Happy Birthday to my big brother, who downplays his birthdays and said he wasn’t going to celebrate, but my sister-in-law might cook something special. He was, he said, amazed, surprised and very grateful to find himself 85 years old. His voice cracked this morning but he said that was because he hadn’t talked much yet and he was, as a matter of fact, feeling exceptionally healthy. It should happen to all of us at that age. And good gravy—if he’s that old, I can’t be too far behind. (Six-and-a-half years)
John was the big brother I adored as a child, the one who fought my battles for me. Once a neighbor boy teased me—John pantsed him (took his pants off and left him to go home without them—if I remember the story correctly). He was always my hero growing up. In elementary school, he was sent to private school, leaving me adrift in public school. In high school, he was sent to military school. I remember from those years that the few times he came home were thrilling experiences for me. And I connect dogs with his visits—one was my English cocker who apparently hated uniforms and lunged at him; another, earlier dog was one John got I know not where. I’ll ask, and he’ll say, “Gee, sis, I don’t remember.”
One incident became a family classic. He was trying to teach me to dance, but he yowled and complained loudly to Mom that I stepped on his foot. “He put his foot where I was going to step,” I said indignantly.
When I was in college in Iowa, he was in the Navy in California, I think, and would drive through my college town on his way home to Chicago. He took me to the local café, and I was so excited I had the shakes. He kept asking if I was cold—how do you explain that excitement to your brother when you’re trying to feel cool? Later on that trip, he needed to renew his drivers’ license so I went with him to the license office where they asked if a license drive brought him, and he said, “No, my sister brought me.” For some detail, he was denied the license and complained bitterly that the government trusted him to fly a plane but not to drive a car.
Even in those years, he looked out for me. I transferred from Iowa to the university at home and after I graduated I showed no signs of leaving the nest. John, by then married and with two stepchildren, announced that I was had to move on, so I followed his family to Kirksville, Missouri and enrolled in Kirksville State Teachers College (now Truman University) to work on a M.Ed. in English. That move determined much of the course of my life to come. John and my future husband were students at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.
As adults, both divorced, John and I led different lives, our styles and concerns divergent, though we always remained close for holidays. In my recent years, he happily married and me happily single, we have been closer than ever, a bond strengthened by the closeness of our six children and, between us, thirteen grandchildren.
We have traveled a long and twisting road together, and we are both now nostalgic about our past, our families. We compare memories, and we share a love of many things learned as children. It’s a rich heritage, and I am so glad to share him to share it with. I do not like to hear his talk about aging and being fragile—I want my Bubba to be here as long as I am.
Happy Birthday, John, and thanks for being all that you are for me, including titular head of the family.