Friday, May 15, 2009

He aint' heavy, he's my brother....

I was in kindergarten the year you were born. I was in the AM class -- this was half day kindergarten -- and rode the bus to and from Damascus Elementary School. I walked to the top of the neighborhood and then back down, with my best neighborhood friend Tommy, also in kindergarten. The dentist's son, who lived at the top of the neighborhood was named John. He was my boyfriend. We sat together on the bus and he plied me with daily Valentines, rings from the bubble gum machine, toothbrushes and stickers from his father's office.

The first stop of the bus was close by Fox Ridge, our neighborhood, just up the rural highway to pick up a pair of sisters, one whose name was Barbie. I remember that she or her sister threw up on the bus once, and that their father died that year when he fell from the tree out in front of their house. Maybe he was electrocuted, maybe he had a heart attack. We could see the tree from the school bus.

That a daddy could die was not news, as two on our Honeysuckle Court already had passed. The Booth boys' father (they came to our home to stay the night he died) and Michael's father next door. Mr. Booth died of a heart attack. Michael's father died in a motorcycle crash. Soon after, Michael, his mother, and their enormous sheep dog, George, moved away.

I spent my mornings at kindergarten where Mrs. Harding was my teacher and we painted, played out of doors, visited the library and had snacks of peanut butter balls and waxy cartons of white or chocolate milk. Once a boy jumped on the snack table and pulled his pants down. It was the first penis I remember having seen.

Mid-day I came home and ate lunch with Mother. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Chicken noodle with so many saltines smooshed up in it I can remember asking one day, "What if someone came in here right now and thought this was oatmeal?!" Dana must have been there, too, but I bet she was napping during my lunch. Just two years younger, she would have spent the mornings home playing.

At some point, Mother went on bed-rest. I can't say I remember this, really, except in the sense of her absence. Then Daddy took Dana and I ice skating on the neighborhood pond that winter. He'd never been. A bigger man then than he is now, all 6 foot nearly 6 inches of him beefed up like Mohammad Ali and sporting the same afro, our father got it in his mind to take two little girls out skating on the pond. Maybe we asked him to, maybe he thought it an idea rife with fun. We had double blade skates and usually went with Mother, but not this time. She was notified shortly after we left home by some of the bigger teen boys in the neighborhood that our father had taken a spill on the ice and had hurt himself and the little girls needed to come home. A consumate prankster, our father was like the boy who cried wolf -- Mother didn't believe that he'd had an injury. And yet, he had.

I do not remember his falling, though I imagine it was quite something, our father coming down from the height of nearly 7 feet. I do not remember his going to the hospital, or even coming home. My memory is just of him thereafter as with a cast and walking with crutches (he broke both the bones just above his ankle -- not a clean break, and as you know, that leg is shorter than the other to this day.) Mother was in the bedroom, in the bed, growing you. Daddy drove to DC each day, to work. His being around for breakfasts and suppers is the primary memory of parental interaction at the time for me. Without Mother present to do all she always had done and would do again soon, Daddy was on his own (with Mother down the hall to consult, of course) with two little girls who had specific ways they liked things to be done. As the oldest, I told Daddy where things were located in the kitchen, in our bedroom, that we prefered our eggs easy over and that, no, "Mother never does it this way."

He had a riding lawn mower which he'd drive around our ranch home, trailing a little tractor wagon of dirty clothes. We girls threw additional pieces from the carport down below to the bottom of the hill in our backyard, where there was a sliding glass door to the basement, where inside was the washer and the dryer. It was an adventure, but we missed our mom, I think. This was not the way we were accustomed to things, and I in particular, was a child of somewhat rigid habit.

One night in the Spring, when the cherry trees were in blossom and the world was green and new all around us, I woke to find Mrs. Rogers, our dear grandmotherly neighbor, in the living room seated on our avocado colored couch. She taught me that night (which may have been the early morning, actually) to fold a piece of notebook paper into a small thick triangle and to play "football" on the coffee table, each of us taking turns making goals with our fingers. She was, afterall, the grandmother of boys who went to school and knew such games.

Sometime later (that day? the next?) the sun was out and Mother and Daddy were home with YOU. I remember bragging about you to the kids in Mrs. Harding's class, and telling the school librarian about our newly expanded family. Mother was back in her usual role -- out of bed, up and running, chasing me to pull a tooth out, turning cartwheels on the lawn, telling us she was a "hippie" for the day because she wasn't wearing panties beneath her jeans....

You had sweet potato hair and were round and pink. I remember you in a green and white striped onesie. I remember you laying on the changing table and your pee a rainbow arc hitting us full on. I remember you in a playpen, on our father's belly (his gigantic daddy self laid on on his back on the gold oval area rug in the family room). I remember you in the wagon we pulled, and then later still, hiding behind Mother's legs. You in the snow, bundled up. You playing with our toys, and our letting you. We moved to California a few years later. I remember you and your sweet potato hair and your freckle nose (the one you always tried to scratch off) and how you'd sit in the sun dappled kitchen at the table hiding behind boxes of Honeycombs and Raisin Bran, saying, "Don't wook at me!"

We doted on you. We loved you wholly. The third child, our only boy. You were our toy before you were our playmate. I toted you along everywhere for a time, knowing, because of my overwhelming love for and adoration of you, that I'd have to have babies some day.

We dressed you up as a girl in a skirt and a wig. We made you be Michael to Dana's Jane and my Mary Poppins. We tickled you and laughed with you and I called you Petey Cakes and Boo, the former you hated, the latter we use for you to this day, never having dreamed what a pop culture reference it would become with the ghetto fabulous familiars of our teen and twentysomething years and on into adulthood.

We are proud of you and love you still, our only boy. You are, we all agree, the sweetest man we know. Even my husband says this.

And now, I have my own boy. Not the babies and babies I had dreamed of, but one perfectly wonderful perfect for me boy. His sensitivity and daring jumps (from the top of the slide, the steps, the playground) remind me of you. Our sister notes this as well, in addition to his raw soccer talent and throwing arm, even at the tender age of 3. He loves you, too. Worships you, in fact. I hope he is lots like you: bright and sweet and undeniably funny, a fine husband and uncle and son, a jock who is a sports fanatic and a musician who enthusiastically shares new discoveries with his close knit crew of friends and sisters, neices and nephew.

I wish you the happiest of birthdays, beloved baby brother. You are a gift to us all.



  1. Thanks for writing! I feel like I know you better and your brother some. Great stories.

  2. This is excellent! My sister and I have a little brother who came along when I was 9...reminds me of those times. Mine is also the sweetest!