Tomorrow is my big brother’s birthday. He is older than I am – so much older that I’ve lost track of exactly how old he must be now, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in Methusaleh-range… so…969, give or take a year. For an old geezer, he gets around well.
My brother’s birth was heralded by much fanfare in our hometown; indeed, his every bowel movement was celebrated in headlines until he went to kindergarten, when the paper started printing his artwork and report cards instead. Meanwhile, my own birth received four meager lines of print, buried on the Obits page:
7 lbs and some ounces?
Late at night, which was totally inconvenient
When I was little, we hung out together a lot. Or rather, my brother did his thing around the neighborhood, and I followed him like a devoted dog. I thought he was wicked cool.
Life with him was a roller coaster ride, though, as his emotions towards me blew hot and cold for no discernible reason (I’m sure they were discernible to him, but really, what kind of person finds a worshipful little sister incessantly singing the soundtrack from Free to Be You and Me while rollerskating in circles around your skateboard annoying? Only an ogre, obviously). For instance, he saved me from the strike of a nasty cottonmouth snake one summer morning, but in the afternoon, sliced my forehead open with a five iron. He shaved the heads of all my Barbies as soon as I got them, but saved me from a charging bull. (No lie. Our childhood was not for the faint-hearted).
He threw anything and everything I treasured directly onto the pool drain and then pushed me in after it (which made me a darn good swimmer, certainly, but also gave birth to my lifelong terror of drains… which makes showering an activity fraught with peril well into middle age), but defended me against the neighborhood sociopath, saved me from drowning in a sewage ditch, and taught me how to wrap presents, along with a hundred other useful life skills .
Granted, I was a willing dogsbody, splashing eagerly into reptile-infested ponds to get sliced and hooked golf balls for him, believing him when he said, “You’re too dirty and you smell too bad for the gators to eat.” I retrieved the balls from the weeds and mud and delivered them eagerly into his impatient hands, and believed him when he told me it was the greatest honor ever to be “allowed” to wash them in the ballwasher next to the cart path so that he could re-sell them as practice balls. If you think I got any of that golf ball money, you are delusional, by the way.
On Halloween, he insisted that we play Swap Shop as soon as we got home from trick-or-treating, dumping all of my candy onto the carpet and “swapping” it for, as he said, “a handful of howdy and a mouth full of nothing much.” Occasionally he would deign to play Monopoly with me, proclaiming himself Banker and assigning me the wretched iron as my token. I never quite knew how the game was actually played, since the rules changed depending on whatever he landed on, but it didn’t matter, since our games always ended with me locked up on a life sentence, tearfully declaring bankruptcy from my jail cell while he creatively financed additional hotels for his already overdeveloped commercial ventures.
But he also walked me to ballet class after school, put the chain back on my bike a million times, made me countless snacks, taught me how to fight, let me drive his Jeep before I had a license, and drove me to visit our Grampa in the hospital and then played Christmas carols on the horn all the way home to cheer me up – to the confusion of the other drivers on the Interstate, who didn’t know whether they should get out of the way or join in.
In all honesty, no one makes me laugh harder (usually to the point of expelling whatever I’ve been drinking through my nose) or louder than my big brother. We’ve had more adventures together than I can recount – everything from learning to Rollerblade in Central Park to buying a house to running out of gas in the middle of 12 lanes of traffic on I-85 in Atlanta. We’ve got our own language, our own jokes, our own frame of references, and as our mom so famously put it, we “could manage to have fun in a paper bag.” He is beloved by all my friends and my kids, is a devoted dad, a very happy husband, and would be the first person I’d choose to road trip across the Sahara with — although, of course, he’d have to drive and I wouldn’t be allowed to change the station on the radio, which is a rule I learned as a kid when I dared to reach for the knob and was forced to walk home…uphill…in the snow…
Happy Birthday, Old Man! You’re the best.