Monday, October 10, 2005

My Younger, Older Brother

People wonder how I could get to be this big, this tall, this old, and still have this Pollyanna personality. One look at my confused childhood might clear up that mystery and explain how my alter-ego took the form of a mythical crayon.

I led a deprived childhood. There were no girls in my neighborhood.

My siblings were both brothers. They were bigger than me. They were taller and older, and always would be. Though they were born 15 months apart, they are twins in their minds and twins in their souls. They are two sides of one coin. Where one lets off, the other one starts. Somehow they managed to take all of the traits that a person might be and divide them between them in equal parts. So I’ve one brother who’s a thinker, a financial wizard who spends his time watching and analyzing, and a second who’s a dazzler, the life of the party who should have been a movie-star politician.

It didn’t leave much room for little girl to fit in. But that wasn’t what steered me to a life of skipping down the road cheerfully. I was still an infant, or so I’m told, when he corrupted me.

My younger, older brother trained me to a whistle.

It was a rare and special whistle—like the boy who made it. He would stand by my crib and whistle to get me to look at him. I guess he never stopped doing it, and soon it became my name.

Through the years if my brother wanted me, he would whistle and I’d come running.

“Hey kid, if you do the dishes,” he’d say. “There’s $500 extra in the next game of Monopoly.”

And sure enough weeks later when the next game rolled around, the money would be there. Of course, fifteen minutes after I got my $500, I’d be bankrupt and handing him that and the rest of my cash. I never acquired a taste for the game. It’s not good to play board games against someone who is always going to be bigger, taller, and older than you.

On Christmas, when I was seven, I watched for an hour while he played with the coolest train I’d ever seen. He whistled to get my attention. Then he offered a treat if I’d fetch some water. I complied eagerly.

“Can I play with the train?” I asked mustering what courage I could find.

“Sure kid, it’s yours,” he replied mischievously.

I never won. He was bigger, taller, and older than me.

Once I thought I had him. It was during a game of cops and robbers. Being smaller I found a hiding place where he wouldn’t think to look for me. I hid in my place with a smile. He whistled. I came. Then he shot me.

By age ten I was determined to break myself of the habit of answering that whistle. It was harder than I had figured. I would walk 20 paces before I realized I was doing it. Pavlov’s dogs had nothing on me. Even now if I hear something mildly close to it, I start and then look in that direction. A part of me will always think that my name is a Huck Finn sort of whistle. It's kind of a fun memory. It ties us together—me and my younger, older brother.

To this day if you ask him about it, he’ll smile and say he thought of me more as a pet than as his little sister.

So you see when I act like an overgrown puppy, I come by it honestly.

If you tire of it, thank my younger, older brother. He was bigger, taller, and older than me (and always will be).

My older, older brother says I’m his older sister, but that’s a different tale altogether.
—me strauss Letting me be


mojo shivers said...

I used to treat my younger cousins the way your brother used to treat you. I always had them fetch stuff for me.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Mojo,
You and my brother. Well at least you didn't train them to a whistle.


Eric Mutta said...

The title is an interesting play on words, and the post brings back memories of being the first born.

It seems all big brothers (including me to my siblings) believe it to be their right, to ask/bribe the younger ones into doing favours. And for reasons I've never understood, the siblings always comply!

ME Strauss said...

Hi Eric,
Ah boys! There are some things about boys I'll just never understand. Which is not to say big sisters are any picnic. I've seen a few of them.

The behavior of the younger siblings is probably some sort of instintctual behavior that involves preservation of the species. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that we might look up to them.


Janus said...

I have an older brother and older sister, when I was little I learned to make alliances with one against the other to get my way.

Now we all get along pretty well, even if we don't talk that much now that we are all over.

My brother sounds like your brother, the financial guy. Had to check to make sure you weren't my sister at first when I read the begining. =)

ME Strauss said...

Hey Janus,
That would be a weird way to find out that your sister had a blog . . . reading a story like this about yourself and your brother. :) Nah no one made alliances with me growing up, so I think you're in the clear.


Jennifer said...

Ahh being the oldest I can relate to your brother :) I think I did many the same things. It must be geneitcally programed in us :)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Jennifer,
I can see that is a theme that seems to be coming forward. But all of you oldests might notice that my older, older brother stepped aside and left that role to my younger, older brother--who, by the way, my older, older brother calls his older brother.

Phillip Conrad said...

Very humorous. A lovely slice-of-life on the formation of a Pollyanna in progress. A real treat to read.


ME Strauss said...

Hi Philip,
Thank you. I'm delighted that you enjoyed reading it. Like we say anything is worth it if it makes a good story.


shtikl said...

*I* am the older brother - to MY sister. Wow. Never realized how much responsibilty brithers can have.

Beatiful, warm, humane post. Thanks, Liz!

(BTW: At Monopoly usually after a while the kids joined forces against me as I was ruining them all. Than they ruined me. Years later real life business wasn't that much a success, unfortunately. ;-))

ME Strauss said...

What fun to see you!
So you're in the big brother category . . . I guess I still like you anyway. :)

Glad your siblings got the best of you. Unfortunately there was only one of me.


Cheryl said...

That last line about another story was a merciless and evil hook!
I was an oldest, my 2 brothers were younger than me and I can't imagine your situation, but had great fun trying.
Nice post :-)

ME Strauss said...

Hi Cheryl,

I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about . . . Are you saying I need to come up with another story?


Bartzville said...

My brother used to make me sleep on a futon. The futon was about 1 foot from the wall. He would then shove my friends and I into that creavice and tormented us till we about pissed our pants. He later went on to become a urologist. Go figure

ME Strauss said...

Hi Bartzville,
Great story! Especially the ending.
Thanks for bringing it into the discussion. You fit this group well.

dog1net said...

When you said you were going to pick up your coffee mug and take a sip, you weren't kidding. Loved this article, which is both a heartfelt and deliberate reflection of growing up in the shadow of your Irish-twin brothers.
I love how you create an easy familiarity by coming to the call of the whistle. It is both humorous and reflective at the same time.
My son and daughter are thirteen months apart, and what you say about the contrasts in personalities with your brothers is so true. My son and daughter, though close in age, are, like your brothers, one side of coin. When they're together, they balance each other out, and have a quiet, easy contentment about them. By themselves, though, you have one who is affable, but hates change; and the other who is quiet and reserved, but can go with the flo. Strange how personality traits develop.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Scot,
I had forgotten the term "Irish-twin." We're Italin, but the concept still applies doesn't it?

Thanks for your feedback and for your memories. I love how these stories bring us all closer together. These comment rooms start feeling like campfires to me.


dog1net said...

Yes, they do. Good analogy.

ME Strauss said...

I'm delighted you see them that way too.

Jessica said...

oh how fun! I have an older, younger brother. I am the eldest and used to be the biggest but when he reached reached 15 or so he shot up another foot and put my size to the test.

Now people ask him and I if I am the younger and if he is the elder.

We had made our own rules for monopoly. Our dad brought home one day some old games in boxes from our great uncle george. There was a monopoly board with extra money that my brother and I added to our current game. When we passed go we collected two grand!


ME Strauss said...

Ah Jessica!
You are too wonderful!
I'm going to have to start remembering and telling stories again. They're too fun not too. :)