Brotherly Love

It’s been a weird week.  Last week, after I posted on Monday, I was busy with meeting friends, having appointments, and just hanging around the house.  By Friday, I was feeling a bit under the weather, though still looking forward to Saturday and Sunday, when I had things planned.  Oh, how wrong I was to plan.  

Saturday I woke up with a really sore throat and a fever; by Saturday noon I was sure that I wouldn’t make it to the wine and food event a few hours later.  I left the ticket in an envelope on my front door for a friend, then went back to bed.  By Sunday I was still feeling lousy, and canceled going to a concert in Lafayette with my sister and a friend.  

Today, I canceled an out-of-town appointment and slept in.  I got out for a few hours but won’t try any out-of-town appointments until next week.  I will get out of the house, but won’t do much of anything that’s strenuous.

Instead, as I slept (and I slept a lot over the last couple of days), I’ve dreamed of my brother.  I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s because I’m having the house painted, and the painter and his helper are having to re-nail the very nice and expensive siding that I had put on by a contractor, whose team apparently didn’t do a great job.

My brother Phil and I had a combative relationship, at least on one level.  We were pretty much complete opposites.  Yes, others sometimes thought we were fighting — and sometimes we were – but sometimes it was just the way we played with each other.  Disagreement was often the beginning of our discussions.

I was born in 1951; he was born in 1956.  When we were little, I was his big sister, “Cheryl Lynn,” and he was my little shy brother. He overcame the shyness.  And he grew up.  At some point, he decided, he knew better than I did — about almost anything.  He’d try to tell me what to do, or what not to do.  I’d resist, at times quite forcefully.  He was much more traditional than I in most ways.  

Yet that humor was always there.  When he was an undergraduate and I was in graduate school, he’d sneak up behind me and sing Randy Newman’s “Short People”:  “Short people got . . . no reason to live.  

       They got little hands
Little eyes
They walk around
Tellin’ great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet.”

He’d especially make references to my little hands, little feet, tiny little teeth.  

I’d usually respond in kind, calling him “Big Boy.”  He was maybe 5′ 9 1/2″ — not exactly tall.  

Then we’d just grin at each other.

People didn’t always get our particular brand of humor.

Even when he was in M.D. Anderson the last months he was alive, his humor never really disappeared completely.  Once when our cousin Jim came to visit, Phil brought up the time when Jim and his sister Barbara and I tricked Phil and Kay into going into a dark bedroom at the farm.  Phil was maybe 5; Kay was 3 1/2 or so.  Maybe they were a bit older.  The bedroom was haunted, we’d convinced them, by the ghost of our great-great Uncle Nim.  We got them into the room, which was dark, and then held the door closed.  Phil and Kay were frightened and cried.  We laughed.  Even in the hospital, Phil grinned about this — and blamed me.   The family joke — it was in fact not my idea at all, but Jim’s.  Yet Phil always loved to blame me.  And I always loved to claim my innocence.  

A couple of years earlier, Phil was in Oescher’s Hospital in New Orleans.  When he was out of surgery to have a brain tumor removed, and opened his eyes in recovery, the first thing he said and did?  He looked around at us, looked at me, raised his fist, and grinned as he said, “Just a little closer, just a bit,” shaking his fist.  I grinned back and taunted him “You can’t catch me.”  The nurse was a bit alarmed, looked at Dad, and before she could question him, he looked at her and reassured her, “They’re like that.  He’s fine.”  It was funny, and a relief to know that Phil was still himself.  

We often disagreed about so much.  When he helped me move into my house, he wanted to place furniture where he thought it should go, rather than where I wanted it to go.  A friend was helping, and he just looked at Dad and asked “Are they always like this?”  Dad just shook his head, laughed, and said “Yes.”  

Politics?  Oh, that was an easy conversation disagreement.  Sometimes, I think, he’d just bring something up to push my buttons and watch me explode.  Over the years, I learned simply to avoid topics that we were never going to even be able to talk about.

He’d lecture me about things.  Once when we were talking on the phone, he simply asked me what I spent a month.  I told him.  He started fussing that I needed to save more.  I shut him up — that monthly amount, I informed him, was after X amount went into the state teacher’s retirement system and another X amount went into my 403B account every month.  “Oh.” That was his last response.  He stopped fussing.  

Though I was older, he always tried to advise me, to look out for me, to be the protective big brother.  And his opinions were primary, of course.  

He was a meticulous, neat person — and any work he did reflected that.  Now that I think about it, maybe dreaming about Phil is connected to the renovations in the kitchen and to the painting job.  Phil ripped out the lower cabinets in my kitchen, built new ones, and installed them, along with a countertop and sink.  I’m not removing them, just repainting the cabinets.  Eventually, though, I will replace the countertops and the sink.  

Whatever I choose to do, I know he’d have a definite opinion.  This afternoon as I was shopping for supplies at a hardware store, I could hear him in my head, asking me if I’d forgotten anything.  Or was I sure I needed that kind of nail — or another.  

That my siding was a problem would only mean that he could remind me that I’d made a mistake.  

Of course, if he were still around, I’d have someone else to get advice from.

Not that I’d necessarily follow it, of course.  But I’d ask for it.

In reality, I know, my practicality isn’t far off from his, though perhaps less knowledgeable.  I never did some of the hands-on work that he did; he was (like Dad) reluctant to let me near power tools.  On the other hand, I do know a lot more than Phil often gave me credit for (or wanted to) simply because I listened a lot to him and to Dad.  And I watch a lot of HGTV.  

My inner adviser thus continues to make me think — and rethink– my choices.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing, though.  And it’s actually kind of weirdly comforting, too.

In the end, I guess my dreams these last few days have just been a way of working through the questions I have about the work going on.  

I’m not sure he’d make all the choices I’m making, but I hope that he’d approve.  

Either way, I’m sure we’d have a lot of fun disagreeing about it all.

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