My brothers were 7 and 10 when I was born. They went away to school and spent much of each summer at Camp Keewaydin on Lake Dunmore, Vermont. When I was 11, my oldest brother was drafted and went to Vietnam. My other brother was in college. So in many ways, I was an only child.
An only child with heroes for brothers.
To give you a good idea of the age difference, one of my brothers recently explained it to me this way. “Let’s review. When I was learning to read, you weren’t born. When you were learning to read, I was at the prom. When you went to the prom, I was married with children.”
They weren’t around a lot when I was little. When I was 7, they were 14 and 17. In my eyes, they were men. I idolized them. And they had the patience of Job with me.
As teenagers, I’m sure they wanted to sleep until noon or later. As a 6 year old, I got up with the sun. I would go into their bedroom, if one of my brothers was home, and we would play Wagon Train. Wagon Train was an ingenious game that my brother devised where I would think we were playing but he could still sleep. Albeit fitfully.
I would wake him up and he would groggily tell me that he’ll drive the wagon if I go outside and rustle up some breakfast. So I would sit on the floor by the end of the bed and spend time “cooking” eggs and bacon over a fire. He slept. When fake-breakfast was done, I would hand it to him to eat and he would pretend to eat it. Then he would drive the wagon (code for sleeping while sitting up more) and I would sit at the end of the bed looking at all the scenery and being on the watch for buffalo.
Playing Wagon Train is one of my happiest memories.
In some early grade, like maybe 3rd or 4th, one of my brothers was home at Halloween. The details of this memory are hazy, but my reactions are still crystal clear. My friend and I were trick or treating and we were on our way back to my house. On the road in front of my house was a group of “big kids.” They were probably 11-years-old or so. Big enough for us to be scared of them but young enough for them to be scared of my big brother.
I was really frightened. I realized that they might take our candy, but there was also a real, but unknown fear of what they might do. Then I saw my brother, who must have been 15 or 16 walk up to them and firmly say “LEAVE.” They ran.
I felt like a princess when my brothers were home.
Things in our house were not always easy. My parents, especially my mother, were heavy drinkers. Frequently, she wouldn’t be in a condition to cook or drive. One night, when my oldest brother was home, my parents, brother and I went to a local restaurant for dinner. That was a common occurrence for my family, and never a pleasant one.
That night, as we were leaving, my mother said something to my father, and he turned around and hit her. Or pushed her. She crumpled to the floor. I was 9 years old at the time and my brother was 19.
No one had ever crossed my father before. He was a tall, strict, military man. Yet my brother did so and said he was taking me out of there. He took my father’s keys and said he would be back to pick them up. He drove me home and then went back for our parents.
Years later, another incident transpired, and it was the lowest point in my young adult life. My brothers were there to pick up the shattered pieces of my emotionally broken self.
When this incident happened, my mother was too drunk to cook, so my father and I went out to dinner. I was home from college on vacation for the summer and working. We went to eat and on the way home from the restaurant he was complaining the entire way about my mother. I listened in silence, and then just when we were driving in front of our house, I agreed with him.
He shouted at me not to speak that way about my mother, then reached across me and opened the passenger car door. He kicked me out of the moving car onto the road and sped off. I was not physically injured, as the car was going slowly. I ran into the house hysterically crying and immediately called one of my brothers. He told me to pack as many clothes as I could quickly and drive to his apartment about 30 minutes away. My other brother then called me and said they would both do anything to help me.
I don’t remember much of the details. Our minds are miraculous things that protect us from what we can’t handle. I know that I went to stay with my brother for a time and my other brother helped me as well. I had no memory at all of the events for a year or two afterwards. Then I innocently asked the two of them what had happened that time that I left home for a while and stayed with my brother.
And they told me. And it all came flooding back.
All of this happened when my brothers were men.