Sunday, December 24, 2006

Little Brother

Christmas Eve makes me think of my brother.

We didn’t get along very well when we were growing up - - mostly because I was selfish and greedy for my parent’s attention and pushed the sibling rivalry thing much too far.

I was the first born child and I learned early and well how to gain their approval and attention.

My parents met acting in a neighborhood theater and shared a love for the performing arts.

Both avid readers, they also shared a love of books.

I liked what they liked.

I performed well academically and on stage.

My brother was different.

He was never particularly interested in school and was always a bit shy.

As I reflect on who he was then, and who he has become, I recognize that he was always a builder, an artist and a dreamer.

He was motivated by creating things and excelled in woodshop.

He loved to tear things apart to see how they worked (including my beloved panda-shaped transistor radio which he smashed to bits with a hammer just to see the inside.)

He would rock himself back and forth to music for hours and hours, thinking his own thoughts.

Until he was big enough to fight back, I sat on him, pinned his arms to his sides and ridiculed him.

I remember saying awful things to him.

Finally one day he chased me around the house with a baseball bat. I escaped into my room and slammed the door in his face and my brother smacked a hole through it with the bat.

I didn’t mess with him in a physical way after that.

In high school, I was an over-achieving academic and drama club geek. He briefly played football and then vanished into the shadows at the back of the school with the “burn-outs” and let his inky black locks grow down his back.

I’m sure he didn’t feel like he fit in at high school any more than I did.

Today, my brother owns a business framing houses in an affluent community between New York and Philadelphia.

He lives in a house he built himself with his two sons and his wife who is pregnant with their baby girl due in five days.

His black hair is now flecked with silver and his hands are giant, calloused paws.

He still doesn’t like to read much.

He’d rather watch an Eagles game.

You might meet him having a few beers after work, shooting darts with his buddies and smoking a Marlboro Red.

His limbs would likely be sore from the physical demands of his job and, if you talked with him long enough, he might tell you how he doesn’t want his own children to follow him in his line of work because he feels like it takes too great a toll on his body.

If you met my brother, he would seem tough and rugged at first.

You would have to really get to know him to understand that though he has a tough veneer, he is actually quite sentimental and the most loyal friend you could ever find.

After I went away to a midwestern college, my parents moved from Illinois to Pennsylvania.

I didn’t know anyone there and when I came home for the holidays my brother was my only companion.

Luckily, college had taught me to appreciate… certain recreational activities that he enjoyed… and Led Zeppelin too.

It was during these times, my visits home from college, that my brother and I got to know each other and learned how to be friends. I began to appreciate my brother and to regret the years I wasted antagonizing him.

I remember one of the last Christmas holidays I spent at my parent's house and specifically how I spent that Christmas Eve with my brother.

My brother had been working on his first construction job and the contractor had given him a bottle of vodka as a Christmas bonus.

As pathetic a “bonus” as it was, we weren’t about to let it go to waste and we snuck off to his room.

I guess my brother must have wanted to drink the vodka cold because he tied a string around the bottle neck, opened the bedroom window and hung the vodka outside in the winter cold.

Meanwhile, we drank beer that had already chilled on his other windowsill.

Oh, the drunken brother and sister...

At some point we decided it would be a good idea to dress up in costumes.

As I recall, my brother put on an afro wig in rainbow colors and the rest of a clown get up. I think I ended up dressed as some kind of hippie throwback, dead-show stalking, fabulous fury freak brother.

We danced around his room in our wild outfits and at exactly the moment when we really should’ve STOPPED drinking, remembered the vodka hanging out the window.

My brother threw the window open, but fumbled catching the string and his bottled Christmas bonus fell from his second story bedroom window and exploded into a million shards of glass on the icy steps leading to the front door of my parent’s house. Not a drop of it had been tasted.

Disbelief, then laughter, then intelligent thoughts like, "Heh, heh. More beer!"

As our speech and motion slowed, we started looking at old family photo albums.

Tears came to my brother’s eyes.

I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing will ever be the same again. These times are gone and they will never come back to us.”

I remember being surprised by his thoughts, but he was right.

That was probably one of the last times my family spent Christmas together.

I became serious with a boyfriend; my parents divorced… things changed. Nothing ever
was the same again.

My brother somehow recognized or knew that we were at a crossroads, a point in our lives where our paths would diverge.

Though our separate paths would lead
each of us to our futures – our spouses, our own children, and our "grown up" lives, he and I would never live under the same roof again.

“Immediate family” would come to be defined differently. It would refer to other people.

We both ended up passed out in his room that night.

In the morning, my young cousins waited anxiously for the family to rise, for Christmas to start, for Santa’s bounty to be revealed.

For some reason, my Mother opened the front door and discovered the broken vodka bottle.

She assumed the worst.

She marched upstairs and threw open my brother’s bedroom door only to find her children, one dressed as a clown with a rainbow afro and one dressed vaguely as an acid trip, passed out willy nilly on the bed.

Her face twisted in anger and in the shrillest of tones she yelled, “YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS!!!!!”

As the child most likely to routinely call home from many states away to ask for money, I roused myself and got my “cheer” on.

I think my brother stayed in bed for awhile longer.

I don’t think my mother has ever forgiven us for that night, but that is counter balanced by the importance of the evening for my brother and I.

It represents the moment in time when we were the closest we had ever been to one another and it was right at the very end, right at the last minute of our childhoods.

To this day, my brother can screw up his face and yell, “YOU’VE RUINED CHRISTMAS!!!!!” and get a laugh out of me every time.

Tonight he is far away from here.

He is most likely putting complicated toys together for his boys and hoping his wife doesn’t go into labor early.

I am missing him.


Little Brother




Childhood Memory entry in Scribbit's March Write Away

63 comments:

Marcie said...

You brother sounds awesome.

“Nothing will ever be the same again. These times are gone and they will never come back to us.”

That's the one thing that makes me sad about Christmas. It's so true.

Oh well, Merry Christmas!

Plain Jane said...

What a beautiful story. I hope you get to talk to him on the phone today and laugh about that Christmas together.

Rachel said...

Great post. Merry Christmas to you, and to your brother.

Sayre said...

"Christmas is ruined!" is a catch-phrase in my family too. It was uttered by my grandmother early and often whenever anything went even slightly off track. We crack each other up with it and use it year-round. My father actually did a radio show on this a couple of weeks ago!

I have five brothers. They are the most wonderful, funny people I've ever known. I'm the big sister, and I too took great delight in pinning them to the ground and torturing them - until they got bigger than me, at which point I became a "lady" above such nonsense, thus thwarting whatever retaliation they were rightfully plotting.

I'm lucky. We ALL got together yesterday and had the best time together. It's rare. The last time we were all together was 10 years ago (not counting my grandmother's funeral 7 years ago). We had a terrific time!

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas. And your brother. And Grandma Seattle. I've never met you all, but I feel like you're a part of my family.

squire said...

Great tribute to your brother. I have lost my three brothers in the last few years and my life will never be the same.

jen said...

i would really, really, really like your brother.

Thank you for sharing this, sister.

Paige said...

This was a beautiful post about your brother. The thing about modern families is that we're all too often separated at times like this. But the gift is the love you bring to the table in posts like this one. It's things like this that bridge that painful distance.

I'll probably be posting something like it next year, when my sister is in Connecticut...

bubandpie said...

It's kind of scary, isn't it, how from a parental perspective it's so easy to miss what's really going on? That "YOU'VE RUINED CHRISTMAS!" line is priceless.

The Medium Swede said...

Nice!

Lisa said...

This brought tears to my eyes because my brother lives far away in California, and we are not in touch as much as I'd like. I do yearn for the times when we were. And that time you had with your brother that ruined christmas was amazing. It is so nice you can both look back to that and feel close again.

Lisa

alimum said...

This made me cry. I, too, am the jealous older sister who resented her younger brother. Except, while I was the drama geek and he was the jock, I was the awkward one and he was the one with all the social skills. Our extended family and strangers loved him like they could never love me, and the approval of my parents provided little comfort.

BethGo said...

I am crying right now as I type. I cried over your last post too. Thank you for sharing.
I really enjoy reading your blog.

patience said...

What a great Christmas present you gave your brother! He's gonna love it!!

Merry Christmas and a 2007 full of joy, good health, prosperity, & love!

Tabba said...

I love this post. Sorry you're missing him - but happy that your roads have led to such good places as siblings. Much love to you & a Happy & Merry :)

PunditMom said...

A great story! Merry Christmas!

carmachu said...

What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it!

hk said...

I'm thinking that the best part of this post is making others think of the ones dear to them.

That in itself is a wonderful present to others.

Merry Christmas!

The Sour Kraut said...

This post really touched me. I too feel time passing by and feel sad when I realize some things won't always be the same as they are now.

Merry Christmas to you and your family.

kim said...

I so know what you are talking about .... I was the older and tortured my only brother mercilessly when we were growing up.... This year times are tough for him and his kids and Im doing my best to make up for being the total butt i was .... just a little bit anyways :)
Merry Christmas and big hugs for you and all your family !

Mignon said...

That's a beautiful story and tribute, and your nephew is gorgeous.

Now, although I'm excited for the maelstrom tomorrow, I'm missing my brothers too...

Karen Forest said...

Wow! How beautiful.

You make me laugh and you make me cry. You have such a gift in your writing. If only I could express myself half as well as you......

Natsthename said...

I know, eh? Things are never the same again once the kids grow up and leave home, but it's wonderful to reminisce and relive the old days!

I hope you call him today! :-)

Merry Christmas!

Blog Antagonist said...

Awww. What a sweet story to read on Christmas. I don't have brothers, but I know what it's like to be missing people you love.

Merry Christmas to you and your brother.

Mamma said...

Is there anything better than a sibling who can make you laugh from the depths of your memories?!

What a wonderful tribute.

BlondeMom said...

I really love this sweet post and the Christmas Eve drunkenness story with the broken vodka bottle on the front steps. :)

Your relationship with your brother sounds wonderful. Merry Christmas to you and your brother...congrats to him and his expanding family!

Fran said...

J-
This story reminds me of one of the best, and sadly, last times that I had with my own younger brother. I think of him at times like this, how old he'd be...would he be married? What would have been his path? No matter how different you are, there can always be something there. Your brother is a handsome man, with a gorgeous boy. Happy holidays, my friend!

Heather said...

Just when I think I can't like you more.....you come up with this! How touching! I LOVE this post! You captured the spirit of Christmas....even if it was after mass quantities of alcohol!

Merry Christmas!!!!!

PS: I will save the "You ruined Christmas" for a few years down the road with my own heathens!

Grim Reality Girl said...

I love this post too! "You ruined Christmas!" -- I love it! Such a great story! I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Mrs. T said...

I hope your brother has a chance to read this. What a great post.
Sadly, due to strange life circumstances, and not because my parents only wanted one child, I have no siblings. I always wished that I did. There is no other relationship like it.
I have noticed a shift in the family at Christmas with my husband's family. It's like we are all clinging to rememberances of Christmases past, and it's just never going to be the same.
Wonderful, wonderful writing.
(hey- I've got the midwest/Pennsylvania connection thing, too. My dad's family is from the Allentown/Bethlehem area)

Matt Bell said...

I like your brother - Jim's cool!
Happy Christmas, and "I.C.B.Y.H!!"
M Duck

Pink Lemonade Diva said...

first time reader - i can definitely relate. I love my adult relationships with each of my FOUR siblings.

wordgirl said...

It's great when our closest allies come from surprising places. Your love for your brother is obvious and heart-warming.

Jenny said...

This was so beautifully written. Growing up I hated my sister. It wasn't until college that I actually started to let my guard down and really get to know her...now she's probably my best friend. It's so odd how those relationships shift and change in such beautiful and terrible ways throughout our lives.

moobs said...

So your time together was wasted until you both got wasted?

That is a perfect post if ever I saw one.

mama_tulip said...

I love this post.

Starrlight said...

Lovely post =)

Karly said...

That makes me miss my bubba. I should go call him now...but if I did he'd probably just roll his eyes and think I'm crazy.

carrie said...

Here's to awesome, intelligent and wise little (big) brothers everywhere! I'm glad that you and yours found common ground amungst your differences. It sounds eerily familiar to my own memories of my little bro - except he chased me around the house with scissors when I'd finally pushed enough of his buttons with my teasing. I was just so happy that he was finally getting in trouble (never mind the head wound). Now we are great friends!!

Hope your Christmas was merry and hope your new niece makes it here okay! :)

Carrie

Mommy off the Record said...

What a great tribute to your brother. I hope he gets to read this. I think he would get teary-eyed again!

Lisa said...

Awww. Little brothers are the best. Well, they are once they stop messing with your stuff and trying to take your radios apart. heehee.

Your brother is a handsome man and sounds like he turned into a wonderful one as well. And I'm so happy to hear the overwhelming amount of pride in your "voice" for this post.

Manic Mom said...

Oh my gosh, this is a gorgeous, gorgeous post. Really. If he doesn't know you've got a blog, you should send him the link.

Sean Carter said...

that was really a cute story!the pic is also cute. wanna check out my blogfor real cozy blog on love and romance?

Stepping Over the Junk said...

I love your story, thank you for sharing! Makes me think of my sister on the far coast from mine!

QT said...

Great story - sibling relationships can be so complicated some times, it is nice you were able to get down to the nitty gritty. Love the vodka bottle chapter!

Your nephew is a cutie-pie, too!

Nikki said...

That was fabulous.

...and what recreational activities are you speaking of?????? I have no idea what you're talking about...ahem *avoids eye contact*

ewe are here said...

Great, just great.

Hope you and yours had a lovely Christmas. And I hope you had a nice long conversation with your brother over the holidays.

Cece said...

Great story! Not only did it bring laughter but tears, as well. It made me want to go write something sweet about my sister.

Happy New Year

Cece said...

P.S. I seriously thought you were going to say you guys drank til you puked! LOL

Long Island Dad said...

GREAT, GREAT POST! Keep 'em coming!

EmmaK said...

Even though you are very different, you seem to have a wonderful relationship. Makes me wish I had a sibling.

Sudiegirl said...

What an incredible post - really good.

BTW, you left a comment at The Scream Room (or whatever the blog is)...here's the link - www.italk2much.com

They're evil incarnate.

Nancy said...

Awesome post. My brother and I have a great relationship, and reading this brought tears of recognition to my eyes.

I hope you and your brother both had a wonderful Christmas and that he will soon (or has already) welcomed the new baby into the family.

Stephanie T. said...

What a beautiful tribute to your brother. It brought a tear to my eye.

Lotta said...

Lovely post! And thank God for siblings. I gave my son a sister purely so he would have someone else to confirm how crazy mom was when they are older and in therapy.

mothergoosemouse said...

What a wonderful post. I love it - from the first word to the last - and I can identify with much of it. Thank you for making me think of my own brother.

Penny said...

That was the best Christmas story ever. For so many reasons.

Thank you for sharing!

CyberCelt said...

What a wonderful post. If your brother has not read it, you should send it to him.

Here from BV Carnival.

Janey Loree said...

I am visiting from the Blog Village Goes Gonzo Carnival!!! I have a little brother, too! We are closer now than when we were little.

Marsha said...

Hi! I am here from the blog village carnival. I enjoyed your tribute to your brother very much. I have two brothers myself. One older and one younger.

Marion said...

Your brother makes me wish I had one...I only have three sisters...not a male anywhere in my family!

What a great tribute!

Dirty Butter said...

I am an only child, so there's no way I can personally identify with your situation. But I did watch our daughters go through a long period of being distant, and yet they are very close now.

You write so beautifully!!

Thanks for sharing this entry in our BLOG VILLAGE Family Blog Carnival.

LJP said...

The "You've Ruined Christmas" bit cracked me up! Takes the agony of expectation out of the day. I wish I'd thought of that...

Here from the BVC

dawn224 said...

I have one of these. And I'm going to go write about him now.