THE BROTHER LODE
In Suzanne’s last home, she had a family picture hanging in the foyer. “That’s nice.” You may think. “Was it her family, or her siblings and parents?” These are questions you likely have now.
The answer is, neither. It was a family picture of The Brady Bunch.
Suzanne was only three when Ryan was born, so she likely didn’t realize the upset he created for quite some time, but when she did, she wasn’t happy about it.
She loved—and obviously still loves–the Brady Bunch. She probably loved her little brother too, until she realized he ruined our 3/3 boy/girl count, and with his arrival, we were no longer The Brady Bunch.
Ryan arrived in our family on Christmas Eve 1973. In our pre-Christmas caroling spirit, we changed up the words to a then-popular Christmas song, and sang it to Mom: “Christmas is coming, Mom is getting fat.” She took it in stride. By the time it was time to deliver the 7th—and last–child, she could handle just about anything from us.
Christmas Eve was typically our big celebration; Santa always arrived in his own secretive style. He seemed to know to wait until supper was served, the kitchen was cleaned and we were herded upstairs. Our grandpa lived in town, and he always joined our family for the holiday celebrations. He stayed downstairs and helped Mom and Dad help Santa.
Suzanne will still beg to differ, but Dad was at the hospital with Mom that year on Christmas Eve. Grandpa pulled it off all by himself. She was only three, so I am not trusting her recall of the big event. Mom didn’t drive herself 30 miles there while in labor.
I remember the phonecall around 9:30 from Dad: “It’s a boy!”
Ryan had arrived.
I remember going to visit them on Christmas Day. I was seven, and I wanted a doll called Baby Alive. I didn’t get it, but Mom joked that she did.
I was decked out in another gift from Santa, a long, red and white checked gingham dress. Mom acted so surprised to see me in it, and I felt the glow of a new big sister with the events of the night before. The dress was all I needed to shine. Somewhere is a picture of me in it; when it turns up, I will post it.
I was the fifth of us seven. Two brothers were right ahead of me; born 3 ½ years and 17 months before me, respectively. They were my buddies. Gail was before them and six years older, so not only was she busy with all the work I have already detailed in previous posts, I’m sure I was the annoying little sister.
David and John let me tag along, and subsequently, I became a tomboy. I played in the dirt, made forts in the woods behind our house, climbed trees, rode motorcycles, read Motor Trend magazine and cried when Dad wouldn’t cut my hair after he cut theirs.
Suzanne, Ryan and me wallowing in a mud bog after a heavy summer rain. I told you I was a tomboy. Looks like I needed a haircut from Dad, or anyone.
David and John could—and often did—bring me to tears as I got older. The memories of their relentless teasing and roughhousing have faded somewhat, and are now replaced by ongoing mutual respect, kindness, love and peace toward each other. Our oldest brother Gary was eight years older than me, so I was likely the perpetually annoying little sister to him. I don’t remember him treating me as such though, and he would likely now disagree.
My memories of Ryan are less painful. Actually, likely because he was seven years younger than me, I think he knew better than to cause me any pain. I don’t even recall any episodes with him, or while observing him with others that would lead me to believe that he had it in him to be anything but laid back, mellow and generally observant. He had six older siblings to watch and learn from, so he likely did just that.
He made his own unique way, did his own thing and gave his own unique contributions to our family.
The gift he continues to give—in my estimation—is his sense of humor. When I asked him as I was writing this, “What was it like to be born on Christmas Eve?” he replied, with no hesitation in his monotone voice that adds to the humor, “I don’t know, I can’t remember.”
Because we had to try to laugh to keep from crying just after Mom and Dad died, we were able to find some humor in the early, most painful days. Gail is Ryan’s godmother, the Catholic role model that not only is expected to be a positive influence as a godparent, but also the person/persons that would be most suited to take the child in the event that child loses their parents. At the wake the night before their funeral, Ryan—at age 35 and seated next to me, leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”
Gail, Suzanne and I are the sisters we are in part because of our brothers. We have our sisterly bonds, but we also have our own unique relationships with each of our four brothers, and that, I know for sure, makes us better sisters to each other.
In recognition of them, and in celebration of Ryan’s arrival on Christmas Eve 44 years ago—even though he doesn’t remember it—I say thank you God for my brothers.
Next Friday evening, my stepson and his family will join us from Wichita for an early Christmas celebration. Saturday and early Sunday, we will celebrate Christmas with my family and my siblings with their families at Ryan’s house. Nine years ago on that first Christmas without Mom and Dad, we vowed to keep the Christmas holiday together with each other in their honor, and to continue to forge our sibling bonds. Our oldest brother Gary will be with his family in Idaho, but he will be with us in spirit, and by phone too. We will observe and celebrate Ryan’s birthday separate from Christmas, just like Mom and Dad were always sure to do.
The stars of our Christmas Eve 1973 show at Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary celebration, October 2007.
Sunday, I will return to my home with my family to celebrate Christmas Eve. There will be no post on this sacred Sunday night.
We got the tree out of the box and stood it up four days ago. Until today, it sat bare. I won’t deny that I still struggle to get in the spirit when it comes to decorating my home and my tree. My boys were gone all day, and I started without them. The momentum carried me once I got started, but much like my pre-Thanksgiving baking, I had a moment. It still hits me during the holidays, the time of year when their absence is felt most acutely. Just like the Thanksgiving moment, it passed quickly. It passed through me, and it was gone. My family came home and helped, and it was the festive occasion is should be.
I found myself putting up the same decorations in the same places I always do, the same decorations I have put up for years, mostly without thinking much about it. This year, however, I stopped myself when something didn’t feel as good as I thought perhaps it could.
“You always put that Santa right there. It’s where it goes,” I said to myself.
“But I don’t want to put it there this year,” I said back to myself. “I don’t even think I want to put it up at all. I don’t know why, but it makes me blue.”
“Fine, whatever. Suit yourself,” my rational side said to my emotional side.
So I didn’t put it up. And it felt good. I took my own advice from last week, and I changed it up. I put Santa back in the box, and went on with the decorations that sparked joy in me, leaving several others in the box if they didn’t. I changed my decorating traditions, and I like what I see.
Sometimes, suiting yourself is the only way to go. Sometimes, the smallest changes on the outside bring the biggest shifts inside.
I wish you all the peace of the spirit of Christmas. I wish for this peace every day of the year for you.
For those who are celebrating the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, my heart breaks for you, but Christmas hope shines on every day of the year to remind us they are still with us. Even if seems the pain won’t lessen, remember you will become stronger with each passing year. We are living proof.
Happy Birthday Ryan. You are the Christmas gift who keeps giving.