As kids, my brother and I built block fortresses together, and played chase and “touched you last” as we hurtled through the house. I tried to feed him worms, and sounded the alarm when he busted his head open. I also bossed him around a lot, sat on him, and howled when he would join my slumber parties (mom! get him out of here!). As adults with our own children, we’ve discovered that it all seems to comes back – like karma – as we experience our parents’ perspective. Kids in constant motion and high volume, vying for parents’ attention, and the challenges of sharing when somebody else has the cool toy.
Separated by many states, our visits are infrequent, but I feel like we can immediately connect. Whether it’s a continuing attraction to Star Wars and Star Trek, wondering how we managed to live through the 4th of July with all the fireworks we mishandled, or loving the cool, if unreliable convertible we shared, it’s part of our common fabric.
My mom is the youngest of seven. She grew up in a full house, and there were many years difference across the entire group of sibs. While my mom was still in grade school, her older sisters were dating and had jobs. So that often left my mom with her older brother, #6 of 7. Charlie did what most big brothers do – jumping out from behind doors to scare the socks off of his little sister – but was surely a protector as well. During a recent visit to Louisville, we drove to the neighborhood where mom grew up. At the end of the block there now stands an apartment complex, but when mom was small, this was an open field where she and Charlie would play. And in the winter, he would pull her there on a sled. I can just see him, grumbling that he had to watch his little sister, but smiling as they squealed in delight going down the hill.
Almost all of mom’s large family stayed in Louisville, so we saw everybody pretty regularly, especially Charlie. We got to visit his magical basement, filled with pinball machines we could play for free. And we laughed every time mom made corn fritters because it seemed Charlie could smell them from wherever he was and would show up just in time to enjoy them hot out of the pan. Years later I held out vain hope that Charlie’s tall genes would somehow be passed through me so our son could top 6 feet.
Occasionally I wonder what it would be like to have a sister. Someone who shared my room, lent me her much cooler clothes and shoes, and listened to my secrets. But instead I have a brother. What is it about brothers? Formerly annoying, but now a best friend, a pillar of strength, the best huggers in the world.