My brother Tony turns 60 on September 23rd. While I thought of him as much older when I was very young, it’s been a long time now that he doesn’t seem all that much older. I’m not 50 yet, but it means 60 is not that far away.
As most of those reading my blog know, my brother is 13 years older than I, and I have no other siblings. I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about him. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have him as a brother. We get along very well with only a rare squabble that is soon forgotten.
He grew up in a very different home atmosphere than I did. My parents were understandably stressed when they first moved to Canada, worried that they wouldn’t have enough money to get by. Life in Italy was so very difficult for them. They struggled hard to ensure life would be better in this country. By the time I came along, my parents were more settled and easy going (as far is it’s possible for them to be). So – I got a bike, and he never did. I got one or two games, and he got, well, nothing. I got a happier, more easy going father than he did. He never held a grudge about that.
Tony and me
I hate to admit that I have no early memories of him when I was a very young child, but I have no doubt we were very close. My earliest memories are of him are of weekend homecomings. He went to university when I was 7, and bless him, he came home every single Friday. I would watch and wait for him. When he arrived, he’d eat the dinner my mother kept warm for him and I’d stand nearby, hopping from foot to foot wracking my brain, trying to remember any interesting little thing that happened during the week so I could tell him.
My mother would always be happier when he was around. When she’d get upset at him, she’d yell but then dissolve in laughter. I think he would give her a look, and she’d realize she had no real influence. She’d go as far as to get a broom and threaten to hit him, but end up giggling. I was amazed. What was this power he had over her? It certainly didn’t work for me!
He was a great influence on my life. I can’t imagine what I would have been like without him. One day, when I was quite young, he took me to the library and got me my first library card. Our cool town library was in an old building, and the basement was devoted to children’s books. I started taking books out (I seem to remember Curious George), and I’m sure that when my first books were due, I asked him to take me back to return them. And I’m pretty sure of his answer… you can get there on your own. And so began my frequent trips to the library on my bike.
As most young children, I always wanted a pet. I would beg my parents – to no avail. I used to have serious allergies as a very small child, and my parents used that as an excuse. They said I would be allergic to any cat, dog, bird or small rodent. One day, my brother showed up with a 15 gallon aquarium and fish. I wasn’t allergic to fish!!! He helped me set it up. Yay!!! After a few months, it started to get covered in algae, and so I asked him to help me clean it. And he said… you can figure out how to do that yourself. And I did. (And I went to the library to learn how to keep algae at bay. He didn’t abandon me, he just encouraged me to look for myself first.)
You can see a pattern… whenever I didn’t know what a word meant, he’d tell me to look it up in a dictionary. (I never did.)
When the TV was out of alignment (he put together the Heathkit TV himself), he’d tell me how to fix it and ensure I did it myself from then on.
I loved helping him in his projects. As I mentioned above, he put together the TV himself, and a stereo before that. He’d ask me to hold something while he soldered. He would help build things here and there (he built the bar in my parents’ basement) and I enjoyed helping him. He has a habit of concentrating on the next thing he has to do, and forgetting a tool here and there. I liked to try and guess what he would need next and try to have it close by.
I liked listening to his 60’s and 70’s albums. I dreamed that he was actually Cat Stevens when away from home because they looked similar, and even had the same blemish on their foreheads. In grade 3 or 4, my teacher asked us to bring in our favourite album. I brought in the Beatles’ White Album. I remember how shocked she looked. When she asked what song I wanted to play, I said Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, and then she looked relieved. I had never heard of Charles Manson or Helter Skelter, which I assume was still fresh in people’s minds back then. (I learned of that later because Tony, of course, had the novel.) Should have told her my favourite song was “Number 9”. That would have been fun. At that time, I never listened to that side of the album. But I digress…
When I was in grade 8, I had to pick my courses for high school. I had some advice from a family friend… and made my choices. My brother came home one weekend and asked to see my forms. He flipped. I had signed up for the easiest English and Math courses that wouldn’t take me beyond grade 11. He asked me… don’t you want to go to university or college??? And I remember saying… “Um, I dunno”. I hadn’t even thought of that. He told me to take academic courses. I argued that my English teacher told me to take practical English (very bad advice, I realize now). He told me to take the academic courses, and aim for university or at least college. If the courses were too hard, I could drop down a level. Going up a level would be too difficult. Where would I have been without him?
And I wonder… who on earth was there for him? No one. Perhaps a father who constantly told him (and me) how very important a good education was. But I don’t think that was it, I think he was just smart. Smarter than me, for sure.
He got me out of reading children’s books (I remember he shoved “The Plot”, by Irving Wallace, at me and told me to read it). In grade 9, he shoved Lord of the Rings at me, and mentioned not to bother reading the forward, it’s what kept him from getting to it for years. That’s still one of my favourite books. He let me use his Camaro when I was learning how to drive. He taught me to drive stick shift (I was in my 20s, he was in the passenger seat, opened the window and grabbed on to the door frame. Then told me how to ease up on the clutch and give it some gas. I asked him why he was holding the side of the door like that. He said: nothing… just do it. And the car lurched and hopped all over the place.)
When I went to university, my father insisted I live with my brother. (As a girl, I wouldn’t have been allowed to live on my own.) He was recently married, and they always made me feel welcome. I was wracked with guilt, moving into their home while they were newlyweds (just 4 months married), and each year, I would beg my dad to let me move out. I don’t think they ever knew that. They do now. I always worried I was in their way. By 2nd year, after I had made the coolest friends on the planet, I actually tried to stay away and give them as much space as I could. (OK, so I liked hanging out with my friends, too.)
I still call him every time I need advice, particularly if it involves fixing something (Tony, I put a shovel through the electrical wire that feeds the pool, what do I do now? Tony, I just discovered the previous owner sawed through the two-by-four behind the wall, what do I do now? Tony, the guys who renovated my basement screwed up the wiring, what do I do now? Tony, one of my fence posts is broken and my fence is blowing in the wind, what do I do now?)
What would I have done without him over the years? I don’t like to imagine it. I’m just lucky to have such a brother. Even though he always tells everyone that he’s the pretty one.