Friday, June 29, 2007
Snips & Snails & Puppy Dog Tails
Smackdab in the middle of four brothers is a crazy place to land, as far as birth order goes. I'm one of six children, if you'd call us that, since 'the baby' will be 50 soon. Barb came first, then two boys, then I appeared, and two more boys. All within eight years. By the time my mom was 24 we'd all arrived on the scene. It's a wonder she's sane; any eccentricies she may have are well-deserved, and to be enjoyed fully!

Because of my upbringing I know how to play marbles, can yo-yo a bit although I never learned to 'walk the dog', can ride a skateboard, build a fort out of Christmas trees, and play knives in the front yard, if you're of the mind to do so. I learned to tie a tie, dissect a frog, run from barking dogs when we'd gone into a neighbor's field, and belch with the best of them. Unfortunately I was also tortured unmercifully as I grew up in the middle of all that testosterone! You don't even want to think of flicking me with water, or tickling me, or planting anything with long hairy legs in my hair. I go from tender to terrifying in about 30 seconds flat. Growing up amongst those boys was quite the education, scary at times, very protective at others. It was never dull.

Last week in Denver I visited all four of my brothers. It was the longest visit we've had in years, and I treasured the chance to catch up with each of them a bit. Having the luxury of time on my side, I managed to spend time with each one separately rather than having the usual family gathering that tends to sound and look something like Clampetts come to town, if we make the mistake of gathering all together in one place.

Gary is brother #2. He's the biggest, at 6'4' and well over 200 lbs. I used to be scared of him, and should have been. He was capable of just about anything. Then I grew to love him dearly, and we bonded for life. Seeing all the challenges he faces was hard; I wanted to somehow fix them all. Instead I just let him know how much I love him. We did exotic things like go to Dairy Queen for a blizzard, eat dinner out with his teenage son, and sit and tell old stories of our growing up together. I still have a tiny wooden mother cat and bowl that he sent me over 35 years ago. I've lost the kitten that went with the set. He'd forgotten sending it to me, but I've carried that tiny little keepsake all over the country with me, and cherish it.

Dwain - full of energy, noise, bad jokes, and stories of the dogs he loves like nobody's business - any room he enters is quickly filled with his presence, clear to the corners - trust me. Dwain is brother #3, younger than me, but I've never really thought of him that way. Maybe because he's bigger than me. Or louder. We got to visit for two hours over our favorite mexican food, where I told him I could sit through a total of six bad jokes. At the end of the evening, he'd only used three, and made sure I knew he'd saved three for next time, sort of like Cingular with rollovers. That's fair. Dwain has never, in my 26 years of living away from family, missed calling me on my birthday. Pretty impressive. He stayed in town to have dinner with me, knowing he'd have a two hour drive to work, over the mountains the next morning, with little sleep.

Derrell - the baby, #4. I commented that his blonde hair was darker now, and he explained it was semi-permanent dirt from his hardhat, worn daily on the worksite where he's an electrician. He's the smallest of the boys, and I told him he's still cute as heck. We spent some time at his apartment where he showed me his rock collection, letting me choose a few to take home. Our last evening was spent over KFC and scrabble, and he almost beat me. He wouldn't have liked it if I cheated and let him win. There's something deep inside me that feels oh so tender, hearing his soft voice, and seeing how hard he's trying to make something of a life that has been hard at times.

Jerry - #1, the oldest of the boys. I visited him at a military cemetery, the day before his 56th birthday. I'd only been there once before, at his funeral when the headstone wasn't in place yet. Mom and I agreed to go early in the day, then move on to more cheerful things, but it was important to both of us to visit. I showed Mom how to find the spot again, using landmarks, rather than counting white crosses. Seeing my maiden name on that cross, and the name of a brother, where it shouldn't have been felt foreign deep inside me. The sun was beating down hot, 101 degrees, so we didn't stay long, and I wonder that God didn't allow that on purpose. We needed to visit, but maybe not tarry too long. Doing the really hard things in life a little bit at a time is okay.

When I began having children, the first was a girl. And the second. And we were thrilled with them both, confident they were much like the children Garrison Keiller refers to - good lookin' and above-average intelligence. Still, this girl who grew up in the middle of a mess of boys - God knew I NEEDED a boy, so he finally gave me one, the last time around. Everyone should be blessed to have a brother, or raise a boy. It's well worth the work, and quite the ride. I'm thankful for the reminders last week of just how great men are. No matter the size or shape of the package, how loud he may get, a bit of off-color language, the dirt under his nails from hard work, or how different his life is from mine.

I think God must have had fun creating Adam.


  posted at 12:01 AM

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    Girl Raised in the South

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