Monday, April 10, 2023
It’s National Sibling Day. I don’t know how I found this out, but it popped up somewhere and I thought, “I have siblings! I can write about them!” Five of them, to be exact. A word for the plucking, with plenty of supporting material.
Who was it who said that perfection isn’t achieved when there’s nothing left to add but when there’s nothing left to take away? Whoever it was never met me and didn’t have five siblings with 50 years of history to write about.
Talking about my siblings – brothers, to be more exact – could easily become a tome. So I’ve decided to limit my tribute to a few thoughts spanning childhood to adulthood, however they occur to me.
In order, from oldest to youngest.
My brother Kevin is four years younger than me. I wanted a sister. What I got instead was a brother who would be my best friend through my entire life, even though when he was five I almost let him drown. I mean, that water was COLD. And he was treading anyway, so I figured he was ok. I lose points for heroism and sometimes I still feel bad about it but he still likes me.
As kids we would fight constantly and go running to MAAAAAAA!!!!! to stop the other from whatever horrid thing was happening. At which point MAAAAAA usually sent us to our rooms to wait until our father got home. But that was boring, so we always went sheepishly to mom and said we wouldn’t fight anymore and we’d be really, really good, so she’d release us to start the cycle all over again.
Kevin and I have been to Paris together, have made a croquembouche together, have played hours of Trivial Pursuit together, and have drunk more cocktails and whiskey together than most people drink in a lifetime.
We have so many inside jokes that even we don’t know what they mean anymore. The running joke is that we’re twins born four years apart, co-centers of the universe that keep it from spinning wildly off it axis.
Kevin is smart and remembers a stupid amount of things. If you need to know the exact mash bill of a particular whiskey or what we did on some Thursday in 1986, he will probably be able to tell you.
He has lots of opinions and isn’t afraid to share them, which makes for some lively conversation.
If you need a party thrown, he’s the one you want to call. He can whip up food and drinks, clean and decorate, set a spectacular table, pick the right music, and have everyone ensconced in bliss from the moment they step through your door.
For my 25th wedding anniversary, Kevin got bent that nobody made a big deal out of it, so one day during his stay here when Ralph and I went out, Kevin cooked an entire feast, with two kinds of dessert, and a fresh bottle of mead. He decorated with giant, silver balloons, hung streamers, and threw the celebration he thought we deserved.
If you have a secret you need to tell but don’t want anyone else to find out, you can tell him. If you happen to feel like crying over your fourth grade hairstyle on any given night, you can lean on him. Just whatever you do, don’t put any mustard on his food.
Kevin is good for a laugh or good for a cry. He is good for a yell or good for a deep, philosophical conversation. And he is good for telling me what he thinks without any sugar coating whatsoever. Sometimes it’s a thing you need and sometimes you just huff off to bed but you always come back together in the end.
Brian is eight years younger than me. I wanted a sister. What I got instead was a little buddy who would follow me around the house adoringly with his big, bright eyes. He would laugh when I laughed, and cry when I cried, usually over some horrid boy who didn’t like me.
Him not being a sister did not deter me from dressing him up in my clothes and jewelry and holding photo shoots in the back yard with my Polaroid camera.
We were too far apart in age to have anything to fight about so mostly we played and rode our bikes together. He taught me how to freestyle.
In high school I had to write an essay about one of my heroes. I picked Brian.
Brian was always super smart and somehow whatever he did was fun and interesting. The same way he followed me around, I followed him right back. When he got a Gameboy and started playing Tetris, I started playing Tetris, and we’d stay up until godawful hours of the morning trying to outscore each other. When he started playing Myst on the family PC, I followed suit.
Brian is a hardcore DIYer. He fixes, patches, builds, improves. If you need a helping hand because you are not a DIYer and don’t know the end of a hammer from a ball point pen, he will show up, no questions asked.
When he visited me here in Tennessee, we made up a song called I Used My Arm As A Toilet Plunger in Franklin, Tennessee. Sadly, we were in downtown Nashville at the time, drinking at one of the bars, and nobody thought to write it down.
It was autobiographical.
Brian has opinions, too, but he tends to be more silent on the matter. I always think of him as pretty quiet, which is true. Unless you get him talking. Then it’s like the Kracken has been released and next thing you know you’re talking about the barrette you wore in fourth grade that everyone made fun of and the last time you slept in the lobby of someone else’s apartment building because you drank too much Goldschläger and couldn’t tell one building from another.
He is also stupid logical about things. If you need a party planned, he will open a spreadsheet and calculate the exact number of ounces of cranberry juice you need and the proper lime-to-mint ratio.
He has diagrammed out my parents’ entire attic so they know the precise location of every Christmas ornament.
If I have a technology problem or need a math problem solved, I ask Brian. If I’m having a particularly irksome day, I text him and pound out a diatribe of the injustices of bad customer service or irrational clients. He always knows exactly what I mean.
He is kind and thoughtful, never missing a birthday or anniversary, even though I have yet to remember one. On time, anyway. Somehow he still likes me.
Stephen is eleven years younger than me. I wanted a sister. I was convinced I was going to get a sister because someone told me to do a novena. You were supposed to say this prayer for nine days and if you got a rose on the ninth day then you’d get your wish.
Not sure if novenas are supposed to extend to gender assignment, but everyone was on board, so I gave it a shot.
On the ninth day a friend of mine gifted me a rose. She had no idea what I was doing, so she couldn’t have given it on purpose. I took it as a sign that I was going to get my sister. The whole family took it as a sign, witnessed by the fact that my aunt immediately started knitting pink blankets and my grandmother went out and bought pink teddy bears.
Imagine our perplexity when my parents announced another boy.
Stephen has always been the supernova of the family. He came in bright and hot, all pink cheeks and nakedness. And that’s how he stayed for most of his childhood. Some of my most vivid memories of Stephen are chasing him butt naked down the street after he had escaped the house and shot off at gleeful top speed.
He’s the only kid I can remember who got his head physically stuck between the posts of the stair railing, so that my parents stapled chicken wire to it to prevent further mishaps.
I may not have gotten a sister, but I got a ton of fun instead. Except for when my mother used to conscript Kevin and me into taking Stephen out to play.
It was hard enough to keep him in the house with a locked door, let alone in a back yard without one. So mostly we’d put him on the swing with us, a four-seater that was like a mini gondola. As long as we kept him swinging high and fast, we could keep him contained.
Stephen is cheerful and energetic, kind and thoughtful. He calls me on every birthday. Sends me presents each Christmas and somehow always finds something interesting that I didn’t know I needed.
He’s a whiz with a tool. If there is something wrong with your car, Stephen will disassemble it in about five minutes, find the half inch of wire that’s busted, and have that thing fixed and put back together like new. He’ll wash it even if you don’t ask.
I remember one evening when the boys were running around the house playing a game. I don’t recall the particulars but the lights were off. Being dark, he did not notice that the closet door was ajar and ran into it headfirst. The edge of the door sliced through his forehead. When we turned the lights on he was trying to hold a bloody eyebrow on his face when it most definitely wanted to fall off.
We were horrified. Stephen, however, was frantically looking for a screwdriver because he was too worried that the door had come off the hinges.
He builds stuff, paints stuff, plants stuff, fixes stuff. When our condo flooded, he came down to help demolish what was left before the remodel. He tore down every square inch of sheetrock and put it back up, meticulously patching and sanding until every corner was military precision.
You may have to live with a pile of sheetrock for a while, though, because naturally perfection takes time.
Eric is thirteen years younger than me. I wanted a sister. I thought the odds were good. I mean, how many people have that many boys in a row? Apparently… I know at least one who did.
Being thirteen, however, I didn’t much mind that he wasn’t a sister, because I was pretty comfortable with the whole arrangement of being the only girl. It had a certain clout.
I had my own room, for one thing, which none of the boys did. And although I never minded sharing a necklace with one of them if the photo op was good, I probably wouldn’t have wanted a sister parading around in my stuff.
I may not have gotten a sister, but I got a puddle of love and cuddles instead. Eric was all squishy hugs and sweet smiles. Where I can remember my other brothers running rampant and alternately being told to go to their rooms or “just wait until your father gets home”, I remember Eric being easygoing and mellow.
Once, when he thought he had done something wrong, I remember he sent himself to his room as punishment. When nobody could find him, we started to panic. Turns out he had slid under his bed and fallen asleep. Pretty sure whatever he thinks he did wasn’t all that bad.
Eric is a no-nonsense kind of guy. Like most people in my family, he has opinions, and isn’t afraid to share them. But he does it with his own special brand of wry humor. Some people might call it sarcasm. As someone who is aligned with his brand of wit, I just think he’s funny.
He’s got a brain like an engineering diagram. He will somehow figure out how things work even if he has no idea how the thing works.
He can analyze, disassemble and fix just about anything. Cars. Kitchen sinks. Sidewalks. When Ralph and I were selling our condo, we needed to do some repairs. Where “repairs” means “remodeling the entire master bathroom because we never finished it the first time.”
Eric showed up with a car full of tools and within a week had the entire bathroom torn down and put back together. Sheetrock. Tile. Shower. Plumbing. It was spackled, sanded, painted, and scrubbed into pristine condition. By the time he was done I wanted to take the house off the market.
He spent the next week walking around with a can of spackle and a paintbrush, touching up every nick and ding, smoothing out every nook and cranny, and adjusting the swing of doors.
He only does things one way: the right way.
He’s thorough and dedicated, hardworking and determined. If you need a helping hand, whether that’s advice on how to retrieve your retainer when it’s fallen between the edge of the sink and the wall, or which penny stock to buy, he’s your guy. As long as you don’t mind a little snark with your pasta, you’ll always have a laugh over dinner.
David is sixteen years younger than me. I honestly didn’t care one way or another whether I got a sister. By that point I was too busy trying to process the fact that I was about to have a fifth sibling.
The family took bets on whether he would be a boy or a girl. We took bets on which day of the week he’d be born on. We took bets on which date he’d be born on.
There’s this weird thing in my family where we have all been born on either a Wednesday or a Friday. And four out of the six of us were born within a one-month period between August and September. It wasn’t so much luck as math, but I guessed the right day and date.
I didn’t get a sister, but I got my very own bouncing baby boy. From the start, David was mine.
I took him everywhere with me, pushing him around in his carriage and just waiting for people to tell me what a cute baby I had.
I was old enough to be left home as his babysitter when my parents went out. Each week when they took the other boys to CCD, David and I hung out. To be fair, David hung out and I took endless pictures on him looking cute.
Once, after I had posed him carefully on my bed amid the stuffed animals, he rolled right off onto the floor. I don’t know which of us cried more.
For whatever reason, he loved my room. Probably because he was a little terror and I tried to keep him out when I wasn’t there. He learned to turn doorknobs really fast.
He was especially adept at flushing random objects down the toilet, even if they didn’t quite make it all the way. I seem to recall an incident at Christmas when a Santa air freshener met its demise by toilet flushing. My father had to remove the whole toilet to get the thing unstuck. My mother says he was a very curious kid.
I had a giant stuffed lion that he used to call his horsie. He had many a ride on that horsie. I didn’t even mind the stuffing falling out. He just looked so happy and so cute playing with it.
When I went away to college, he would climb into my suitcase and try to hitch a ride. I missed him more than anything. Whenever I came home for the weekend, I always made a trip down to the campus store and bought him lollipops. That was our thing.
David is one of the smartest people I know, in a completely different way than anyone I know. He isn’t the memory expert that Kevin is, or the logic machine that Brian is. He doesn’t break things and rebuild them like Stephen, or transform them like Eric.
But he is witty and clever and insightful. He can out-wordsmith me every time. And unlike most other people in my family, he isn’t prone to sharing his opinions.
He has them. And they are usually thoroughly thought out and described in literary detail. You just need to ask for them, because they won’t be spewed over pasta dinner or shot off in an email or lamented into a martini.
He is sixteen years younger than me, but sometimes I think he is at least 16 years wiser.
He is also the gardener in the family. When my mother wanted one some years ago, a few of the boys got together and built an enclosure. They planted seeds, everything from tomatoes and watermelon to green beans and peppers.
Mostly David tended it. He knows a stupid lot about growing things, including which tomato varieties grow best and what to plant if you want a sweet pepper or a mild one. He’ll solve fungus issues and deter wildlife and know exactly when to pick the beans and predict which melons won’t grow at all.
He’s tested something like 15 kinds of tomatoes but still says he is on a search for the perfect one. We share an abiding appreciation for all things delicious. Our chats often wax poetic about fresh wild raspberries and French toast made from brioche.
In spite of years of wanting one, I never missed having a sister. I’m grateful for every memory and every day and every conversation I share with the boys in my life. So here’s to siblings today, especially the ones with opinions.
Top Photo: Christmas, circa early 90s. The queen with all her brothers. Pre-cell-phone, when you had to use a camera, get film developed, and pull photos out of a shoebox if you wanted to see them.
Bottom Photo: Some handsome looking boys at my wedding.