My later father used to say that my brother and sisters and I were as “thick as thieves” and that if you cut one of us, all of us bleed. That is probably pretty damn true. We can talk smack about one another but it’s not as tolerable if someone else does. In many ways, there is no one that knows me better – or knows me less.
Of my sisters, S was the motherly one, D the outgoing and popular one and me – well, I was the funny one. S was definitely a bit of an earth mother – sewing her own clothes, embracing the earthy-crunchy long before it was trendy and providing nurturing hugs and advice during angst-filled teenage years. D was the cheerleader with a touch of glamour and a steady stream of boyfriends. I was the baby – quick with a joke or snarky one-liner but neither earth-motherly nor glamorous. While we have all changed a bit (and D is happily married with no steady stream of boyfriends) those descriptions are still reasonably accurate.
Growing up, my sisters and I would all squeeze into S’s twin bed. I was at the foot while S had the outside and D got the wall. Those were our places and there was no negotiating for change. We assumed those positions during storms, scary nights or just to be together. We created a gym with the bolsters on the bed, understand the implications of either waking or coming home to the sound of a vacuum on a Saturday morning, fondly remember Roberta Fera and count White Christmas as one of our favorite flicks. No one understood the fights I had with my parents, about my parents or because of my parents quite like my sisters. Only my sisters truly under, “Oh. Period.”
Where was my brother during all of this? Well, R. was there. As the oldest and only boy, he was and is both protector and antagonist. I remember sneaking into his room and into these cool side closets to get at the chemistry set and being scared shitless by the monkey he had hanging in there. I remember black light posters and strange smoky smells coming from his room. He had cool friends and the girls all had hair like Marcia Brady. My sisters have more memories of him beating the crap out of them when we were young but since I am younger by 10 years – he was hard pressed to find a reason to truly pick on me. I have used that my advantage ever since.
There is nothing quite like sharing the memories of Nannie and Poppie, Evelyn, Rippling Brook, Gretchen, Puck, favorite or infamous mom or dad moments, and Kennedy High School. One of us was at Kennedy for 12 straight years. I’m reasonably sure that Mr. Bellman was glad to see us go. Together, my brother and sisters and I weathered my parents often turbulent marriage and subsequent divorce. We have buried our grandparents, mother, father and stepfather. We each carried our own burden of those events but knew we were not alone.
Despite all this, let’s be real. It’s not all wine and roses. As much as I love my siblings, no one can piss me off quite so much. We love big and we fight big. One can treat the other like crap not because that is how they truly feel but because they can feel safe knowing that that person will love them regardless. Sounds a bit like a toddler and in many ways, we probably are. But, at the end of the day – no one and I mean no one – has my back (as I have theirs) quite like my brother and sisters.
Just last weekend, I spent four days with my brother and his family. This was no regular family gathering. We choose to hang out together – with friends, as friends. We relaxed; he watched my daughter ride a horse and taught her to ride her new bike, we swam, we ate a lot. We visited with friends. We drank too much. We laughed long and loud. I told people I had friends in for the weekend. Friends who happen to also be family.
Today, I consider myself blessed to consider my siblings my friends. Sometimes, we are closer than others. Age and understanding have given us the wisdom to provide space when it is needed with the knowledge that the shoulder is still there.
In so many ways, R, S and D are also my Big Susan.