Because, he was my brother.
Larry was your husband, your father, your uncle, brother-in-law, your friend and your opportunity for Likes on Facebook when you visited the Renaissance festival. He fixed things that were broken, and he brought things that needed to exist into existence. He was a creator. He built decks, fences, patios and the houses they were attached to. And before he was all these things and before he did all these things - he was my brother.
Larry was the oldest of four siblings. He was named for my father's father but when it came to his middle name my father was merciful in opting for the middle name "Adam" instead of his father's middle name "Alloysius". Larry had two sisters and one brother and all four siblings were fortunate to live within about 50 miles of one another for the vast majority of their lives. Growing up, I shared a room with Larry. When you share a room with your brother, you get to know him fairly well. But it is not lost on me that in many cases, likely not as well as some of you knew him. My mother used to explain that, "brothers tend to grow apart" ... and as we got older that certainly happened to Larry and I
Our lives occur in phases. At one point you are a kid trying to make friends and trying to figure out who you are and what you are in the world. As we get older we take on more responsibility. Most of us do not do this on purpose - we are just trying to exercise our freedom. But we find out that the game is rigged and there is a cost for freedom - we are forced to grow up. These darn responsibilities essentially rob us of our ability to define ourselves in the eyes of others. I got the impression that Larry's life was about fighting for the ability to define himself.
At one point Larry went from "my brother" to "friend of people in the neighborhood" to "bagger at Eagle's" to "Ozzy" to "Stocker at Eagle's" to "Irene's boyfriend" to "construction apprentice", etc. This happens to all of us. The Breakfast Club taught us that those around us do not have the time to figure out who we are. They will necessarily define us in the simplest terms possible. In the photos I am sharing today and in the remarks I have prepared here, I think it is obvious that Larry gave us many options. But make no mistake, he didn't care what you thought.
Larry was a great baseball player and a vicious defender in football. My father coached our youth football team and my brother and I played on that team. My father would eventually get kicked out for swearing at the kids and Larry would earn the nickname "Cheap Shot" for applying a Jack Lambert mindset to little league football. When he played football, Larry hit people "as hard as he could". Which reminds me ...
I forgot to mention, Larry was not from Pennsylvania. He was not from Western Pennsylvania. Larry was from Pittsburgh. This was an actual quote from him not long ago. And I can promise you that the way he said it indicated that this simple statement meant something to him. Larry grew up on a small farm about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, in a town called Evan's City. When we moved to Houston in 1979, part of Larry stayed on that farm. He dreamed of going back one day. Over the years and sometimes through his work, he visited many times. He loved it there, but the people he loved were in Houston. But that love typically that did not include the Oiler fans ...
Larry was a Steelers fan. He had no choice in the matter as his father would have it no other way. Larry and I may had grown apart over the years, but I always knew that when I saw something crazy happen during a game, I could text him and he would be watching. This connection would bring a kind of restoration to our relationship later in life...
Larry was a hell-raiser. He went to Katy Taylor High School as part of the Class of 84 (IIRC). People called him "Ozzy" because he had dyed his hair blonde and acted nuts all the time. He did sort of favor Ozzy Osbourne, but he also sort of looked like vintage David Lee Roth and my younger sister Becky can tell you a story about some kids thinking they had met the iconic Van Halen frontman at a Circle K as he was inexplicably chaperoning a 14 year old girl to purchase some snacks.
My parents got fairly regular calls from the principal at Taylor High - and these calls were related to the principal's function as disciplinarian and not based on Larry's academics. While still in high school, Larry was working at a local Eagle's grocery store and eventually started working night shift. He would work all night and then go to school the next day. I will not venture any guesses as to what fueled such a schedule, but Larry's theatrical antics and tendency to find trouble was something that greatly troubled my parents.
At one point right before Larry moved out, I remember listening to my father fighting with Larry. Dad pleaded with him and try to talk some sense into him. I remember Dad saying something to the effect of: "I can see the mistakes you are making. I want to help you to avoid those mistakes. I want to protect you." Larry's response, "Why don't you let me make my own mistakes?" I can still see dad's face. I can still see Larry's. As a parent I have thought about that conversation many times.
However, even my brother was not immune to maturity and the process of growing up and growing graceful. As a matter of fact, in a moment of candor just last year, Larry admitted that Dad had been right all along. I guess its true that time makes fools of us all.
Larry moved out not long after that incident and unfortunately for me, took his cool collection of concert t-shirts with him. Larry never finished high school and instead wound up going to work as a construction contractor and ran his own company. During the big oil bust of the early 80s I worked with both Larry and my father for a couple months one summer on a cornice crew. My dad eventually went back to work as a draftsman, I got a job at the same Eagle's store my brother had worked at and Larry just kept doing construction. He had found his calling and that gig would take him all over the US building things that would long outlive him.
One of my fondest memories was taking a week off of work and working with Larry to build a studio apartment above my parents garage for our sister Kelly. What was shocking to me was the boldness Larry displayed in going about his work. From a certain perspective, construction is actually a violent and destructive process. That week was the first chance I had had of seeing how excellent Larry was at his chosen profession. As a bonus, I learned all sorts of interesting and colorful phrases of exclamation that week. Larry seemed to use these outbursts as a kind of lubrication or inspiration at particularly stressful times in the construction process. I was so impressed with what he did in that week, even with an amateur like myself weighing him down. He was a professional of high quality. The company that Larry had started was originally called "Barbarian Construction". But that would change ....
Irene explains that when she first met Larry she thought he was an idiot. But it was also true that his reputation preceded him and apparently, Irene liked the cut of his jib. It was my understanding that this was the case with many of the young ladies of the day - apparently Larry was quite the item. I recently asked Irene about their first "date". Irene explains that they never really dated in the classic sense. They just gravitated towards one another one Sunday morning at Bear Creek Park's Hippy Hollow as Larry sat drinking gin and juice. "Peas and carrots" as Forrest Gump would say. These high school sweethearts would have their fights and problems, but they made it. And that's something we all should celebrate.
So, they met in high school in the mid 80s and formed a lasting bond. Larry and Irene would eventually elope in 1991 to "make it official" and get married the only way these two free spirits could ever get married - Vegas on New Years Eve. Their daughter Riley was born in 99.
Larry got his artistic and talented hands from his dad and his flamboyance from my mother. At some point post high school, Larry went to the Texas Renaissance Festival - by most reckonings the premier Renaissance festival in the US. Larry was a creative type. He was an artist with materials. There was a time I can remember that he created a reindeer out of some fallen tree branches in my parent's yard. He strung up some Christmas lights on it and brought some Christmas cheer to my parent's yard that year. I don't know where he got the idea but Larry decided to build a centaur costume. And like the ham he was - he wore it to the RenFest. And a star was born.
Chiron Centaur was his brand. The costume you see him in in all those pictures was custom-built by Larry. After using the original prototype for a few years, Larry rebuilt his horse's butt, bigger and better than before. There was significant engineering consideration given to weight, mobility and strength as many people wanted to get a picture on his horse's back. In this role of a centaur at a Renaissance Festival, many people came to know Larry. He was semi-famous and I got a lot of laughs from telling people that my brother was the "guy that wore a centaur costume at the RenFest". This statement always resulted in a Google image search cause you know, "pics or it didn't happen".
On receiving news of his passing, the Texas Renaissance community responded with dismay and gratitude for his contribution to their community. The thread posted to the Texas Renaissance Facebook page had hundreds of responses.
Falling out and restoration
Larry took my parent's death hard. A fairly significant rift grew between us siblings when we settled my parent's estate and for years we had no or little contact with Larry. A couple years ago, as the NFL football season was set to open, I threw caution to the wind and I decided I would ambush Larry at the Steelers bar on the west side of Houston that I knew he frequented during the football season (at least until the RenFest started) called "Frank 'n Steins". I figured that if Larry wouldn't talk to me, I would just watch the game with him. Because, like I explained above, we were not brothers from Pennsylvania. We were not brothers from Western Pennsylvania. We were brothers from Pittsburgh.
I am happy to say that it ended well. Time heals all wounds. We hugged. We cheered. We chanted. It became a new tradition - meet at Frank n Steins for the opening game of the year. And we met for the last time, last year.
Larry was my brother and we represent the end of the line for the Collins name. I will miss him.
As I mentioned, the settling of my parent's estate strained the relationship. Because I am a glutton for punishment, I took the role of administrator of the estate. It took a couple years to get the siblings on the same page and I know that Larry was a reluctant hold-out to emptying my parent's house of all the trappings of my parent's lives and selling it. When I went by to drop off his check, his portion of the estate, I didn't even get out of my truck. I rolled the window down and handed him the check. Before I could get away, Larry leaned in the window and gave me as much of a hug as he could in that odd position. He looked me in the eye and said, "If you need anything, just call."
And you know, people say that kind of thing all the time. And I am sure they mean it when they say it. But you know what that means. But not with Larry. It could be 2:30 AM on a Sunday, I could be surrounded by Baltimore Ravens fans and be completely out of beer ... I could still call Larry and he would be there.
Because, he was my brother.