I was going to write another entry about Girls’ Camp, but my brother put this picture on the internet. I saw it on Friday, and I laughed the way you do when you see something from the past that triggers a million good memories. My heart smiled. I called Frank Saturday morning to ask if I could use the photo for this blog, and he didn’t even hesitate. “Yeah,” he said, the way he says it.
This is his school picture from kindergarten. Did Mom lay out his clothes? No, she did not. Frank got up and got himself dressed in a fine, pin-striped suit. Made for a 5-year old boy. I like to think he took one last look in the bathroom mirror and adjusted that Windsor knot, or at least made sure the clip was secure in the collar, before he walked a mile to the bus stop along a dirt road. In his dress shoes. The vest was a nice touch; not too formal, but still keeping some sophistication.
You can tell the summer was winding down. Frank’s brown hair with darkish blond streaks along the hairline implicates the Caucasian in him. He combed his own hair and parted it the way Mom and Dad taught him. He’s been out in the sun. His bronzy tan hints he probably had a good summer of playing in the neighborhood, and the thought of starting school so far from his mind, because forts and treehouses and soccer in the front yard were priority. As they should be.
I wasn’t going to point this out, but would you take note of the size of that boy’s noggin? I’m sure his shoulders kept nice and cool beneath the shadow of that considerable skull. If I had known about bobbleheads 21 years ago, I would have tried tapping Frank’s head as often as possible to see if it would bounce up and down from the neck, connected so obviously by a spring. This is probably the reason he didn’t give a toothy smile: he was too focused on keeping his head still.
When I talked to Frank on Saturday about the photograph, he told me he didn’t even know how to smile, at least for a camera. He kind of has a monkey mouth here. But you can still see his dimple. And you can see the earnestness in his big, brown eyes. Because he’s five. This was when we could still call him “Boo-boo.” That was a nickname he had ever since he was born. I figured out that term could be slang for a mistake, and I’d go around announcing my brother was a mistake, having no idea what I was saying.
Can you see the scar in his right eyebrow? That’s from when TIMMY YATES SHOT HIM POINT BLANK WITH A BB GUN. If I think about that too much, I feel as if I still want to show that Timmy a boo-boo from my foot to his teeth.
When Frank was in kindergarten, I was in sixth grade. I was a member of the student patrol, and the last 10 minutes of school every day I stood at my station to keep the students from cutting corners, walking on the grass and running all over campus on their way to the buses. I wore a fluorescent orange plastic/vinyl belt with a badge pinned to the cross-strap that ran from the shoulder to the waist.
Sometimes my post was close to Frank’s classroom. When the dismissal bell rang, my brother’s class exited from the portable in a nice, orderly line. He would see me, break form, walk up to me and give me a hug. And sometimes I did not always welcome his affection. I sometimes pushed him away, because I had to keep my eye on all the deviant children who were so intent on stepping on the grass. Because they’re kids.
It wasn’t until well into the second semester of that school year when I started hugging Frank back. It took a while for me to realize he might like seeing his sister at the end of the day. I certainly liked seeing him, and I wasn’t embarrassed. I was actually more ashamed of pushing him away so I could do my awesome and incredibly important job on the school patrol. I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was, and I’m glad Frank woke me up to that.
I can’t remember if we went to the bus stop together, or if we walked home together all the time. Frank matter-of-factly recounted to me once on our walk home – or maybe it was while we were in line to board the bus – how I held his arms behind his back and pushed him forward and he fell on his face. And all because he said to me, “No skips, bubble lips!” He laughed pretty hard relating this story to me, by the way, like two hours ago. Because he’s twenty-six and just relived a kindergarten moment – not the hurt of my pushing him so much as his cleverness that provoked my anger. Because he’s that way.
And so it continued as we grew up. I began junior high school and the homework really started to pile up. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my homework and Frank irritating me somehow until I got up from my chair and Frank took off laughing and I chased him around the house until I could get to where I could shove him pretty hard onto the couch. Which was what he wanted.
I remember making him so mad he chased me around the house and I locked myself in my parents’ bathroom and then a moment later I looked down at the floor and saw a knife blade sliding side to side from under the door, and I’d hear him laughing, and I banged on the door until he left the door and returned the knife to the kitchen. Nothing was child-proof in our home. (You do remember all the horror movies we watched together, right?)
Whenever our parents weren’t home we’d do backflips on the couch or have wrestling matches, with our stuffed animals as an audience. We’d play catch with my brother’s stuffed bear, Allen (David John‘s BFF), pretending it was a football and dove into the couch for the completion. We’d play Houdini or something like it, where we’d take turns trying to escape from having our wrists bound behind our backs. We’d stay up late until we saw our parents’ car pull into the driveway, then we’d turn off all the lights and run to our rooms and pretend to be sleeping.
When Frank was about eight years old, he went right up to my dad and requested not to be called “Boo-Boo” anymore. This felt like a really significant moment in our family’s history. I could sense a shift of gears: my brother was growing up. And this could mean that he could nearly crack his skull open while diving head first into his friend’s shallow pool and my mom freaking out at the clinic where the doctor sewed up the gash with eight stitches. Because he’ll always be Boo-Boo.
We got along more than we fought. It was just the two of us, and I’ve always adored him, even when I behaved like the Mean Big Sister. He always forgave me. And I always forgave him, and we resumed playing until we fought again, and we forgave and hugged and talked and bonded and grew up and became the best of friends who happened to be related. The overall effect of this photo is downright fetching. You can’t help but notice Frank’s cute, little-kid cheeks, the way he looks directly into the camera, the depth of his eyes. If you have the chance to speak to my brother for the first time today, you would have no problem believing this is who he was, because he’s the same person now. Because he’s my brother.