The only photo Alex had in his 'special collection' of himself, about age 18, visiting the cockpit on a United flight he and I took to Salt Lake City from Boise, to visit Audrey, who was soon to become my wife.
Audrey's reaction to seeing Alex? "He is definitely the cutest of you three Van Luik boys."
That was OK, she married me anyway.
In spite of the above title, this is not really a life story for my younger brother Alex. It is a set of remembered moments.
I was 6 when Alex was born, at home, on August 24, 1951. I remember the day well, really. I was quite frightened by the noises coming from the bedroom, behind closed doors, and quite relived when it changed into a baby-cry and all the adult voices sounded happy. I am sorry, but when the door reopened and I was presented with a blanket with a red, wrinkled, squalling thing I was underwhelmed, and remember wondering why my parents thought doing stuff like this was cool.
With 6 and a half years between us, it was not a close relationship during his early childhood. My older brother and I resented having to change our style of play because we were ordered to take this tyke out with us and include him in our playing.
When three years later our sister, Corrie, was born, it was Alex's turn to feel replaced as the baby of the house. With ten years' age difference, I also never developed a close relationship with her. Pity, really.
That is all pretty childish and natural. As we grew up Alex and I became good friends, true brothers, alternately looking out for each other and poking fun at each other at every screwup or other opportunity.
After high school, Alex tried his hand at college but didn't find it to his liking and he came to Utah to attend what was then Utah Valley Community College (near Provo) which at that time had a commercial driving school. He became a long-haul trucker, and liked it.
I lived in Logan, Utah, at the time. I was in graduate school. He came up from Utah Valley often, and he accompanied me on several day-hikes, one to my favorite haunt in Logan Canyon in the Wasatch Range, a peaceful place called Tony Grove Lake. I was surprised to find photos of me that he took there, in his favorites collection, one from a Fall walk, and one from an early Spring walk:
I was even more surprised to find several very nice photos of our sister Corrie in that collection. He and Corrie never seemed to be able to get along, their entire lives, and yet these are very well done and fun photos of our sister (she tanned marvelously well in Summer compared to us whiter guys):
Alex's general photo collection was huge. I did not/could not bring it on a plane with me and hence could not keep it. I did look through it all and what was surprising to me is that so many of the scenic places he loved were places he and I visited in Washington state during the time I lived there.
He lived with us once, for a very short time between jobs, and then managed to get hired to do a Washington to California delivery route that allowed him to spend several weekends with us, each of which became a hike and photo opportunity.
We covered most of the scenic parts of eastern Washington state, some of Idaho, and some of Oregon. He was an especially big fan of the Columbia Gorge, Palouse Falls, and Multnomah Falls. Water and Dutch people seem to have a mutual attraction.
These were long day-trips, from dark to dark at times.
When we moved east from Washington state to the Washington DC area, twice, and Chicagoland, twice, the visits and daytrips stopped. But eventually our parents came up from California to be closer to our older brother, Jack, who lived in Richfield, Washington. Several times we visited our parents and Alex would be there, and we would resume some of our journeying, but for obvious reasons it was limited to the local area, but the local area was quite scenic.
Years later we again found ourselves living in Washington state. By that time Alex had some driving-related health problems and his truck driving career was over. He moved in with our parents to be useful to them.
Corrie also moved in with them, at our mother's urging, and it was one big but not always happy family for the four of them. Our mother spent much energy trying to keep peace between the two siblings, as well as between her husband and these two adult 'kids' of whom he was very always and unrelentingly critical.
Listening to his rants sometimes reminded me of a verbal altercation between my father and mother that I overheard, once while home on leave from the military, with my father trying to blame my mother for these last two kids who were ruining his life. She was having none of it, I recall, and reminded him of some very basic bio-facts related to having children. This is when both youngsters were teenagers and our father had been out of work a frustratingly long time. It was not a lament I heard spoken aloud either before or after.
Our father died in 1989 while I lived in the DC area with my family, and while we happened to be on a vacation car trip. We changed course and headed for 'home' in Washington. Two years later we were in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I had started a new job, and two years after that our mother also moved to Las Vegas, with Alex. We saw each other frequently then, and both of us helped do mother's bidding in terms of yard and fixup work. Alex did much more than I did of course, since he lived there.
Just about two years passed in this fashion and Alex received a settlement on his injury/disability case that had been dragging on for nearly a decade now.
He took his settlement and went back to Washington state, a place he loved. He started to go to college again with his settlement money to study landscape architecture, his second hobby after photography.
Much to his surprise (I surmise, it was certainly a quick surprise to me) he quickly ran out of settlement money and had to quit school and move again to reduce his expenses. He also had to find some income, and found work he could do without hurting himself in a retail tobacco products store. He hated smoking and smokers. But you have to do what you have to do to survive.
We kept in touch via email and phone, and his stories about some of his customers were quite interesting in terms of what people are willing to do to get a cigarette: novel stealthy ways of stealing, a simple robbery attempt with a knife or gun, and his favorite, attempts to seduce the clerk! Sometimes he would buy a nice lady a pack, but that is as far as it went. Or so he said.
One young lady he was particularly glad to see was a dancer, she was not begging for cigarettes but just liked Alex and just for friendship's sake she gave him a very nice photo of herself and a calendar. He was happy to tell me about her.
He actually had a couple of dates with customer ladies, none of which made it into a lasting relationship. The dancer and one other nice young lady he once went out and took photos of made it into his special photo collection. I was puzzled when I saw the one he took photos of because I do not recall her being either mentioned or described. He kept some secrets from me. Evidence of being normal.
Alex was always a touch critical of the women in his life, in his family, and even in my family. One reason was that he had met the perfect woman and she was not a relative. Slight problem: she was married and her husband was also a good friend. Alex had a definite crush on the wife and he thinks this is what made the husband, though a friend, critical of Alex. The husband often lost patience with Alex's persistence and insistence that Alex's way was the only way to accomplish anything worthwhile either in the garden or in life. He was that way, true. In the family we simply learned to cope with his controlling tendencies: couldn't change him, but could always ignore him when he got in his control-freak mode.
I believe these next photos are of this magical woman he had a life-long crush on. She was the standard against which every other woman in this universe was measured, none were her equal, though some did come close. No names will be mentioned of course.
There was a woman in the Portland area that had him do a photo montage of her, and that montage was also in his special collection. He mentioned her not as a girlfriend of any sort but as a person interested in having some good photos of herself. Alex was good at this sort of thing:
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