My only older brother would have turned fifty this month, if he had lived past the age of seventeen. For years, his birthday, December 16th, was the day we put up our Christmas tree. I don't remember if we carried on that tradition after he died or not. I doubt it. We never much spoke about him at all after that, except in general terms. It was too hard for Mama. I often wonder what he would have been like, who he would have married, how many kids he would have had. He wasn't my favorite brother. He was the only boy in the family older than me...by 20 months...and he never let me forget it. My two older sisters were never bothered by him. They had senority over him in the pecking order, and the six siblings after me seemed unattractive to him, so I was the victim of most of his boyism. He once smeared a soft stick of butter into my hair just for the fun of it. No, he was not my favorite brother.
But a Christmas never passes that I don't remember him and all his madness. He was a boy through and through. He loved going into the woods with, first, his BB gun and later a .22 rifle and hunting squirrels with our cousins. He loved swimming in the bay and chopping things with his hatchet, the one Grandma took away from him the very Christmas morning he got it because he might hurt his nine year old self...it took Mama a week to get that hatchet back. For some reason, he could always be trusted with weapons.
The summer before he died, he learned to drive and discovered girls. He found out that the baptist church around the corner had a Christian Life Center with a bowling alley and a pool so he went and got his little Catholic head baptised in Baptist water so he wouldn't have to sneak in to bowl anymore. He came home one day and told Mama he had read a book that the youth minister had given him called Run Baby Run about the New York gang leader Nicky Cruz and that she needed to read it. She did read it, and later she would say that she was sure my brother had met Christ before he died. That year he went to his first dance, a Christmas formal, wearing a tux and all. The picture of him and his date standing proudly on the winding staircase, taken two months before his death, was one of Mama's most treasured Christmas gifts.
He was always the first one awake on Christmas morning and the proud announcer that Santa had come. As he grew, it became his job to carry the Christmas tree to the car and later, after Christmas, he would carry ALL of the neighbor's discarded Christmas trees to our backyard to make a forest for us to play in. I wish he had turned fifty this year. For all the butter in my hair, I'm sure I am a lesser person because of his absence and I still have fond memories of my mean big brother.