, working at Meredith Corporation, in Olympia, Washington, when she was in college, or in Loveland, Colorado, where she set up her studio. Her homes were places of healing even when the life she was sharing with others wasn’t. My soul could find its spirit when visited her home. Ask me if I resent Tiger Woods, taking my otherwise good pet name of Sherons and tarnishing it. I noticed after his scandal, she stopped calling me Tigerooo. But this is a blog about my Brother Rod.
One time when our folks were in Australia, and I had run away to be a street musician in San Francisco, Rod visited me on his way back from visiting the folks, just to make sure I was OK. I was.
I think it took us getting married, and then having kids for us to do a better job of staying in touch, and visiting each other. When Suzanne and I announced our wedding plans, Rod got in gear and made what we like to think was the best decision in his life, asking Mary Lou to marry, and they pulled it off a month or so before our wedding. They had been dating for years at that point, and we all loved Mary Lou. When he announced he was getting married, my sister Beth quipped: “Oh, anyone we know?” We were each other’s best men at our weddings.
[Rod at our Wedding, circa 1986, with Suzanne’s sister Mary]
One final Rod story:the first time I had onions. For some reason, my mom didn’t cook with onions or garlic. One evening, we went over to Ashland to have hamburgers at a friend of Rod’s and she put grilled onions on my burger. It was something I had never tasted, and I was seriously concerned I would get sick. Now I had a pretty serious allergy to eggs in those days, and since we didn’t have onions around the house, I thought they might make me sick too. They didn’t. The next time I had onions was in college, when a first generation Italian came to my flat in Alston and made an authentic spaghetti sauce with onions and garlic (something else my mom didn’t use), and oh my did my world change.
[Rod and Steve chat at Grace’s Wedding]
It is funny that I teach Leadership at Ashesi, because that was Rod’s field. He got me started reading leadership books, and spent much of his career teaching others how to lead. We study many different leadership models at Ashesi, and the one I think best fits Rod would be The Servant Leader. He is a humble, servant first, type of leader. In fact if you do a Google-image search of Rod, you see only two pictures of him. I’m hoping this blog triples the number.
In many ways it believe it was my brother Rod opened up my world, gave me a chance to see who I would eventually become, and for that I will always be grateful. Spending my summer in Washburn, saved me from Ames, and that person I was becoming. Thanks Rod.
This started as a comment on Rod’s CaringBridge site, after his daughter Mary Lynn wanted to hear stories about her dad. I decided to expand and repost it because the rest of the world needs to know what a great brother I have. --SWB