Happy Birthday Big Man!

Yet another McKenna birthday is upon us. Brian, the youngest McKenna brother, had his birthday earlier this week and it has been the tradition of this blog to list a few interesting memories about the person. And if you know me, you know that I am a stickler for tradition. So without further ado:

1) Brian is extremely lucky… or maybe cursed.

Brian’s birthday almost always coincides with the annual extended family trek to Door County in Wisconsin. I have never asked him how he felt about this. On the one hand, I can see where all those years of being on vacation on your birthday would be awesome. Especially in such a wonderful and beautiful place as Door County. Plus, the whole family is together already, so we would always have a big cookout celebration for Brian’s birthday, even at an age long after one would usually stop having a big family party celebrating a birthday.

Then again, maybe all of the monotony gets boring. What if one year he wanted to do something else for his birthday? Maybe it was a living nightmare to be reliving the same birthday, year after year after year. Kind of like Groundhog Day, only Birthday Day. I always thought it was pretty neat, but then again, it wasn’t my birthday.

Cap'n Brian at his birthday cookout last year

Although, if he had too many birthdays away from the family celebrations in Door County, we might have had a lot more nights like his 21st birthday which Brian, Matt, Ken Houston, Susie and I all celebrated together in West Lafayette, one of the best times in my entire life. And I am not sure I could have handled many more like that.

2) My first memory involves Brian

The earliest memory that I can ascribe to a specific moment was going to see Brian (and my mom) in the hospital after he was born. I had just turned 3. It is really just a snapshot in my mind and unfortunately, it doesn’t actually involving seeing Brian. But I definitely remember being in the hospital in a hallway with both my dad and my brother Matt, waiting to go in and see them.

The story goes that Matt got jealous and wouldn’t even look at my mom. (He was only 13+ months, you can’t really blame him!) I cannot confirm nor deny that, but I do think it is pretty cool that this is my first memory for a number of reasons. First, it involves every member of my family, even if I can’t “see” each of them in my mind. Second, it is interesting that my first memory involves a hospital and I am now a doctor.

3) Brian has a lot of nicknames

Well, a lot might be a bit strong of a description, but he definitely has a few. Going back to when we were in high school, Brian was “Big Man” or “The Big Man”. To be honest, I am not exactly sure why we started calling him that. At the time he wasn’t bigger than us nor taller than us. He was the little brother, but we weren’t using it derisively either. For whatever reason, we started calling him “Big Man” and it stuck. Ironically, he really is the big man now as he is the tallest of the brothers.

Once Brian became an uncle after Hannah was born, he acquired a new nickname: Crazy Uncle Brian. This has nothing to do with his actual mental health nor his psychology degree. It has everything to do with (surprise, surprise!) television. There used to be a show on NBC about two brothers who owned a small commuter airline on Nantucket called Wings. We never watched the show on NBC, but we all must have seen ever episode a million times when it would be on for two straight hours on USA during the summer. We really enjoyed the reruns and could quote (and still do) many a funny line as well as work Wings references into most every conversation. The brothers were Joe and Brian. Brian was the wacky party guy while Joe was the steady, straight-laced one. In one episode, Brian starts thinking about his rambunctious, girl-chasing life (especially as compared to Joe who is settling down to get married) and he worries that as an lonely old-timer he will be going to the same desperate singles bars looking for ladies, such that his future nieces and nephews will call him “Crazy Uncle Brian”. And so, when Hannah was born, our own Crazy Uncle Brian was born. (Matt became Wacky Uncle Matt).

Hannah was also involved in Brian’s other (and possibly best) nickname. A three years ago, while we were here in Door County, we were all hanging out and talking. Somehow we got on the topic of Brian and his friends and activities in Pittsburgh. Just then, Brian’s phone rang and he answered the phone and started to refer to himself as BMac. Only Hannah and I both thought it sounded like he said “Beanbag” (which is clearly funnier), so we immediately renamed him “Uncle Beanbag”, which he is still referred to often. I believe that he initially tried to shake this moniker, but he quickly learned that none of us are powerful enough to outwit or outlast the mind of a 3 year old.

4) Brian – Young Man, Old Man

Like all of us, Brian has had some medical oddities occur to him over the course of his life. (For example, I once was diagnosed and needed to have surgery to repair a Gamekeeper’s Thumb, despite not ever having torn the head off of any sort of bird.) My favorite is one year when we young kids and on vacation in Florida, Brian started to develop a rather odd rash on his body. At first nobody was too worried about it. But then it kept getting worse and worse. Finally, my parents decided that he needed to be evaluated, so they took him to an urgent care clinic. Once there, the diagnosis was reach rather quickly. Despite only being 6 or 7 years old, Brian was officially an old man… he had shingles.

In retrospect (especially with my medical training), I realize that this happens and is part of having had chicken pox. It never goes away, but instead lives dormant inside your nerves, waiting to return. But at the time, it was explained to us (at least the kids, but maybe my parents too) that this was a disease that old people get. It cracked us up then and it still makes me chuckle now.

5)  A senior year of regret

No, this not implying that Brian has anything to regret about any of his college experience. Instead, this refers to my senior year. It is one of the things I am most sad about when I think back about it. Brian was a freshman at Purdue while I was a senior. Looking back on our year there together, I wish I would have spend a whole lot more time with him than I did. Not sure if he feels the same way or not.

At the time, we were both busy and I think I might have wanted not to get too close so that he could establish himself and who he was without me hovering over him. Or maybe we spent the right amount of time together and some of this is just looking backwards with wishful thinking, because now I would do almost anything to be able to spend significant amounts of time with him (and Matt too!) living in close proximity with little to no responsibilities just like we did when we were kids.

When ever someone asks me if I am close to my family, I tell them that I definitely am. My brothers are probably my best friends in the world. But when people ask me if I talk to my brothers often, I tell them this story.

One day early in August or September of our year together at Purdue, I decided that I should call Brian to see how he was doing. So I called up his dorm room and he answered the phone. The following is our conversation verbatim:

Me: “Hey Brian, how’s it going?”

Brian: “Good. How are you doing?”

Me: “Good.”

long pause….

really long pause….




still pausing

Me: “Well, I guess I’ll see you around.”

Brian: “Okay”

After that, I figured that talking on the phone was probably not going to be the best way for us to stay in touch. Us McKenna’s are not exactly phone people, as both Brian and I proved that day. However, no matter how many miles or states are between us, we will always be brothers and we will always be friends. Whether we talk all of the time or don’t talk for months, when we get together we fall right back into our old patterns and old routines. It is just like old times back in Cal City.

So Happy Birthday Big Man! Even though you are not here with us in Door County, we are thinking about you and how we can celebrate your next birthday! I’m thinking doughnuts, inflatable yard decorations, pirates and gambling….


About ironsalsa

I'm just a man who likes to hear himself talk, yet pretends he can't stand himself.
This entry was posted in Family, My Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Happy Birthday Big Man!

  1. Nicole McKenna says:

    You forgot about his gout diagnosis, another old man’s disease!

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