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Sibling Rivalry—Not

 

My little brother isn’t so little. He stands 6’4”, though lean with long fingers extended from bony hands; pianist’s fingers. I tended to envy him his hands, and his leanness.

Nearly three years younger, he had the same training as I, the same family, and the same mental abilities. He was the one who followed in Dad’s footsteps. He was the one who accidentally tried to kill me.

Oh, yes, he did. I sat on the floor in front of the TV. The Lone Ranger was flickering across the screen, struggling to subdue the bad guy, when my sweet little brother brought his pearl-handled pistola butt down onto the crown of my head with all the force his scrawny three-year-old body could muster. Back then these toy guns were made of metal, not plastic. They were heavy. Excitement at what was happening on-screen had temporarily relieved him of any sense of reality. I was knocked out completely.

I know what you’re thinking. He was just a baby. I’m sure I heard that argument when I came to and tried to throttle him. I know that I heard that argument throughout the years afterwards when the subject and memory came up.

Of course, he did make up for it several years later when he kept me from becoming sow chow. The sow took objection to my being in the stall with her piglets and rushed me when my back was turned. I almost didn’t make the age of nine. Brother dear, who wasn’t supposed to be at the barn, shouted a warning and got me out the gate before sow connected with my backside.

Yep, I did him a favor later. I encouraged his strength training by having him pull me in his little red wagon, between the rows in the corn field, while we were picking up dropped ears after the picker when through. All that loose corn would help fatten up those piglets. My mother wasn’t pleased with my interpretation of a self-improvement course for him. I got punished, I think, for working him too hard. I never knew if my dad knew about that little episode.

As a sidebar, I got to be the one who went to the top of the tulip poplar tree one summer afternoon to bring his happy self down to earth. Mom was not pleased with his antics. For once, I wasn’t the bad guy in the scenario. Dad did find out about that one.

When I learned to swim the summer of my 13th year, I proved that I could retain lessons and excel at trajectory in the water. Mom had us down at one of the local creeks, along with her sister and at least one of my cousins. Brother ran a ways ahead against Mom’s admonition to stay close.

Before anyone could prevent it, he ran into real trouble. Creeks carve out deep holes in bends of the watercourse. He’d run himself off into one of those holes and promptly commenced to drowning.

Mom shouted for me to go save him. ME!? I was a dozen yards behind her and the rest and he was that far or more ahead of her.

Until that day, I didn’t know that I could sprint while running in ankle to knee-deep water. I kept my eyes on the spot I’d last seen his hand come up and dived when I got there. I found him with no difficulty. Getting him to the surface was the tricky part.

He kept trying to drown me until I finally got myself positioned where I could get my feet into the small of his back and kick him toward the shallows. It might seem unconventional, but it worked.

Brother got solid purchase with his feet and his panic subsided. I took a few more minutes to make it to his new position. By that time Mom and the rest had arrived to check him out. He was fine, of course, though a bit waterlogged and sputtering. For the first time in memory, I actually saw relief wash across someone’s face. Mom wouldn’t bury a child that week.

But that’s how our relationship was. He saved me. I saved him. We got along.

I would take him to the movies with me. He’d loan me his prime condition ’57 Chevy so that I could go cruising in town. We loved each other and weren’t afraid to say so. That love took some interesting paths to expression sometimes, but it remained true.

We’re enough alike, yet enough different, to make good sibs. I can’t see that changing.

We don’t get to see each other very often. Usually when I have the spare time and money to travel back to the Midwest, we spend a bit of time together. It’s never long enough; but we, like most families, make do with what we can have, when we can have it.

Though our interests and lives have separated us, he was one of the first to validate me as a writer. When I visited last winter, he gave me a brand new notebook computer “because every writer deserves to have one while on the road.” He may never fully appreciate what that gesture meant to me.

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  1. May 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm

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