Do you ever think about your childhood and what your life was like then? I am decades away from living in the pink house, across the street from an elementary school, where I spent seven of my childhood years (from age 3 to 10).
I think about that time, with a chicken coop out back full of hens and a rooster or two; the garden that provided us with almost all of our vegetables and enough cucumbers, green beans, cauliflower, and carrots for many dinners and pickling. There were the apple trees, plum tree, and apricot trees, and a patch of strawberries and rhubarb. I’ll never forget picking tomatoes out of the garden and biting into them as the juice made a path across my dirt covered face.
It isn’t the fresh food I remember most, though or the smell of lilacs that wafted through the yard in spring. What I remember most is life with my three older brothers. I remember the times I was allowed to play with them or tag along with them, and the times I was told, no and was left behind.
Today, my oldest brother, Joel, turns sixty and it is his birthday that has me wandering back to the house where we all lived together under one roof. A house where the walls and floors and paint and furniture held our laughter, our secrets, our dreams, and our tears. At times blood tied us together, and at times life, anger and choices tore us apart.
My brother Joel had a pet mouse, a pet rat, pet snakes, played baseball as a catcher, and kept more than a dozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the freezer and instructed his younger siblings not to touch that chocolate.
I looked up to my oldest brother, and I listened to him. Listening to Joel was a problem, though because he liked to tell stories. Stories weren’t for lying, although he occasionally received a spanking for that, his stories were made up to entertain himself and anyone else who would listen. I was always a willing audience.
Joel once sent me to school with a bottle of mouthwash (I didn’t know what it was) and told me to drink it for superpowers like running faster or jump roping longer. He told me it was “White Lightning,” a magic potion. You can imagine how well my bottle of white lightning went over with my teachers in elementary school.
At school for show-and-tell, we were instructed to bring things from home that started with the letter, B. Joel went through our whole house and collected everything from baseballs, books, batteries, brushes, etc. and sent me to school with bags full of things that started with a B. I brought at least ten times the number of items of any other kid.
Another time for show-and-tell, Joel sent me to school with a record by Shel Silverstein. He wanted me to share the song, “Sarah, Cynthia, Silvia Stout.” It is a song about a girl who will not take the garbage out. The song is very funny, and my class loved it and wanted to hear the other songs on the record. Well, some of the other songs, contain adult language and themes and once again, I upset the elementary school teachers.
Having older siblings almost ensures that you will know things teachers don’t think are age appropriate. That means getting in trouble for being “ahead of the class” in things like anatomy and sex.
When our time in the pink house came to an end, and my parents went different ways, my brother Joel stepped in and took care of all of us in ways he was too young to do. At night before bed, he would drive my brother, Andrew, and I out to the neighboring town so we could see our mom at her waitressing job and she could kiss us before he took us home and put us to bed.
There are a thousand other memories; feelings, images, familiar smells, favorite foods, least favorite foods that bring back the time we shared under one roof. Good times and bad times. Happy times and hard times. But in the end, there is nothing quite like having an older brother.