I mentioned, the other day, about how the boys and girls in my family seemed to have been raised in parallel universes, where our paths rarely crossed. Though my brother Ted was only two years younger than me, and we grew up in the same house with the same parents, it often seemed that he may as well have come from another planet, for how little we had in common. Our growing-up experiences were so different, it was hard to relate. There are exceptions:
- There was the first time Brenda, Ted and I burned down the field. Before the fire took off, and we had to tell Mom…before we had to figure out who was to blame, causing all of our memories to take divergent paths…it was just a shared encounter between brother and sisters, playing with matches.
- There were the times when Mom would hand out work assignments and chores, then take notice of poor Ted, who didn’t have to help with housework, but who would be left without a playmate while we worked. “Who wants to play friends with Ted,” she’d ask, and I – who hated chores – would jump at the opportunity. “Playing friends with Ted” involved taking on the identity of Mike (who was Ted’s real friend but unable to be there), wandering the yard, digging night crawlers, climbing trees or picking wooly bear caterpillars off the side of the house. It was my favorite job!
- When our baby sister, Darla, died, I was twelve and Ted was ten years old. The whole family grieved, but it was only Ted and I that took it upon ourselves to sing “I Want My Baby Back” on the trip to and from church on Sunday for weeks afterward. It wasn’t really a song about an infant. Like “Teen Angel” and “Running Bear and Little White Dove,” it was one of those mournful teen love songs that we all knew the words to, filled with angst and sadness. To Ted and I, though, it was the perfect intersection of Pop Music with Real Life. Though I seem to remember a few scowls from Brenda, I don’t recall my poor grieving parents ever speaking up to say “Enough, already,” even when Ted used his deepest voice to sing the last line in bass, “She’s gone to heaven so I got to be good…so I can see my baby when I leeeaaave…a-this world.”
- New Year’s Eve, when Ted was fourteen and I was sixteen, and we were left to babysit for our (sleeping) younger brother and sisters, we decided to get into the liquor that Dad kept ready to offer visitors. I don’t think we actually drank much, but we took a lot of pictures: Ted, in his plaid pajamas, carrying a bottle across the room; me, eyes half-open to look under-the-influence, with a glass in hand; each of us grinning drunkenly into the camera. Ted drank quite a bit when he was a young man, and doesn’t drink at all now. I drink only socially, and even then not much. For that one night, though, we imbibed together.
- And through our adult lives, when holidays, weddings and funerals brought us together, and I’d realize, through conversations surrounding loss or celebration or heartache, that the differences are small compared to the love that we share.
My brother, Ted, is having surgery today. There is every reason to believe he’ll do just fine, and be better then before when it’s done, and that for many more years, as brother and sister, our paths will continue to cross.