One of life’s mysteries is how siblings raised in the same household can have such different memories of the same events. My brother, Luther, came to visit us over the 4th, and he and I spent some time reminiscing. We don’t do that too often because he is a live-in-the-moment type of guy. That has stood him in good stead especially in the last few years when he’s had health scares. Actually, our sister and I were scared. He wasn’t too bothered by it all. He should have been. It made him a little more careful about eating habits and exercise, but that’s about all.
One of the things I learned was that he really doesn’t remember much about our early childhood. I, on the other hand, remember details about experiences I had before I was two years old. The writer, Reynolds Price, told of remembering seeing sunlight filtered through leave when he was nine months old. For me, it is florescent stars pasted on the ceiling in the formation of constellations. Our mother put them there. We moved from that house when I was two and he was three. We shared a room so he would have seen the same star formations floating above us as we drifted off to sleep. He knew that he had model aircraft suspended above his bed because our dad told him about them, but he doesn’t recall what they looked like. Our mother made those too out of balsa wood, glue, paper and string. I recall them dangling at different heights and angles like his own private air show.
My brother and I have a long history fraught with many incidents that involved me at the brink of disaster and him, the causative factor, standing on the sidelines as innocent as a lamb. He still has that air of un-involvement. Because he was bigger and I was hell bent on keeping up, I found myself in predicaments that were scary for me as well as for our parents.
He loved the mechanics of everything so he was always tinkering with something. One of the things the parents had to keep him away from was the family car. I was only a year and half old when he had the great fortune, in his way of looking at things, to find the car open and no adults right there. He climbed in, but I wasn’t big enough to follow so I sat down on the running board. Within no time, he had managed some how to disengage the gears and start the thing. As the car rolled back, I was knocked off my perch. Of course, my father who was suppose to be watching us and who had turned his back for a few moments, whirled around just in time to see the wheels of the car miss my head by inches. He raced after the car and managed to get in and stop it. I, of course, was screaming my head off over the indignity of being dumped unceremoniously but was other wise unhurt. My father later declared that he aged 20 years in that moment of watching the car roll by me. He also reported to us later that Luther didn’t take too kindly to being shoved from the drivers seat. He seemed to think he had everything under control.
Luther also taught me to climb trees about that same time. We had a small chinaberry tree in the front yard with branches low enough for us to gain purchase and swing ourselves up. He helped me along until we were as high as we could go, then he turned around and returned to the ground. When I tried to follow, I fell probably six or eight feet and was struck on the way down in the right eye socket by a twig that pierced the lid. Fortunately, it missed the eye proper. I still have the little scar.
As if this weren’t enough climbing, he taught me to climb ladders as well. We had just moved to my grandmother’s home so that my father could take over running the farm for her. She had recently lost her husband, my step-grandfather, and World War II was going on. The country needed cotton and all of the young men were gone except those farming. My grandmother’s house was large and old. It had a long screened in back porch where she did laundry and had access to a large pantry for her home canned goods. For some reason, my father had been up on the roof and left the ladder by the back entrance. I’m not sure how he did it, but Luther managed to right the ladder against the edge of the porch roof, and up he went. Wherever he went, I followed. I was two and a half so just stepping from rung to rung was probably quite a fete. Once on the roof, we pretty much had seen all there was to see up there so Luther took the lead and went down. I wasn’t so sure of how to go about getting down so he told me to just do what he did. He promised to hold the ladder for me. I turned around and made the first downward step just as he pulled back on the ladder for some reason. I fell. Not all the way because Luther immediately slammed the ladder back against the roof, catching my left leg and pinning it between the rung and the house. There I dangled and started screaming bloody murder. Our pregnant mother came running. She knew that she could not make it up the ladder, but she held it fast and sent Luther running to get our dad. When he got there, he stepped between the ladder and the house and told Mother to pull it back. When she did so, I dropped unharmed, except for a bad bruise on my ankle, into my father’s waiting arms.
All of this before I was three and much more was to come over the years. I have scars to prove that he who acted as if I were his favorite playmate, was probably subconsciously trying to do me in. He doesn’t deny that these things happened. He heard our dad and grandmother talk about them so often that they became part of the family lore. He doesn’t deny, but he says he doesn’t remember them either. Memory is such a convenient thing.