Transcript

597:

One Last Thing Before I Go
Transcript

Originally aired 09.23.2016

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/597

Prologue.

Ira Glass

There's this moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis that's so incredible, it doesn't sound real. But we have confirmed this with people who were there. Victor Gilinsky wrote about this for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

He said, basically, nuclear war seemed so imminent that the underground headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska went into lock down. Nobody was allowed to enter or leave. He said the General in charge told the staff he expected an order to launch nuclear missiles any moment, and also expected that they would all die from a Soviet counterattack.

And everybody was allowed to make one phone call home to their family. But in that call, they were not allowed to say why they were calling. What do you say in that situation?

Gilinsky writes, "The conversations were about scraped kids' knees and sick dogs. It was a scene straight out of Dr. Strangelove." And of course, right? What can words do when you're staring death in the face?

Well, today on our program, we have two stories where ordinary people rise to this exact task. They see death standing there, and they open their mouths. And truly amazing things happen.

We have two stories for you today. And to say anything else about these stories, I think, would be a spoiler. Also, I want to give every possible second to these stories. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. And let's just get to it with the first act of our show.

Act One. Really Long Distance.

Ira Glass

So remember that tsunami that hit Japan five years ago, March 2011? Giant black waves more than 30-feet tall hit Japan.

[JAPANESE PEOPLE YELLING]

A guy in a little town called Otsuchi shot this video. You can hear him yelling.

[JAPANESE PEOPLE YELLING]

All the houses are washing away.

[JAPANESE PEOPLE YELLING]

Otsuchi had been there for 100 years. In 30 minutes, it was gone-- almost totally flattened.

The tsunami and the earthquake that went with it killed six times more people than died in 9/11-- over 19,000 people. Another 2,500 are still missing. And in the aftermath, of course, families struggled to figure out how they were going to move forward without the people they loved.

And in that town of Otsuchi, it lead to this new-- I don't know, ritual is not exactly the right word for this. But it's something close to that-- this thing that people invented to stay connected to the dead. One of our producers, Miki Meek, has family in Japan.

And she grew up going back and forth between there and here. And she watched this documentary about this thing people are doing Otsuchi, on the Japanese news channel, NHK, and got permission for us to play you some excerpts. Here's Miki.

Miki Meek

Of all the areas in Japan affected by that tsunami, Otsuchi has one of the highest numbers of missing people-- 421. Today, it's still partly in ruins and partly a construction site, as they try to rebuild the town on higher ground. But a year before that tsunami happened, this guy named Itaru Sasaki-- he was already dealing with a loss.

His cousin had just died. And Itaru was having a hard time figuring out how to talk about it. So he did something pretty ingenious.

He went out and bought an old-fashioned phone booth and stuck it in his garden. It looks like an old English-style one. It's square and painted white, and has these glass window panes.

Inside is a black rotary phone, resting on a wood shelf. This phone connected to nowhere. It didn't work at all.

But that didn't matter to Itaru. He just needed a place where he felt like he could talk to his cousin, a place where he could air out his grief. And so putting an old phone booth in his garden, which sits on this little windy hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it felt like a perfect solution.

Itaru Sasaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

He's saying, because my thoughts could not be relayed over a regular phone line, I wanted them to be carried on the wind.

Itaru Sasaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

So I named it the wind telephone-- kaze no denwa. The idea of keeping up a relationship with the dead is not such a strange one in Japan. The line between our world and their world is thin.

Lots of families keep a Buddhist altar for their dead relatives in the living room. My uncle has one for our family. There are photos on a little platform. And every day, he leaves fresh fruit and rice for them, lights incense, and rings a bell. It's a way to stay in touch, to let them know that they're still a big part of our family.

So after the tsunami and earthquake happened, word got out about Itaru's special wind telephone-- that he was using it as another way to stay connected to the dead. Soon, people started showing up randomly on his property, and walking right into the phone booth. This has been going on for five years now. Itaru estimates that thousands of people from all over Japan have come to use his phone.

A TV station asked Itaru, and the people who come to use his phone, if they could videotape their calls from a distance, and put an audio recorder in the phone booth. They wanted to get a sense of how people are still grieving. I watched their documentary after the fifth anniversary of the tsunami back in March. That whole week, all of the news programs in Japan were airing memorial programs.

But I found the calls in this particular program remarkable and moving, for just how simple they were. One woman from Otsuchi, named Sachiko Okawa, showed up one afternoon. She's 71-years-old, and lost her husband in the tsunami.

She regularly brings her two young grandsons to the phone booth. And you can tell, by how casually they talk to him on the phone. They squish into the phone booth with their grandma, wearing matching blue-and-black-striped shirts.

Sachiko starts the call by picking up the receiver and saying hello.

Sachiko Okawa

Moshi moshi.

Oldest Grandson

Moshi, moshi.

Miki Meek

Her oldest grandson quickly jumps in.

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Hi grandpa.

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

How are you?

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'll be in fourth grade next semester. Wasn't that fast?

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Daina, my younger brother, he'll be in second grade next year. Then Sachiko corrects him. She says, no, Daina will be in second grade this year, not next.

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Yeah, this year.

A lot of calls were just like this, straightforward updates about life. The kind of a quick highlights reel you might give to any family member you were catching up with on the phone. The boy, he then tells his grandpa--

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Grandma's fine too.

Oldest Grandson

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm giving the phone to Daina now.

Daina

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Daina, his little brother, grabs the phone.

Daina

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Grandpa, I finished all my homework. Sachiko urges him to keep talking.

Sachiko Okawa

[JAPANESE]

Daina

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

He says, everyone is doing fine. Then he hangs up. They all say goodbye.

Sachiko Okawa

Bye, Bye.

[HANGS UP PHONE]

Miki Meek

As they're walking out of the booth, Daina says--

Daina

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Maybe Grandpa will say he heard us.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

In another call, a woman in a puffy winter jacket with a fur-lined hood shows up at the booth by herself. Her name is Kikue Hirano, and she's 66. She used to live in Otsuchi. But she moved away after she lost her house and her husband in the tsunami.

Her husband was a deep-sea fisherman. His name was Miyoji, and they used to talk and drink sake together at night. Now Kikue lives alone, about 50 miles away.

But sometimes Kikue finds herself driving back to Otsuchi, into this booth. I watched her do this thing that a lot of callers seem to do. You hear Kikue actually dialing the rotary phone--

Kikue Hirano

OK.

--saying some numbers to herself.

[KIKUE HUMS]

Miki Meek

4, 2, 5, 7, 4, 4. She's dialing the phone number for her old house in Otsuchi, the last place she knew to reach her husband. Then Kikue just stands in the booth in silence, holding the phone to her ear.

Sometimes she fidgets around and tilts her head up, and concentrates on the ceiling, the same way I do when I want to cry but I'm trying hard not to. It doesn't work. Kikue brushes some tears off her face. Eventually, she hangs up.

She lingers in the booth a little longer, hands clasped together in front of her, staring at the phone booth floor. She walks out. One pattern that the owner of the phone booth, Itaru, has noticed over the years is that more men than women come to use it. Not surprisingly, this is not a demographic that's known for sharing their feelings, especially the older farmers. They already have a reputation for not talking much.

In one of the phone calls recorded in winter, a man with gray hair and a little towel hanging around his neck walks into the garden. This kind of towel is part of the uniform of Japanese farmers. They use them to wipe away sweat and clean their hands.

This man opens the telephone booth door. And under his breath, you hear him say, huh, so this is the wind telephone? This appears to be his very first visit to the phone booth.

He lost his oldest son in the tsunami. His son's name was Nobuyuki. He also lost his house, and had to move into temporary housing with his wife.

And recently, she got sick and also passed away. He calls her okaasan. It means "mom" in Japanese. It's what everyone in the family calls the female head of the house, even the husband. It's a very intimate, loving term.

[ROTARY PHONE DIALS]

Nobuyuki's Father

Moshi, moshi?

Miki Meek

Hello?

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Nobuyuki?

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Is mom with you?

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Sorry to ask this, but take care of her, and your grandma and grandpa too.

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom?

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'll come again, OK?

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom, I'll be back.

Nobuyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Bye.

[HANGS UP PHONE]

[DOOR OPENS, CLOSES]

He uses the towel around his neck to wipe his eyes.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

One of the things that makes these calls so poignant to me is all the understated ways that people are actually saying, I love you, and I miss you. I'd never say something so direct like that in Japanese. It's just not done.

I've only seen people say it in the soap operas. [JAPANESE]. Even saying that right now, it feels weird. I've never said that to my mom or my grandparents.

[DOOR OPENS, CLOSES]

[ROTARY PHONE DIALING]

Take this call. It's winter. The phone booth is surrounded by snow.

Miyuki's Father

Moshi, moshi?

Miki Meek

Hello?

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom?

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Where are you? He's an older man wearing a baseball cap. He also calls his wife "mom." His wife, daughter, and mother, they all went missing in the tsunami.

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It's so cold. But you're not getting cold, are you?

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Are grandma and our daughter, Miyuki, with you too?

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Come back soon.

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Be found soon. Everyone is waiting for you.

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

OK?

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'll build the house in the same place.

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Eat something-- anything.

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Just be alive, somewhere, anywhere.

Miyuki's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm so lonely.

[DOOR OPENS]

[WINDCHIMES]

[DOOR CLOSES]

He never says I love you directly. Real feelings are communicated through small gestures, especially ones of concern. Like when he asked his wife, are you staying warm?

Are you eating? And then promising, I'll build a house for us. These are total heartfelt declarations of love.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

For other men, the phone booth is a place where they can finally say their complicated feelings out loud. They can voice their regrets. Anyone who's had someone close to them die knows this feeling.

Like, I've kept having the same one-way conversation with my dad in my head, ever since he passed away last year. I just keep telling him all the situations where I wish I had been kinder, more patient. One call I watched was from a young father, with rectangle glasses and a long black jacket.

He lost his family-- both parents, his wife-- her name was Mine-- and one-year-old son, named Issei.

[ROTARY PHONE DIALING]

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad?

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mom?

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mine?

Issei's Father

Issei?

Miki Meek

Issei?

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It's already been five years since the disaster.

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

If this voice reaches you, please listen.

Issei's Father

(CRYING) [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Sometimes I don't know what I'm living for.

Issei's Father

(CRYING) Issei, [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Issei, please let me hear you call me Papa.

Issei's Father

(CRYING) Papa, [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Even though I built a new house--

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad? Mom?

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Mine and Issei.

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--without all of you, it's meaningless.

Issei's Father

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I want to hear your reply, but I can't hear anything.

Issei's Father

[EXHALE] [SNIFFLE]

[PHONE CLICKS UPON HANG UP]

Miki Meek

He hangs up the phone, takes off his glasses, and covers his eyes with his hands.

Issei's Father

(WHISPERING) [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm sorry.

Issei's Father

(WHISPERING) [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I'm so sorry I couldn't save you.

[SIGHS]

[DOOR OPENS]

[DOOR CLOSES]

[MUSIC PLAYING]

There's a couple phrases I heard callers tell the dead, again and again. Shinpai shina, don't worry about us. And ganbatteiru, which basically means, I'm doing my very best. I'm enduring.

In Japan, ganbatteiru-- it's a catchall slogan for slogging through life's many challenges, no matter how tiny or big. From trying to pass a test at school, to grieving, you hear it all the time for everything. In the phone booth, ganbatteiru, and shinpai shina-- these are key phrases to reassure the dead that the living, the people left behind, they're doing OK, even if they're not.

People don't want to worry or burden their loved ones, even dead loved ones. Because most Japanese are Buddhist, and generally believe that when someone dies, they're not suddenly relieved of all their earthly concerns. They're not automatically in heaven, happy and carefree. Many people believe that if the dead see a family member suffering, they can't let go of their earthly life. They hesitate to cross to the other side, and end up stuck in a no-man's land.

I heard these reassurances in a call from a 15-year-old kid named Ren Kazaki, to his dad. He arrived at the phone booth after spending four hours on public transportation by himself. Ren lives in a city much farther north that wasn't affected as much by the tsunami.

But his dad was a truck driver who drove all over Japan. And in a last-minute schedule change, he got sent on a route that took him along the coast when the tsunami hit. He's been missing ever since. Ren went into the phone booth wearing a red backpack.

[DOOR OPENS]

And what he does in his call-- you hear him signaling to his dad that it's OK. He should keep moving on into the after world.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad?

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

The four of us are doing fine.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

We're ganbatteiru.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

You don't need to worry about us. Shinpai shina.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad, are you doing OK?

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I do have one question I want to ask you.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Why did you die? Why did it have to be you, dad?

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Why just me?

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I've always wondered--

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Why am I the only one who is different from everyone else?

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Anyways, please be found quickly.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Where are you now?

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

They never found anything of you.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I wanted to talk with you again.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

[SNIFFLES]

Miki Meek

Ren left the booth. In late February, he came back with his entire family-- his mom, younger brother, and sister. They all drove down to Otsuchi together. And when they got to the phone booth, at first, they kind of awkwardly hung out in front of it. So to break the ice, Ren walks in and places the first call to their dad. He tells him--

Ren

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I brought everyone with me today.

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Bye. When Ren walks out, his family laughs. They say--

[JAPANESE]

[LAUGHS]

--that was so fast. Ren shoots back--

Ren Kazaki

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It was just a quick report to Dad, that I brought everyone with me today. Next up are Ren's little brother and sister, who are 12 and 14 years old.

[DOOR OPENS, CLOSES]

They go into the booth together. And the sister is talking and laughing nervously.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

What am I supposed to say? What should I tell them?

Riku

[JAPANESE]

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Wait, wait, don't leave me alone in here.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

The sister picks up the phone. And let me just say, the mom told the film crew that this is a girl who has not said a single word about her dad to anyone since he went missing five years ago. So she picks up the phone and starts to cry.

Ren's Sister

[SOBBING] [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

She asks her brother again, when should I talk to him about? Her little brother's name is Riku, and he tells her--

Riku

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Say what you wanted to tell him.

Ren's Sister

[SOBBING]

Miki Meek

She says--

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Are you trying to make me laugh, Riku? Riku says--

Riku

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

No, I'm not.

Then she finally starts talking to her dad. The conversation is all over the place, and she's crying so hard, she can barely talk.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Dad, I'm so sorry I always used to say you were stinky.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

What happen to your promise to buy me a violin?

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Now I'll have to buy one myself.

Her little brother, who sticks close to her, he encourages her to keep going. He says--

Riku

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

What else? So she tells her dad--

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I started tennis in junior high school. I'm not in the top eight.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I want to be in the top eight our last tournament.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Please cheer for me.

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I got hooked on this boy band, the Johnnys, when I was in my first year of junior high. I'm still hooked.

They both say--

Riku

[JAPANESE]

Ren's Sister

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--goodbye. They come out of the booth together.

Now it's their mom's turn. Her kids tell her, itterashai.

Riku

Itterashai.

Miki Meek

Have a good trip.

Ren's Mother

Itterashai.

Miki Meek

Good luck. Ren, the oldest, he bows and waves to her. She walks in, picks up the phone, and lets out a big sigh.

Ren's Mother

[SIGH]

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Where should I start?

Ren's Mother

[SIGH]

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I feel like you're still alive-- somewhere.

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

We had so many things we wanted to do together.

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Over the phone, we always said to each other, are you alive? Yes, I'm alive.

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It was our password between the two of us, wasn't it?

Ren's Mother

(CRYING) [JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

I can't ask you that anymore.

Ren's Mother

[SIGH]

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Come back.

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

We, all four of us together, we will be waiting.

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

Bye.

Ren's Mother

[SIGH]

[HANGS UP PHONE]

[DOOR OPENS]

Miki Meek

After she comes out, the family lingers outside the phone booth for a while.

[JAPANESE]

This was literally the first time they'd all talked about their dad together, since the tsunami happened five years ago. The youngest, Riku-- he sat quietly on a bench, with his head in his hands. The night before his dad disappeared, they went to a public bath together. His mom and older siblings tell him--

[JAPANESE]

Riku, you don't need to keep your feelings in. Go ahead and cry when you want to. Ren, the oldest, gently teases him. He says--

Ren

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

See? He can't stop crying. Mom says yeah, but--

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

--he held back until now.

Ren's Mother

[JAPANESE]

Miki Meek

It's OK, because you held back. You endured until now.

The sister then hands Riku her handkerchief.

The mom says her kids, we were all about to fall apart. We were so broken. We didn't think we could make it through. And maybe that's why we never talked about dad until now. But talking to him on the phone today, it changed something.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Ira Glass

Miki Meek is one of the producers of our program. Thanks to NHK Sendai, who recorded all this, and shared it with us. Coming up, two brothers in their 80s have a last chance to talk to each other before they die. And neither wants to take it. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two. Uncle's Keeper.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program-- "One Last Thing Before I Go," stories that are about-- well, they're about what power do words have in the face of death? We've arrived at Act Two of our program.

Act Two, Uncle's Keeper. So in the first act of our program, people kind of defied death by making small talk-- and some talk that was not so small-- with their dead relatives.

In this act, somebody wants to do something very similar-- make a connection that seemed impossible between people. Except in this story, all the relatives are alive, which you'd think would make it super easy. This story comes from Jonathan Goldstein.

Buzz Goldstein

Hello?

Jonathan Goldstein

Hey, Dad?

Buzz Goldstein

Hi, Jonny.

Jonathan Goldstein

Hey, how you doing?

Buzz Goldstein

Good, you?

Jonathan Goldstein

Good, good. Gut Yontif.

Buzz Goldstein

Shana tova.

Jonathan Goldstein

Chag Sameach.

Buzz Goldstein

Chag Sameach.

[LAUGHS]

What's that mean?

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm not sure.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, oh.

Jonathan Goldstein

This is my father, Buzz. I'm calling him at his home in Montreal. And the reason we're talking crazy talk is because it's Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, which seems as good a day as any to talk with him about forgiveness.

Jonathan Goldstein

So I wanted to--

Buzz Goldstein

Yes.

Jonathan Goldstein

I wanted to ask you something. And I just wanted to gauge your interest.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

How-- how would you feel about paying your brother Sheldon a visit?

Buzz Goldstein

I have no feelings about it. I'm not really interested.

Jonathan Goldstein

You're not?

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Jonathan Goldstein

My father, Buzz, is 80. And his brother, Sheldon, his only sibling, is 85. And for the past 40 years, they've pretty much been on the outs.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

My father lives in Montreal, and Sheldon lives in Florida. And the last time they saw each other, over 20 years ago, was at their mother's funeral, where they had a fight over the details of the arrangements. Since then, they've hardly spoken.

It worries me, because there's not a lot of time left. And I don't want my father to have regrets. And my father has a profound capacity for regret. My mother gave up trying to reunite them years ago, after many attempts. So I know that if I don't push him, no one else will.

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm not surprised that you're not jumping at the idea. But I'm a little surprised--

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Jonathan Goldstein

-- that you're as against the idea.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, time's passed. He hasn't shown much interest. So I'm respecting that, and I leave him alone.

Jonathan Goldstein

What he did do, was he called you on your 80th birthday, not so long ago.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

And you felt good about that.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, because I called him on his 80th birthday.

Jonathan Goldstein

This kind of tit-for-tat accounting is what always gets in the way.

Buzz Goldstein

You know what it is at this point, with him? I'll tell you what it is. I don't think it's even anger. He's past anger, and he's past any feelings of animosity. He's past that. He just doesn't care.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

You know, that's apathy. I mean, sometimes-- at least hate or love, they're emotions. Apathy is nothing.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

But you know what? Jonny, as a child, even when I was 10, when I was 9 and 8, I was crazy about him. We had a great-- you know, I loved him. He was the older brother. He was-- hello?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm listening.

Buzz Goldstein

You know, I just looked up to him. And he had all the friends. Sometimes he'd take me along with him. And he was [AUDIO OUT]. [INAUDIBLE]. Somebody tried-- is somebody to call here, binging me here?

Jonathan Goldstein

The most complicated question, the one I keep coming back to, is how did the bad blood begin? And there are many versions. An ill-fated trip to Montreal, where Sheldon felt slighted about having to stay in my father's basement. An ill-fated trip to New York, where my father felt slighted about having to stay in Sheldon's attic.

Rude words spoken to each other's wives. In one version of the story, Sheldon's refusal to bring a table to my bris almost resulted in my being circumcised on an ironing board. But in the version being told today, my father was asked by Sheldon to pay more than his fair share for their mother's funeral.

Buzz Goldstein

And I said, you're always working some kind of an angle. So he got furious. He got furious. He started screaming into the phone, go to hell. Drop dead, bah, bah, bah. He was-- that was how that ended.

But I feel he's the kind of guy, that he has angles like that, you know? He has angles. I always felt I was on the up-and-up with him, and he wasn't with me.

Jonathan Goldstein

If you got a stronger sense that he was interested in seeing you, then would you--

Buzz Goldstein

Yes. Yes.

Jonathan Goldstein

You would be more inclined to see him?

Buzz Goldstein

I wouldn't stay at his house though, that's out of the question.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK, quick sidebar. Anytime I've ever raised the prospect of visiting Sheldon, no matter how hypothetical the scenario, my father always makes a point of insisting how no matter what, he would not stay in Sheldon's house-- even if he was invited to. Which, I should point out, he never is.

Buzz Goldstein

I wouldn't stay at his house.

Jonathan Goldstein

How come you-- [LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

I wouldn't stay there. I mean, it's not my thing.

Jonathan Goldstein

How come you always bring that up?

Buzz Goldstein

Because I don't feel comfortable.

Jonathan Goldstein

Normally, when someone goes to visit someone that they haven't seen in decades, they'll stay at a hotel, you know? [LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

I would stay at a motel or somewhere near his place.

Jonathan Goldstein

[LAUGHS] A motel. Yeah, no, we'd get a place with an ice machine and-- you know.

Buzz Goldstein

Why, you're interested in making a trip?

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm interested-- [SIGHS] Do you think that there's anything to be gained in seeing him?

Buzz Goldstein

Hmm, I guess there's something. You share your common experience, and you talk about the old days. There are things that only he and I can remember. You know?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

What you could do is, you could call him.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

And see what his attitude is. You know? It depends on how you feel, what kind of reception you get.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, I mean I would be happy to do that. My concern is that--

Buzz Goldstein

I like your initial suggestion, that you call and feel him out. See what he's like.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK, I didn't suggest that, but-- you-- [LAUGHS] you suggested that.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, I like that. Because you'll give me an honest reaction.

Jonathan Goldstein

I'm happy to do it. But, I mean, what are you looking for? What do you want to hear from him?

Buzz Goldstein

I miss my brother, I would like to see him.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK.

Buzz Goldstein

That's all.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK.

Buzz Goldstein

You understand? And you come back on me with an honest evaluation.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[PHONE RINGING]

Sheldon Goldstein

Hello?

Jonathan Goldstein

Sheldon?

Sheldon Goldstein

Yes, speaking.

Jonathan Goldstein

Hi.

Sheldon Goldstein

That was quite a shock, getting your phone call. You said, Jon, and my hearing is not that great.

Jonathan Goldstein

OK.

Sheldon Goldstein

And when I heard the first message, I'm saying, who the heck is that? I don't know anybody by that name.

Jonathan Goldstein

Sheldon now lives outside of Fort Lauderdale. But my few memories of him are from when he lived in upstate New York. I remember he lived in a trailer.

I remember that he worked at a local prison, that he smoked cigars, that he looked a little like my father, but was hunched, like the world was weighing down on him. And he always wore this expression on his face that seemed to say, you got to be kidding me.

Jonathan Goldstein

You're keeping OK? You're keeping occupied?

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah, I read a lot. I go to the gym. I go shopping. You know, here and there, little things here and there.

Jonathan Goldstein

So how often do you go to the gym?

Sheldon Goldstein

Three times a week.

Jonathan Goldstein

My father also goes to the gym. That's a part of his routine also. He was happy to hear from you on his 80th birthday.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah, well, he didn't call me on my 85th though.

Jonathan Goldstein

Tit, meet tat.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Sheldon Goldstein

To be honest with you, in the last few years, I've been a loner.

Jonathan Goldstein

Uh huh.

Sheldon Goldstein

You would basically almost call me a recluse. I don't socialize with many people. And I really don't give a damn what anybody thinks.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

And contrary to popular belief, I like being alone, by myself. I get along with myself very well.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Look, I don't want to be rude or anything, but I want to go have my lunch.

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, yeah, yeah, that's fine.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

It's fine. Sheldon, I appreciate your talking to me. And you would be amenable to spending some time?

Sheldon Goldstein

Why not? We are brothers. I mean, we're not close or anything. But you know, we're not going to have a chance to see each other much in the future.

[LAUGHS]

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah. Is that anything that you think about?

Sheldon Goldstein

Not much, no.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Buzz Goldstein

Press where to, then type. Do you have an address?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, I do.

My dad and I meet up at the Fort Lauderdale airport. I flew from New York, and my dad from Montreal. My father's all dressed up, wearing a faux suede sports jacket that I've never seen him in. We grab our airport rental and prepare for the two-hour drive to Sheldon. In the 90-degree heat, it's immediately made clear that faux suede might not have been the best fashion choice.

Buzz Goldstein

It's like we're on a safari here.

Jonathan Goldstein

On the road to Sheldon's, my father will experience a spectrum of feelings. As we first set out, there's excitement.

Buzz Goldstein

My brother was funny in a lot of ways. I could laugh. We're going to have laughs with him. He's a very funny man.

Jonathan Goldstein

A half an hour in, and there's bitterness.

Buzz Goldstein

We invited him to your bar mitzvah. And he returned a very cold card. Sorry, we will not be attending. It was so mean. You know what I mean? Even the writing.

Jonathan Goldstein

An hour in, and how was Buzz feeling?

Buzz Goldstein

I'm relaxed.

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, good.

Buzz Goldstein

Kind of old to get anxious, you know what I mean?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

A half an hour to Sheldon's.

Buzz Goldstein

A little bit apprehensive now.

[LAUGHS]

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

10 minutes to Sheldon's, and Buzz is feeling--

Buzz Goldstein

I'm all right.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah?

[LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah? You feeling a little--

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, it's going to be strange.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

It's going to be very strange. I mean, the man is a stranger to me now. And yet, he's my brother. You understand? It's a very strange feeling.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

I wonder if he's getting nervous?

Jonathan Goldstein

Maybe.

Buzz Goldstein

Cause he's waiting for us, right?

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon lives in the corner house on a quiet suburban street.

Jonathan Goldstein

Ring the bell.

Buzz Goldstein

I guess. Is this his door?

Jonathan Goldstein

I'll double check. Oh, here he is.

Sheldon Goldstein

Hi!

Jonathan Goldstein

Hello.

Buzz Goldstein

Hey!

Sheldon Goldstein

There's an [INAUDIBLE]

Buzz Goldstein

It's good to see you.

Sheldon Goldstein

And this is Jonathan?

Jonathan Goldstein

Good to see--

Sheldon Goldstein

Nice to meet you. Come in.

Jonathan Goldstein

Thank you.

Sheldon Goldstein

Lately I've become a monk-- me and my pussycat.

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, you got a cat.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, come here. What?

[CAT MEOWS]

Jonathan Goldstein

After all the years and the worry and the dread, things seem to be going swimmingly. We sit down at Sheldon's kitchen table, and my father gets right into it.

Buzz Goldstein

Now there's things I want to know. You said that Rainy died?

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah, she died.

Buzz Goldstein

She did die.

Jonathan Goldstein

The dead are a good place to begin. As a subject, they're easily agreed upon, and not likely to spark a fight.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yankel died.

Buzz Goldstein

Yankel died? He was the youngest brother.

Sheldon Goldstein

Oh, he died long ago.

Buzz Goldstein

He died, eh? Oh, you know who died?

Sheldon Goldstein

Who?

Buzz Goldstein

Hoffman.

Sheldon Goldstein

Hoffman? A real prick. [LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, I didn't know him that well.

Sheldon Goldstein

What a prick.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Kanish. [INAUDIBLE]

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, that's shocking.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah, he was fat.

Buzz Goldstein

He was fat. Redhead.

Sheldon Goldstein

Redhead, right. Yeah.

Buzz Goldstein

Kanish. Yeah, remember Johnny? Johnny was a sex maniac.

Sheldon Goldstein

Johnny-- oh, he would [BLEEP] a dog on the street. If he saw the dog, he'd try to [BLEEP] the dog. [LAUGHS] Can I get you guys a cold beer?

Buzz Goldstein

I'd like a beer.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah, sure.

Sheldon Goldstein

How about you?

Jonathan Goldstein

I'll have a beer. Thank you.

Even though they're in their 80s, Sheldon and Buzz still possess voices and temperaments suited to shouting out Brooklyn tenement windows. While my voice--

Jonathan Goldstein

(VOICE CRACKS) Yeah, sure, I'll have a beer--

Is best suited to asking a waitress if there will be a sharing charge.

Sheldon Goldstein

I defined--

Oh, whoa.

[THUD]

Jonathan Goldstein

[BLEEP] forgot about that. Sorry.

Case in point-- this is Sheldon accidentally swiping a portable microphone receiver off the kitchen table, and me trying to smooth things over.

Sheldon Goldstein

Take this off, will you? It's annoying.

Jonathan Goldstein

Here, just put it in your pocket there.

Sheldon Goldstein

Just take it off, would you please? Thank you. Thank you.

Jonathan Goldstein

All right.

Over the next two days, my testes will flee like frightened cockroaches, upward, ascending to heights not seen since the bar mitzvah that Sheldon was not attending. While it's fun watching them reminisce, I'd say, that about 80% of my uncle Sheldon's stories about the good old days are filthy enough to make them virtually unbroadcastable. But here's one-- specially selected, and beeped for your delicate ears.

Sheldon Goldstein

Wally Rosen. Wonder whatever became of him. He was a bum. Me and Wally Rosen were joining the weightlifting club. So you had to be tested for a rupture. I remember he put his hand [BLEEP]. I started laughing so hard, I [BLEEP] right in his [BLEEP]. [LAUGHS] Ay yay yay.

Jonathan Goldstein

Over the years, I've seen my father in the role of husband, uncle, and grandfather. But I've never really seen him in the role of younger brother. How odd to see it now, at 80. He sits beside Sheldon, with this expression I've never seen on his face. It's wide-eyed, sweet, and deferential. But as the day wears on, Sheldon and Buzz begin to squabble over their memories, fighting over every little detail.

Buzz Goldstein

Remember the hullabaloo we had with hair dyer, that heavy-set girl?

Sheldon Goldstein

She was a manicurist.

Buzz Goldstein

She was a hair dyer.

Sheldon Goldstein

Manicurist.

Buzz Goldstein

No, she was a hair dyer. Here's what happened. She went over to Irving's--

Jonathan Goldstein

They even argue over the death of their grandmother.

Buzz Goldstein

I found her body.

Sheldon Goldstein

I did.

Buzz Goldstein

I opened the door. No.

Sheldon Goldstein

I did.

Buzz Goldstein

No, my mother was across the street, at [INAUDIBLE].

Sheldon Goldstein

I remember walking in--

Jonathan Goldstein

I walked in on her.

Sheldon Goldstein

And I knew she was dead, soon as I saw her.

Buzz Goldstein

I never saw a dead body in my life, but I knew she was dead. Sure.

Jonathan Goldstein

So wait, so you found her, or you found her?

Buzz Goldstein

I remember looking in on her room to see how she was doing. She was awfully quiet. [INTERPOSING VOICES]

Sheldon Goldstein

[INAUDIBLE]. I found her, but let him take the credit.

Buzz Goldstein

No, I'm not. [LAUGHS] Some credit.

Jonathan Goldstein

The whole afternoon is like this. Every subject, even their dead grandmother, somehow becomes fodder for another pissing match. They're burning up all this time with small talk, when what they need is some big talk. In particular, they need to address a story that I know holds a great deal of meaning for my father. It took place in 1939, on the day their mother left them. I've only ever heard the story from my father, never from Sheldon.

Jonathan Goldstein

I wanted to ask what you remember. What your perspective--

Sheldon Goldstein

Well, I remember that time was when Pop was smacking her around, and she ran out in the hall. And her slip--

Buzz Goldstein

Fighting in the hall.

Sheldon Goldstein

And he was smacking her around.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, smacking her around.

Sheldon Goldstein

She ran out.

Buzz Goldstein

So what happened the next morning?

Sheldon Goldstein

The next morning?

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. Looked in her closet. Her clothes were gone. She left.

Sheldon Goldstein

Ah.

Jonathan Goldstein

What happened after this, in my father's telling, is that his mother returned soon after she left, with a policeman in tow.

Buzz Goldstein

And they came back to try to get you. They wanted you to come back with them.

Sheldon Goldstein

And where were you?

Buzz Goldstein

I was there, but they were trying to drag you out of the house. [LAUGHS]

Sheldon Goldstein

They weren't trying to grab you out?

Buzz Goldstein

No, no, no. I guess they want my father and grandmother.

Jonathan Goldstein

This is the point of the story for my father. It proves, once and for all, how his mother loved Sheldon more than she loved him. Sheldon didn't move out with her. And after a year, their mother returned. And together, Buzz and Sheldon grew up under the same roof, in the same bedroom, often sleeping under the same blankets, each knowing who the mother had chosen, and each having to do their best to carry on and live life with the burden of that knowledge.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

A couple times during the day, I ask them why they haven't spoken in so long. And they both insist, maybe out of embarrassment, that they do talk, just not often. But it isn't true. In fact, my father learned of Sheldon's wife's death many years after the fact-- and then, only from me.

Sheldon's daughter got in touch through Facebook, and we made a phone date, where she caught me up on her life and Sheldon's. And a few nights later, while over at my parents' for dinner, I told my father of his sister-in-law's death. There was a terrible look that fell across his face. One of sadness, but something else too, maybe shock over just how far he and Sheldon had drifted.

Jonathan Goldstein

I found out about Judy-- about her death.

Sheldon Goldstein

Who?

Jonathan Goldstein

Your wife.

Buzz Goldstein

I didn't know about it, either until you told me.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

Didn't I tell you?

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Sheldon Goldstein

You didn't know about it? No?

Buzz Goldstein

We didn't know.

Sheldon Goldstein

Hmm?

Buzz Goldstein

We didn't know.

Sheldon Goldstein

She was sick about two years there, Judy.

Buzz Goldstein

[SIGH] Too bad.

Sheldon Goldstein

Well, when she got the diagnosis, she was already stage IV. What did I know about cancer? I didn't. The surgeon-- so I says, well, doctor, how did the surgery go? Oh, he said, it went very well. But the cancer's in her liver now. [INAUDIBLE].

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Jonathan Goldstein

Oh, it spread.

Sheldon Goldstein

I said, it's in her liver? I said, what?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[RESTAURANT CHATTER]

Sheldon Goldstein

You know where I usually eat, when I come here by myself? By the bar. They've got a waitress there who always waits on me, and she takes good care of me.

Jonathan Goldstein

For dinner, Sheldon takes us to a local Outback Steakhouse. As people walk by, he provides a running commentary-- of an elderly couple--

Sheldon Goldstein

Don't get like that couple, whatever you do. It's time for the execution.

Jonathan Goldstein

--of an overweight couple--

Sheldon Goldstein

Boy, are they fat. People are fat today. Woo!

Jonathan Goldstein

It's as though he's sharpening his wit, readying it for the main event, teasing my dad about Canada.

Sheldon Goldstein

I don't know how you could take Canada all year around.

Buzz Goldstein

You know why? Because we've got nice neighbors. It's nice. It's OK. Uh, what was I going to say?

Sheldon Goldstein

You're living in the same place for how many years?

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, about-- over 35, 38 years, something like that. I'm happy here.

Jonathan Goldstein

Yeah. Yeah.

For my father, I know this is a touchy subject, believing, as he always has, that Sheldon looks down on him for the dinkiness of his Canadian life and home. It's like a constant reminder of just who is second best. Later, my father will repeat Sheldon's words-- (IMITATING SHELDON) "You're still living in that same place?" He'll say, "For how many years?"

But just then, I watch my father clench and unclench his jaw, as he does when he is brooding. I know he's trying to take the high road, trying not to ruin the evening.

Sheldon Goldstein

What? $200.30? Are they kidding?

Jonathan Goldstein

Sheldon invites us back to his place for cookies. But my father says he isn't up for it.

Buzz Goldstein

Goodnight.

Sheldon Goldstein

Goodnight.

Jonathan Goldstein

Goodnight.

[RADIO MUSIC PLAYING]

Buzz Goldstein

It's getting cold.

Jonathan Goldstein

As we walk through the restaurant parking lot to the car, my father is silent. I find myself feeling protective of him, like maybe encouraging this trip had been a bad idea, only making things worse. After midnight, lying awake in our hotel-- my father insisted we stay at one-- I lay in bed, thinking about that day in 1939, when my grandmother came back for Sheldon, not my father. For my father, not only did it push him away from Sheldon, making him feel jealous and resentful, but it also cast a shadow over the rest of his life, causing him to always feel passed over. He's mellowed with age. But as a kid, I saw it come out in all kinds of ways. Always sensitive to slights, ready for a fight at the smallest perceived offense. I wonder if there's a different way from my father to see things. If there is, the only living person in this world who can help is Sheldon. When their mom left, Sheldon was nine, my father, five. Sheldon would have understood a lot more than my father.

Yesterday, Buzz and Sheldon talked like a couple of kids who used to play stick ball in the old neighborhood. Today, if me and my big, fat, meddling yap have any sway, they'll have a chance to talk as men-- as brothers, even. Because if not now, when?

Day two.

Buzz Goldstein

This is a damn good cigar.

Sheldon Goldstein

He sent me--

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, Dominican Republic? They make a damn good cigar in the Dominican Republic. What are you talking about?

Jonathan Goldstein

Despite the difficulties of last night, the coin is flipped back to the good side. Sheldon offers my father a cigar. And with a cigar, some cigar talk-- some pretty foul cigar talk.

Sheldon Goldstein

We're riding on Queens Boulevard. Johnny's in the backseat with The Who. He's got his naked ass up in the air. And he's humping--

Buzz Goldstein

[LAUGH]

Sheldon Goldstein

Well, the funny thing is, we had to stop for a light. And there's a truck driver, sitting in the cab up high, who-- God, that was funny.

Buzz Goldstein

[LAUGH]

Jonathan Goldstein

Have you guys missed each other?

Sheldon Goldstein

What?

Jonathan Goldstein

Do you miss each other?

Sheldon Goldstein

You know, he asks the weirdest questions.

Jonathan Goldstein

[LAUGH]

Sheldon Goldstein

What is he, a broad?

Jonathan Goldstein

I don't know.

Eager to prove to my uncle Sheldon that in spite of the fact I'm wearing my wife's travel deodorant, I am indeed not a broad. I allow them to return to more pressing matters-- their prostates.

Sheldon Goldstein

The guy says, Jesus. He says, your prostate feels like the moon craters in there, he said. I said, thank you, doctor. He was complimenting me.

Jonathan Goldstein

So if I could steer this away from the prostates-- so if my father said that it's significant it to him, to have come. What do you say?

Sheldon Goldstein

I agree with whatever he said.

Jonathan Goldstein

But what about you?

Sheldon Goldstein

I said, I agree with whatever he said. Do you want a written contract?

Jonathan Goldstein

No, I'm happy for that.

It feels like I'm getting a taste of what growing up with Sheldon might've been like. So again, I make my move.

Jonathan Goldstein

So I have some questions just about-- because the stories that I know are from my father, but I'm curious what your take is, because you were older. Do you remember what was going on when your mother left, originally? Like why, and what was going on?

Sheldon Goldstein

Didn't you cover this ground before yesterday?

Jonathan Goldstein

But from my family's perspective, the way I understood it was always you were the favorite. Did you feel that way?

At this point, Sheldon's face suddenly softens.

Sheldon Goldstein

I always felt that I got the short end of the stick. [LAUGH]

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah, but you were kind of a favorite with my mom.

Sheldon Goldstein

Yeah, maybe with Mom because maybe temperamentally we were closer than I was with my father. My father never gave me spit. Did you ever get any money from my father?

Buzz Goldstein

I can't remember. [INAUDIBLE].

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Sheldon Goldstein

You never got a dime.

Buzz Goldstein

No. Can't remember. No.

Sheldon Goldstein

You remember, one time I sprained my ankle so bad.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh, I'll never forget that. That was terrible.

Sheldon Goldstein

I laid in that bed. And he says to me, you lazy bum. Man, he went off on me that time.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah. He took Sheldon once. Sheldon happened to say the word [BLEEP].

Sheldon Goldstein

He came in with that [BLEEP] strap swinging, with the buckle.

Buzz Goldstein

And you know, I can understand leaving a feeling level of resentment and dislike.

Sheldon Goldstein

That was his way of communicating with us.

Buzz Goldstein

Jesus, what a way.

Sheldon Goldstein

Smack, and then--

Buzz Goldstein

What a way.

Jonathan Goldstein

Was he easier on you, do you think?

Buzz Goldstein

He wasn't that easy, but he was tough on Sheldon.

Sheldon Goldstein

I know you were closer to him than I was.

Buzz Goldstein

Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

And a lot of things that went on, and you didn't understand really, what was going on.

Buzz Goldstein

No, I did not. See, you had a different take.

Jonathan Goldstein

Why, are you surprised?

Buzz Goldstein

But I was a kid. I didn't understand it.

Jonathan Goldstein

But you didn't know that Sheldon was getting it so bad?

Buzz Goldstein

No.

Jonathan Goldstein

In Buzz's telling, their father was always a more-or-less benign childish figure, incapable of expressing his feelings, and so given to temper tantrums. For Buzz, it was their mother who was the manipulator, the woman who played the brothers off each other. But hearing Sheldon's take, it sounds like maybe their mother didn't come to take Sheldon because she loved him best, but simply because he needed more protecting from their father.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

For the first time during our trip, I can see my father considering Sheldon's point of view-- actually taking it in. I know it's intense for him, because he can't even meet Sheldon's eyes. Instead, he looks at me, addresses his comments to me.

Buzz Goldstein

You know, it's sad that my father had such a negative impact on him, you know? Just awful. Because he had so much going for him. He was a wonderful son. He worked hard. He was a good boy.

Sheldon Goldstein

You're talking like I'm a failure in life.

Buzz Goldstein

No, you weren't a failure. That's the thing that I'm saying, that you weren't a failure. All I'm saying, is that emotionally, he left an impact on you.

Sheldon Goldstein

It took a long time for me to get out of that emotion. And now, I'm at peace with myself. I can talk about him and laugh about him. Now I want peace, quiet. I'm happy living by myself.

Buzz Goldstein

Are you lonely, Sheldon?

Sheldon Goldstein

No.

Buzz Goldstein

No?

Jonathan Goldstein

The last time my father saw my grandfather in full health, my dad was visiting from Canada. My grandfather asked my father to drive him to the cemetery, to visit his parents' grave. And once there, my grandfather wept inconsolably.

Later that day, he would succumb to a stroke, and shortly after, be moved to a nursing home. With Sheldon being more local, the burden of my grandfather's care fell mainly to Sheldon. It seems like a lot of the family's burdens fell to Sheldon.

Buzz Goldstein

They put a lot of the responsibility on him, that my dad should have been taking that responsibility. And he shouldered that.

Sheldon Goldstein

Who was going to take care of you? Who is going to take you to school? [INAUDIBLE]. I remember one time I was late or something. You stood outside that school. You were crying.

Buzz Goldstein

Screaming-- sure. I was-- yeah. Yeah.

Sheldon Goldstein

I said, [INAUDIBLE], I'm here. I'm here.

Buzz Goldstein

He was good to me. A lot of times, he was good to me.

Sheldon Goldstein

A lot of times I was mean to you.

Buzz Goldstein

Mean? You know, you were my older brother. You used to knock the [BLEEP] out of me sometimes. But you know, that's the way it is. We're brothers.

Sheldon Goldstein

Well, I was good in some ways. Some ways, I was mean.

Buzz Goldstein

Well, who is not? Who is not? Who is not?

Jonathan Goldstein

So if you feel like you were compelled to see each other now, because you knew that it's a now-or-never thing, then it means that it was important to you both, right, to see each other?

Sheldon Goldstein

You want to take that?

Buzz Goldstein

Sure.

Sheldon Goldstein

Go ahead.

Buzz Goldstein

It's an easy answer, yes. Yes, because we're not getting any younger. What's down the road? I'm 80, he's 85. I mean, because there was a lot of water under the bridge, and we want to close that bridge now. I want to feel easy now. I want to say, now he's going to be 86, I want to call him on his birthday and say happy birthday to him now. I'm going to stand in any [BLEEP] ceremonies anymore.

Jonathan Goldstein

As my father speaks, as per his brother's example, dropping f-bombs like he's in it Guy Ritchie film, Sheldon keeps his arms crossed and his eyes shut tight. He's quiet for several seconds. And then he reaches out to pet his cat.

Sheldon Goldstein

Should I leave you the cat in my will if anything happens?

Buzz Goldstein

If anything happens, I'll take care of the cat.

Sheldon Goldstein

[LAUGHS]

Buzz Goldstein

I'll take care of the cat. I'm happy I came to see you. That I am.

Sheldon Goldstein

I'm happy you came. That's good, very good.

[STREET TRAFFIC]

Well, if you want to buy a house, that one is for sale over there.

Jonathan Goldstein

When it's time to leave, Sheldon walks us outside. But before we get into the rental, he points across the lawn to his neighbor's house. He tells my father that it's for sale. And then he tells him the asking price. And my father says, that doesn't sound bad at all. And Sheldon says that, what, with Canada being so bloody cold, my father should consider moving to Florida. And my father says, maybe he will.

Buzz Goldstein

All right, you take care of yourself.

Sheldon Goldstein

Water under the bridge.

Buzz Goldstein

Take care of yourself. You hear?

Sheldon Goldstein

Take care. You too. Safe trip, both of you's. Thank you. Thank you.

Buzz Goldstein

We'll speak. We'll speak.

Jonathan Goldstein

They don't get too emotional. They don't even hug goodbye. They just shake hands. And with that, it feels like Buzz has forgiven Sheldon, and Sheldon has forgiven Buzz.

Gps

Turn right on Northwest Bedford Drive.

Buzz Goldstein

Oh my god, I feel so different now. You know that? I feel different, Jonny. I just feel so different. This has taken a lot off my shoulders. You know?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Ira Glass

Jonathan Goldstein. This story was produced by Wendy Dorr, with some help Chris Neary. If you liked that story, there is more where that came from this week. Jonathan is launching his new podcast. It is called Heavyweight, from Gimlet Media. I am super excited for this show. Jonathan used to be one of our producers here. He hosted the show Wire Tap for years. If you are ready for this to become your new favorite podcast, you can download a new episode and a longer version of this story, right now, on iTunes, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Robyn Semien. Our program is made by Elna Baker, Susan Burton, Zoe Chace, Dan Chivvis, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Emmanuel Dzotsi, Stephanie Foo, Damien Graef, Chana Joffe Walt, David Kestenbaum, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Christopher Swetala, Matt Tierney, and Nancy Updike.

Special thanks today to Kiku Matsuo, Yuki Zaizen, Noriko Meek, Karin Jeffrey, John Matthews, Christine Fellows, Haley Shaw, and Lawrence Tassone. Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. He tells everybody he knows why I'm never chosen to ask questions at the presidential debates.

Sheldon Goldstein

You know, he asks the weirdest questions.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass.

Sheldon Goldstein

What is he, a broad?

Sachiko Okawa

Back next week, with more stories of This American Life.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

(SINGING) Before I die, before I die, before I die-- Before I die, before I die, before I die. Before I go, before I go, before I die-- Before I go-- Before I die--