Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The fallen branch

The stories of my mom's childhood are all set on the same stage: her brother was born within the year after their parents were married. Her sister, eight years later, was born within the year after my grandfather's return from the War. My mother, the baby, came two years after that.

Those are the branches of my family tree from which all my mom's stories hang like glistening fruit. They beg to be shined up and inspected, tasted for knowledge. My mom was the baby of the family. Her father always had gray hair in a tidy buzz cut, she said again and again. Her mom was worn out on discipline, she said. Her sister was supposed to walk her home from school, she said. Her brother was a genius and a demon and she adored him.

Her brother, I know in recent years, looked fondly on his baby sister. She was the reunion arranger, the funeral planner, the great-aunts' phone-numbers keeper. She shielded the ties between him and his roots from fraying too completely.

As children, I'm not sure what he thought of her. He would have been a teenager being followed around by a toddler, but my mom gets a wistful nostalgic smile on her face, not a grimace, when she tells how he gave her the metal milk bucket and sent her to hold it against the electrified cattle fence. She laughs when she recalls some explosive fire he accidentally set in the science lab that brought the teacher to scowl, upon seeing her name in the rolls a full decade later, "not another Seligman." She bragged how he got in trouble for figuring out the long division in his head and refused to waste time by showing his work, or how he could put notes up for his students twice as fast as other TAs by writing simultaneously on the board with both hands.

Where my mother never gave herself enough credit for her own intelligence, she was glowingly little-sister boastful of his. I think she never could have gotten enough of him.

Sibling relationships have never fascinated me so much since having our own boy and two girls. The age spread is so much smaller so I know their relationships can't be compared with my mother's with her siblings, but I wonder at how they'll grow together or apart. I love watching them together and think often of a basket of newborn puppies, how they climb and crawl across each other all day, just glad to be together in the comfort of closeness and touch. I love how they hold hands in the car, or how the girls will hold hands with each other while skipping and slow down each to stick an index finger in G's fist and brake to his much slower gait. I love how when both girls end up in our bed they always reach for each other in their sleep, and spoon. I love how their brother will be happy in my arms until he sees one of them, and then he scrambles away from me as fast as he can, into the open arms of his two favorite companions.

I wonder at how intrinsic they are to each other's lives. I wonder how they'll be forever affected by these early influences, their siblings.

My mother's childhood hero, her brother, passed away yesterday. I don't know what it's like to go on, after losing a touchstone, but I wonder how one does it.

August 2006: a wee baby E and her great uncle BJ converse.
Pin It