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I Always Meant to Tell You…: Letters to a younger brother (deceased)

Perry Robert Wilkes

Pages: 228
ISBN: 978-145751-551-4
List Price: 14.95
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Available: March 2014
Edition: Perfectbound

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The loss of a loved one is always deeply painful. When that loved one is younger — a child or a younger sibling — the pain is intensified by a sense of outrage and injustice. Those younger than we will surely outlive us! Additionally, when the loss is occasioned by tragedy in a distant place, making impossible any final interaction with the beloved — a touch, a parting word, a simple look into eyes — it can be nearly impossible to accept the reality or bear the grief.

In this book, Perry Robert Wilkes writes through his grieving process in the face of losing not just one, but three, remarkable and much loved family members: his younger and only brother Steve, Steve’s wife Janette, and their younger son Eliot. All perished in the crash of a small plane in the Alaskan wilderness, while the older son, Alec, waited in his Uncle Perry and Aunt Carolyn’s home for his family’s return.

Much of the writing of this book was done in Bahía de Kino, a small, remote Mexican seaside community where the family had vacationed together and to which Perry and Carolyn returned yearly for retreat and renewal. It was the way Perry chose to heal from his own pain; honor the lives of Steve, Janette, and Eliot; and give a gift of love to their friends and family, and especially his nephew Alec. As an ongoing conversation with Steve, it is also a reminder to anyone struggling with the loss of someone very dear that the conversation need never end, because true love has a story to tell and a voice that can never be stilled.

With less than two years difference in their ages, the author and his younger brother shared friends, musical interests, and a converted garage as a bedroom. At the end of their block, broad mesa lands stretched to the northern mountains and Santa Fe, the fabled “end of the Santa Fe Trail.” It was a typical ‘boys’ life’ filled with lizards, snakes, horned toads, rock collections, tumbleweeds and prairie dogs.

Over the next several decades, Steve gravitated to a career in education but maintained his passion for music, becoming a founding member of Albuquerque’s well-known Watermelon Mountain Jug Band. Most weekends they were booked to play at Kelly’s Liquors, The Ponderosa, The Golden Inn, or the historic Kimo Theater, among others. Besides the music, fans came to see Steve play the comb, and various other odd instruments, while riding his unicycle on stage.

Perry maintained his interest in construction and design, with time to enjoy his younger brother’s music and trademark oddball humor. One of their greatest collaborations was the design of a solar adobe home for Steve and his wife, Janette Carter, inspired by the grand old historic west wing of the University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library. It would become home for Steve and Janette and their two young sons, Alec and Eliot, as well as an important gathering place for the entire family in years to come.

Steve went on to become a nationally known education and training consultant. Janette was a poet, a proud mother, and a widely respected physician known for, among other things, the innovative Native American diabetes research program she founded at the University of New Mexico. Eliot, a wise young fellow with a burgeoning sense of humor, was much loved by his teachers, classmates, and surviving older brother Alec. This talented and creative family held a special place in the heart of the community.

These were memorable days, cut short by a tragic accident. The author has captured those moments of emotion and pain, and the resurgence of joy in this book dedicated to his brother’s memory.

Perry Robert Wilkes was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1945. His father, a young officer in the Army Air Corps, was soon transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio; and ten years later, the family was transferred again, this time to Albuquerque, NM. The author studied philosophy and English literature at the University of New Mexico. He left to design and build passive solar adobe homes and later graduated from the UNM School of Architecture and Planning. He has written extensively about architecture, housing, and solar design for the NM Independent newspaper, Century Magazine and other publications. He and his partner Carolyn Kinsman currently live in Bahia de Kino, Mexico, a small village by the Sea of Cortez, where he designs and writes when not traveling in Mexico and other countries.

One of the author’s first memories of his new home in New Mexico was the vast dry expanse of the Rio Grande Valley. The family had traveled 1500 miles west in a faded blue 1949 Ford sedan, years before the Interstate Highway System, traveling along the narrow back roads that still wind through the vibrant heart of America.
Leaving the rugged canyon that carved through the boulder-strewn Sandia Mountains, they saw a green and fertile ribbon threading its way through a broad desert. High mountain ranges loomed in the western distance; a set of extinct volcanos lined the valley rim. It was a place deep with history that seemed to stretch as far as the imagination required. The Great Southwest would be filled with new adventures for the author, his brother Steve, and sisters Elyse and Nancy. His youngest sister Joan would later be born in the Rio Grande Valley under the broad New Mexico sun, a true native Southwesterner.
The allure of the multicultural Southwest would continue to inspire the author. In those days, segments of the Old West still remained just outside the door, just down the road, just over the next ridge. Unique foods, crafts, and adobe architecture mingled with Spanish and numerous native languages to create a savory mix of experience and magic, formative to an open mind.
Perry designed and built passive solar adobe homes in New Mexico for over 30 years, taught workshops with solar builder Mark Feldman around the state of New Mexico, and was an advocate for urban renewal, solar technology, and energy efficient building practices. As president of the Albuquerque Downtown Neighborhoods Association, he was actively involved in renewal of the city’s historic downtown core.