Something happened 49 years ago today that made the world a better place — my brother, Shane, was born.
I had to decide whether I’d write about him — because his birthday is today — or Halloween, and it was a hard decision. Sometimes it’s a challenge to write about a person you’re so close to. What if you say the wrong thing? How can you describe the indescribable? I don’t want to get too mushy, or do I?
Shane has always joked that he has two mothers, and it’s pretty much true. I was 7 when he was born and rocked my only-child world. It was a warm week because my mother has said 4,289 times that she had the window open over the bed when she brought Shane home from the hospital.
I do remember peering over the bassinet at him and thinking, maybe saying, that he was ugly. He wasn’t. He had a head of dark hair but was not covered like a chimpanzee baby, which was my Nano’s greatest fear. My dad is hairy, and Nano, my mother’s mother, said she was afraid Shane would be born “haired over.”
I got over my jealousy pretty fast (although I did offer him a bite of a mud pie once and scared him with a Halloween mask). The other day, I came across a picture of us at Halloween: I was about a 10-year-old witch; he was a 3-year-old convict with black-and-white stripes and a number around his neck.
I remember sitting outside with a little chalk board teaching him to spell “cat” and “S.W.A.T.,” a TV show he liked. He wanted to be Steve Austin from the The Six Million Dollar Man when he grew up, for those of you who remember that hit show with Lee Majors. Shane also started saying in elementary school that he wanted to be a doctor.
I’d fix his cereal before Mom, a teacher, took us to school. When he was in first grade, he brought home the chicken pox to me as a ninth-grader who had escaped it. I still remember being miserable and covered with blisters.
Despite our age difference, we always got along great, although I do remember him hiding and spying on me when I was “talking” to one of my dates.
My husband and I helped him prepare for an interview at Arkansas College, now Lyon College, in Batesville, encouraging the self-deprecating, but funny, kid to make eye contact. He got a full ride, but I’m sure he would have done that anyway. I remember how proud I was when he gave his high school speech as salutatorian (although, for the record, he ended the year with the highest grade-point average). I was pregnant with my first son.
I remember taking him to college with my parents, and I warned his new friends across the hall not to corrupt my little brother. I was so proud of him when he graduated with the highest award the college gives. I held my breath and started jumping up and down when his name was announced. I was hugely pregnant with my second son, and the indentations may still be evident on campus.
We stayed close while he went through medical school at Vanderbilt in Nashville, and I wish I’d started taking notes with all the crazy stories he had, from letting his roommate’s exotic bird escape to the intruder who was hiding in his room one night.
I burst into tears when he said he was going to New York City (NEW YORK CITY!) for his five-year surgery residency. It was an intense experience, and I have so much respect for him being able to withstand the grueling hours and pressure. He ran the New York City Marathon — twice — and one of my biggest regrets is not going to cheer him on.
But I always cheer him on in my mind and heart. I used to brag so much on him that my friends started calling him Wonder Brother. I can’t help it if he’s almost perfect.
He does leave half-empty soft drinks or water bottles sitting around and loses keys and coats (and everything else) more than any human I’ve ever known. Do not even think about trying to talk to him if he is watching sports or a commercial, reading or texting. He might as well be in a cone of silence.
I’ve gotten mad enough at his ex-girlfriends (he’s the nice guy who doesn’t like conflict) to pull every hair out of their heads. But I didn’t. But I could have.
My husband and I got to stand up for him when he got married to a great girl on the beach a few years ago. I was so thrilled when he had his two boys, and he is such a great hands-on dad. His boys are precious loves of my life, along with my granddaughter, who gets to play with them.
Shane and I get to share crazy parenting moments now and stresses at work (although surgeon stresses are different than reporter stresses, but dealing with people is pretty much the same). He has saved lives; I’ve just written about people saving lives. He truly has a kind heart.
He stayed with me at the hospital when I had my thyroid surgery years ago, and it was so comforting. We watched my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, which he loves, too.
Wherever we go, people light up when they see him. He has so many friends, and his nurses and patients seem to love him. I cannot believe I have known him for 49 years. It has been the proverbial blink.
I get on his nerves sometimes, I know. But I still have the Peanuts cartoon where Lucy is saying to Linus: “I’m your big sister, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
He makes me laugh. He makes me proud. He makes me glad I wasn’t an only child.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.