*I’m so thankful for Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for sharing this piece!*
With our book satchels on our arms, my sister Liz and I tumbled out of our dad’s Ford Galaxie 500. We crunched across the winter grass and bounded up the concrete steps that led to our grandmother’s white frame house. Our car coats hung loosely on our shoulders as the temperature that January afternoon had climbed into the lower seventies. We stood at the door and waited for our grandmother, whom we called Mom, to let us in. Liz and I had spent lots of time with Mom – learning to crochet, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and sleeping in her featherbed. Usually, I was delighted to spend the night at Mom’s house, but not this time.
Mom was short and plump and typically wore an apron over a floral print dress. She appeared at the door, a twinkle in her mischievous brown eyes when she said, “You two better get in here!”
Mom waved at our dad as he backed his car out of her driveway and headed to the hospital to check on our mother and our brand new baby brother.
Liz and I followed Mom through her living room into the kitchen that always smelled of home cooking – roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and biscuits that tasted better cold than most people’s tasted right out of the oven. She led us back to the den where we generally did our visiting and playing. Sunlight streamed through the open slats of the Venetian blinds as Liz and I took our places on an overstuffed couch, and Mom sat down in her rocking chair.
According to Mom, when the conversation rolled around to our new baby brother, I folded my arms across my chest and proclaimed, “I’ll tell you something right now. I’m not going to take anything off of him.”
I’m sure I said it because even though I was seven at the time, I still remember that weighty feeling of distress the day I found out our family of four was about to become a family of five.
“But I like our family just the way it is,” I remember telling my mother.
“You’ll like the new baby, too,” she reassured me.
I wasn’t convinced. Liz is two years older than I am; and, while she had proven on numerous occasions to be excellent in a crisis, she could also be a bit bossy. I feared I was about to be bookended by a boss and a baby.
Already, I was feeling crowded out by that new baby. When my dad picked Liz and me up from school, I was all set to tell him what a horrible day I’d had. Of course, he was full of good news about the baby! And, worst of all, we didn’t even have time to swing by our house and pick up a change of clothes for the next day.
Lo and behold, I survived spending the night at Mom’s house as well as being an outfit repeater the next day at school. A few days later, my mother and brother came home from the hospital. The day I had dreaded for months had finally arrived – the bassinet with the blue trim was occupied.
“This is Robert,” my mother said.
When I peered beneath the bassinet’s hood, I was speechless, and I was in love. Robert wasn’t the horrible creature I was anticipating. He wasn’t flimsy either; he weighed nine pounds and twelve ounces when he was born. In a word, he was perfect. And, best of all, he couldn’t talk; hence, he couldn’t boss.
It wasn’t long before Robert, whom we called Rob, could play. I liked to sit on the big braided rug that covered our living room floor and roll a ball back and forth to him. We spent many happy hours pulling around his Fisher Price milk wagon and taking the milk bottles out of the wagon and putting them back in again. On his first birthday, I got him a wind-up toy dog, and my mother told me that was his favorite present.
A few years later when Liz and I had morphed into pesky adolescents, Rob was a cute kindergartener. One night, when we were all sitting around the supper table, Liz or I had done something to annoy our mother. I had possibly stayed in my room after being repeatedly called to the table. (I sometimes got carried away, holding my hairbrush-microphone, singing along with the radio and pretending to be a rock star.) Or, maybe Liz had lingered in her own room too long, reading a thick novel or practicing her clarinet. Either one of us was perfectly capable of being the source of our mother’s frustration.
“I’m running out of patience with you!” she said.
Rob was sitting next to her, and he held out his pudgy little hand and said, “Here, I’ll give you some of mine.”
That same year he was the valedictorian of his kindergarten class. Always the smartest guy in the room, Rob has racked up more academic awards than the rest of the family combined. He went on to earn an MBA from the University of California at Irvine and become a business owner.
Everybody hits rough spots in his or her life, and Rob has certainly had his share. I’ve read a ton of novels and even written a few. In recent years, Rob’s life has unfolded like a novel you would not be able to put down. At times, you would love to be the protagonist. At other times, you thank your lucky stars you aren’t. My brother has navigated the twists and turns of his life with integrity and a great deal of patience.
Whenever I have hit rough spots in my own life, Rob has always been there for me. He is the most loyal person I know. Funny how it works out, isn’t it? That baby brother I was so intent on disliking turned out to be a very good friend.