Happy birthday, older brother

BY BOB WACHS, Columnist
Posted 2/24/21

I’m the youngest of the three sons born to my mother and father. Years ago and years after I came to be, I learned that there almost was a fourth one of us — except that my mom suffered a …

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Happy birthday, older brother

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I’m the youngest of the three sons born to my mother and father. Years ago and years after I came to be, I learned that there almost was a fourth one of us — except that my mom suffered a miscarriage. Turns out that the infant would have been our little sister. I won’t pretend I know how such an event affects women.

I was somewhere around the tender age of 5 or so when Mama was in the hospital. They don’t tell you much about things like that when you’re young; I just remember Daddy telling me she wasn’t feeling well but would be fine and would be home in a few days. At the time, that was all I needed to know, especially since it meant I could sleep with him at night and he would make sure I had plenty of some favorite foods, which at that time included lots of peanut butter.

Family has always been a big deal for me — from my folks to my own to the nieces and nephews and now to those people who carry the title “grandchildren,” and the lesson I’ve learned and continue to learn from having them is there is a reason they’re called “grand.” (Remind me sometime to show you my pictures.)

But one of the biggest and most meaningful ones for me has always been my brothers. As “the baby,” as my Mama often referred to me even and especially in public, I looked up, literally and figuratively, to them. They were my heroes, the folks I wanted to grow up to be like. Later on, I caught up to them in height but I still remember them fondly.

This week the senior of we three celebrated a birthday. I won’t tell you how old he is, but he’s 10 years older than me and I was born in 1948. Before President’s Day came along on the calendar, he used to tell me the reason Feb. 22 was a holiday had nothing at all to do with George Washington and everything to do with him.

The two of us have had a running difference of opinion for years about why I even came to be in the first place. I always said that when Mama and Daddy welcomed him into their lives as their first they said, “Well, that’s pretty good; let’s have another” so about three years later, Number 2 appeared. Then they decided to rest for a few years before saying, “It’s pretty good so far, but we think we can do even better” — so then there was me. I don’t know how I would have explained why there was a fourth one if that had come to pass.

He, on the other hand, likes to say that things were rapidly going downhill in the child department, so they called a halt to it all. (But that wouldn’t have explained number four any better either.)

When I was 6 or 7 and he was a dating teenager, I used to whine to Mama to “make Ronald let me go with him” when he went out. I figured that was the least he could do for me shining his shoes for those big events. Now that all three of us are on the other side of Social Security, the age gap has vanished; now basically we’re all the same age, complete with gifts from both sets of parents — our actual ones as well as Mother Nature and Father Time.

In time in the growing up years, he did let me go places with him. He took me to spend the night a few times when he was a student at then High Point College. I don’t think you could do that today, even before COVID. I went to ball games there with him, ate in the school cafeteria, met his buddies.

When I was in, I think, the 8th grade, he convinced our folks to let me skip a few days of school to go with him to Washington, D.C. — long before the days of fences and razor wire in our nation’s capital. We went all over to the monuments and spent our nights in a fraternity house at Georgetown University. On the way home, we stopped at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant near Petersburg, Virginia, for the evening meal. Afterwards, I was supposed to stay awake and talk with him so he could stay awake as we drove on through the night in his 1960 Ford Falcon. I managed to accomplish that task for about 17 minutes before checking out.

Through the years, there have been all kinds of milestones — weddings, births, funerals, family gatherings, well-planned events and spontaneous ones. In a nod to our paternal grandfather who made a career as a railroad man, we once took a train trip to Alabama to see his daughter and other family folks. Before the virus, at my home we would have an every-other year Thanksgiving gathering of the extended families of the three boys, as Mama also called us, and other friends. Most of the time that totaled upwards of 50 or so folks. We’d eat, pitch horseshoes, eat, play Rook for hours, eat some more, sometimes take in a movie, eat, go on hayrides around our pastures — and did I mention we’d sometimes eat?

One Thanksgiving gathering, I had some T-shirts made for us three. Oldest brother got one that said, “I’m the oldest child; I make the rules.” Brother 2 got one that said, “I’m the middle child; I’m why we have rules.” And I, as the youngest, got one that said, “I’m the youngest child; the rules don’t apply to me.” As I now think about our family dynamics, I think there’s more than a grain of truth to that.

Today, as we three on occasion have talked about all this, the reality of our ages seems a bit unreal. We’re all still here and grateful for it all but it sure happened fast. The other night, the oldest and I acknowledged that we guess the reason we got to where we are is that we all kept breathing.

COVID has had a big impact on so many folks in so many ways — illness, death, shutdowns, loss of jobs, depression (episodic and clinical), school closings ... and get-togethers.

I hope when all this is in our rear view mirror, we can embrace again. I hope my brothers — both of them — know how much I love them. And I hope if you have a brother ... or two or more or a baby sister or an older one that you’ll not only say “Happy Birthday” on a certain day, but you’ll do like the late University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant used to say in a television commercial around Mother’s Day: “Pick up the phone; call your mama.”

Call your brother, too.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.


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