I have only one brother, Bernard Basley (Bernie). Two years my senior, as far back as I can remember, Bernie has been the proverbial “big brother,” moving with me through the stages of my life. I am almost positive that the melancholia I have when reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, is the result of the relationship she describes with her big brother. This bro-sis connection is one I have never taken for granted, and now that he lives so far away, in Thailand, I find myself feeling blessed to have the friendship we have sustained.
Bernie and I grew up on Chicago’s South Side in the ’50s. We were a nuclear family, with two working parents and a grandmother who sometimes lived with us. We were fortunate in life circumstances to have everything we needed; we owned our house, our car, and never went hungry. We both attended Catholic school. I bought the dogma; Bernie never did. Maybe that is why he was sometimes devilish in his behavior and used to work my nerves.
The thing is my mouth has always been bigger than his, which he never failed to let me know, calling me “Big Mouth.” While I was the dancer, singer, personality of our household, Bernie was always quiet and unassuming. In other words, sneaky! He asserted his authority during the games we played, cheating his victim – me. He completely redesigned Monopoly to end and win every game. Afraid of spiders, I would be threatened by his crawling fingers on the floor to terrify me. He would also allow me to be “It,” so he could chase me, his target, with pillow attacks. Believe it or not, these minor incidences were all I could conjure up; there were so many more happy memories created.
Bernie was my most reliable playmate. During the ’50s, most outside games were gender-specific. However, when we heeded our call after dusk and entered our home, we were a united front. The Mickey Mouse Club held a counsel on our TV and nightly, Bernie and I would become the characters we viewed. Of Disney’s Spin and Marty, Bernie was Spin, and I was Marty, (so much for being gender-specific). Bernie collected comic books. No matter how sacred his superhero books were to him, he would let me view them. He taught me to spin a top and to yo-yo. While we traveled back and forth to day-camp, Bernie made sure I was safe. We went away to camp in Michigan annually, and I was so proud to know my big brother was somewhere around. During my teenage years, this connection was life-changing for me.
Our Englewood neighborhood had changed. Most of the people we knew as children had moved further south to better neighborhoods. As the homeowners gave way to renters, the kids were different than those with whom we grew up. Bernie started to travel weekly to visit the Hyde Park,(HP), community. He would come home and tell me about HP, which seemed idyllic. When I turned 12, Bernie took me skating to the Hyde Park YMCA. He took me away from the impending lifestyle of a changing area and introduced me to an integrated artistic community, Ivy League clothing, and kids with smiles on their faces. I always say my brother rescued me.
I was my brother’s shadow. I even lied about my age and school status to be able to be with him and our new found friends. Bernie never betrayed me. Instead, he guided me to be careful with boys and allowed me to go to every party and event with him. We were so close that one of our HP high school friends excitedly said to me, “I have the perfect guy for you.” When he pointed him out, I said, “That’s my brother, Bernie!!!” Bernie modeled what I learned to expect from an upstanding boy – be kind, dress well, work hard, and treat women with respect. After the HP days, Bernie and I began to drift apart.
Post teenage years
Our disconnect would last throughout his post-high school years. I still admired my brother, but he was now working and anticipating marriage, which both were foreign to me.
Married and divorced, Bernie traveled and then enrolled in Columbia College. Bernie was developing his skills with a camera and began to become interested in media arts. Following his lead, I entered Columbia and was in the Free Theater there. Introduced to film and music at an early age, we were both attracted to the arts. Bernie pursued his passion for media production, and moved to Los Angeles, where he was Stage Manager on many TV productions, including the Motown 25th Anniversary, with Michael Jackson moonwalking!
Bernie and I both lived adventurous lives, with travel, the arts, marriage, and children in common. However, the most crucial connections were made during caregiving. When our dad was ill, Bernie stepped up and stayed the course with Dad until I could get there to take him off life support. He did the same with me, as I stayed the course with Mom. My most memorable connection was when my husband, Bob, was ill and made his transition. Bernie was always close to Bob, so it was no surprise that he cared enough to come to look after us. Flying in and out of LA, Bernie was with me every step of the way. He helped me lift Bob, went with me to his radiation treatments, calmed my fears, and when Bob took his final breaths, both Bob and I had our “brother” with us, holding his hand.
Bernie did the same for our “sister” Pat, when her brother, Fred, was transitioning. Several months after both men left this realm, Bernie traveled with his three sister-friends, Pat, Nedra,Chrisje, and me to St. Maarten. I don’t know many men who could put up with us, but he did, and we put up with his antics.
Three years later, after the death of our mother, Bernie decided to visit, and then to live in Bangkok, Thailand. Initially, I felt abandoned and devastated, but through an interim stay in the States to welcome his new daughter and my visit to Thailand, I affirmed the closeness we have always had as brother and sister. We talk weekly and still share the same taste in clothing, art, décor, music, and politics, (during our visit to Chicago, we saw Hamilton), and importantly, we share our love of family, friends, and hope for the world.
– Bernie Basley
Bernie loves to take pictures. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in TV Production from Columbia College Chicago, but now lives in Bangkok, Thailand. Bernie has worked extensively in TV production including ABC Television Network where he served as the Associate Director and Stage Manager from 1979-2001. Prior to that he served as the Assistant Director for WGN-TV from 1974-78. Bernie has owned an art gallery. He is married to Sarin; and has two children, Imanuel and Garnet.
Victorine, Founder, Editor-in-Chief of Garden Spices Magazine.