sibling revelry

Today I called my brother with some upsetting news. Once again, factors beyond my control were thwarting my plans to move forward.

He was the only one who would fully understand how challenging it would be for me, because he’d been with me from the start of the events that led to the distress of today.

My brother was there for me before I even knew I needed him.

belinda-thom-1962

Growing up, we weren’t close. It was my brother and sister who were allies, often, it felt, against me. Certainly I was on the outside.

Yet we share a history, sometimes a laughable yet now bonding one. Once, he asked if I remembered the cookie-eating bear from the Andy Williams Show, a popular variety program in our childhood.

I didn’t, and he was legitimately shocked, because I have a tremendous memory. He calls it memory for useless trivia, which is a little hurtful, because my memory includes much more than that.

Some months later there was a two-hour A&E biography about Andy Williams that I watched start to finish, just to see if this cookie-eating bear would be mentioned. He was, almost as an afterthought, in the last 30 seconds.

I sat through two hours of a biography I didn’t give a rip about just for my brother. I’d do an incomparable amount more if I could.

At the end of my phone call today, I gulped out a thank you for listening to me. He said, with a bit of surprise, “of course!” He’d said the same thing several years ago when I thanked him for flying out, at great expense, to be by my side at a time I can’t conceive of surviving alone.

He took over when I was absolutely lost, and later let go when I’d regained my strength, focus and independence. I’d never known what it was like to have someone value me that much before.

He’s two years younger than me, an age difference that become irrelevant sometime around high school. We started to connect more then.

I remember a sweet, red-haired girl who had, to say the least, a huge crush on him. We had a class together, and she talked about him endlessly to me. I really wanted him to reciprocate her feelings, but I knew full well he did not.

I was, however, proud of the way he treated her. Although he was clear he wasn’t equally interested, he let her know he thought her interest was a high compliment. Of course that just intensified her feelings for a time, but it was the right way to handle it.

me & Thom 1994
circa 1994

Now he has a daughter, sixteen years old, who no doubt brings all the frustrations a girl that age can carry. I hold my breath, then relax, as I watch him value her in the same concrete ways he values me and valued that cute girl in our high school years.

He’s proven there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for me. In a lifetime we may or may not be lucky enough to fully show our love for those who mean the most to us.

I’ve been blessed to be on the receiving end of that love and sacrifice from my brother, a humbling and heartening experience for me. It has changed the core of me, my essential self.


A special thank you to those of you who have been following my blog long enough to remember this post!

the elusive perfect gift

I’ve completed my Christmas shopping. In fact, I was done before Thanksgiving.

giftsNow, before any of you say (sarcastically or otherwise), “Well, good for you!” or mutter under your breath, “I hate you” here’s the whole truth: I only had to buy Christmas gifts for one person.

That’s one of the few advantages of being truly broke, the burden of picking the perfect gift is lifted. Nobody expects gifts from you. In fact, they don’t want them. My family knows I struggle to pay my utility bills, especially this time of year, and they couldn’t really enjoy anything I spent money on. Their concern would go so far as the money spent to mail the gifts to them.

At the same time it makes me incredibly sad. These are the people who are doing everything they can to help me get back on my feet, financially, emotionally, whatever I may need. They’ve been there for me in what was truly my darkest hour, suffered silently imagining what I was going through, and believed in me no matter what the cost.

My relationship with my mom has been strong for years, but events of recent years have established and reinforced a healthier, closer bond with both my dad and my brother. While times have been terrible, results, at least some, have been overwhelmingly good.

I long for the day I’m able to pay them back, if only in the simplest of ways, a Christmas gift or two.

Of course I have no idea what I’d get them. My brother lives on one coast, my dad on the other, my mom in the Upper Midwest, me in the South. We couldn’t be more widely dispersed, that is, in this nation, and as such, we don’t really know what gifts would be most appreciated by the other. Not even what gift certificates would be preferred.

Not to say anyone fails in their gift-giving. We figure it out and do just fine. It’s just that those special gifts you know someone would value because you’ve spent time with them elude me.

So this year I’m looking for a way to say “thank you” and “I love you” that will cost me what I can afford and be valued by the recipients.

Knowing me, I’ll think of that perfect gift in January. Fortunately, my brother’s birthday is just a month later.

giving girl

 

devious secrets of my childhood

Emergency vehicle sirens terrified my brother, two years my junior, throughout his childhood.

He’d run crying and hide in a closet, refusing the comfort offered by my confused mother. For years both suffered his pain in their own way.

All the while the guilty culprits, those who prompted and perhaps cultivated this fear, went on with their lives and for a good long time kind of police carforgot what they’d done.

You guessed it – I was one of the guilty. My sister, the middle child, was the other. We were mean at the age of four and five, although our round faces and wide eyes belied that fact. And hey, Santa ALWAYS showed up. So just how bad were we?

Well, you be the judge: It’s a sunny day. The three of us are playing in our yard with a few friends. A siren is heard in the distance, perhaps a fire truck, perhaps a squad car.

the four of us and dad taking the picture
Mom and the three of us, with Dad taking the picture.

We amble over to our brother, age three. “Thommmmm,” we whisper. “They’re coming to get you. Those sirens? They’re going to take you away. We’ll never see you again.” Who knows how many times this happened, why we started or why we finally stopped.

As I write this, I’m mortified. That was really, really mean. After a short time, my brother forgot our threats, but clung to the fear,  and never could tell our mom why he was afraid. Eventually (in our early twenties) we confessed to him what we’d done. I think he forgave us. By that time, there was likely a heap of other things to make him angrier.

My mom, however, not knowing the truth, held on to the pain of not being able to help her son with his greatest fear. We had no idea how difficult that had been for her, and it was another twenty years after our initial confession before she found out the truth. I’m not sure what she thought about it, and I have no desire to bring it up, not being particularly proud of it.

Surprisingly, I grew up to be nice to a fault. So parents, never fear, you’re not necessarily raising sociopaths. I don’t know how you do it, the constant pressure to bring your kids up right, and the pain when you think you’ve failed in one way or the other. There are always those facts we don’t have, and maybe never will have, so don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, your kids will do that for you.

And who knows just how much of it in reality is their fault anyway.


In case you’re wondering about my relationship with my brother today, it all worked out. Here’s a post I wrote about it a few months ago: sibling revelry
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what’s in a name?

Growing up with a not-so-common name meant finding something personalized was going to be a noteworthy event.

That never happened. Of course someone could pay to print my name on a t-shirt or pen, but you didn’t find one in a store ready to go. I can’t explain why that mattered, but it did. A lot. For my friends with unusual names, such as Fonda, it mattered too. So I know I’m not alone in this.

Belinda Blackberry sm
I’ve heard the Tip-Top popsicle band has undergone some changes over the years, and Belinda Blackberry retired a few years ago.

My brother knew it was important to me, and when he had his chance to get me something pre-personalized, if you will, he went to unusual lengths to get it.

He was backpacking in New Zealand, and there in the grocery store window was a poster advertising “the latest fruity member of the popsicle band,” Belinda Blackberry.

With her slick haircut and wide-eyed smile, this singing sensation’s picture was destined to hang on the walls of my apartment. There was no doubt.

It took some persuasion and few phone calls to the right people, but my brother convinced the bewildered Tip-Top distributor to give it to him. Apparently the name Belinda is far more common in New Zealand than it is in America, so this man was skeptical of my brother’s insistence I would value the poster because it had my name on it.

I bet that man would be shocked, and maybe get a good laugh, if he knew that today, some thirty years later, this ad has been framed and now hangs over my desk at home, to keep me cheery on gloomy days.

No one could appreciate it more than me, for the name as well as the inconvenience & expense my brother was willing to go through to get it mailed to me. And oh yes, the pure camp value of the ad itself.

Thanks go to Tip-Top products, New Zealand’s premier producer of ice cream products & frozen treats. And they know nothing about this post. I’m just sincerely grateful they gave my brother that poster!