Tootie died in the first days of 1996, just as the Internet was taking over the world. He missed it all: never surfed the World Wide Web, never sent an email, didn't own a computer. Google "tootie wegner" and there's nothing out there, nothing at all, he never existed, except now, maybe, this blog post.
Tootie Wegner -- Stephen Andrew Wegner -- was my little brother. He was born a 'blue baby' because of Rh factor incompatibility, and the only treatment at the time was a complete transfusion. I remember his coming home from the hospital, the top of his head covered with needle marks where they had given him new blood. I had been an only child, doted on by my mother, for over four years, but now, with a sickly brother who needed constant attention, I was suddenly hurtled from the center of the universe to the far periphery of my family's consciousness.
(As near as I can recall, our father nicknamed Tootie after a friend of his, a rodeo rider, who may have been one of the many people who gave blood for the transfusion. From the time he was born, for everyone, my brother was Tootie; Momma was the lone holdout, always calling him Stephen and me Michael.)
Tootie survived and thrived, became strong and healthy. Looking back, though, I realize that the sickliness never completely left him. While I breezed through childhood illnesses like measles and mumps and chicken pox, each one brought him almost to death's door. In high school he again got very sick and had to have some sort of operation.
We were born four and a half years apart but were six years apart in school. We looked so unlike each other that people were surprised to learn we were brothers. When we were kids I was merciless to him, the awful way older brothers can be, but I made peace when he grew to be several inches taller and some pounds heavier than me.
I can't say we had much in common, even after we grew up. I drank wine; he drank beer. I read books; he danced the Cotton-Eyed Joe at The Lumberyard. He played the guitar, self-taught; I could only play records.
After a few years in the Navy (mostly aboard the carrier USS Constellation) and then a short and bitterly unpleasant marriage, Tootie hit some hard times and lived with me in Austin. Eventually he found a good job and moved away, first to Louisiana and then to California, and remarried. We'd talk on the phone occasionally but didn't say much; I didn't play golf and he didn't have kids. He prospered, bought a house, then was diagnosed with hepatitis C. His health deteriorated, he moved up the list to get a liver transplant, but when his turn came the operation went wrong and he slipped into a coma and died, only 42 years old. It was the kind of news you don't say on the telephone, so I drove down to Galveston to tell Momma her little boy didn't make it.
I've wanted to write about Tootie but haven't been sure what to say. I miss him, of course. I feel cheated, not having a sibling to grow old with, to plan reunions and swap stories and reminisce. Had he lived, we'd be celebrating his 60th birthday this month, and knowing him, it would have been a great party.