Friday, December 2, 2005

I was two years and eleven days old when my brother was born. I still remember going to the hospital to bring him and Mommy home – hospitals kept new mothers for a week back then and they didn’t let siblings in for visits, so my first view of my baby brother was from the back seat of our car. My mom was holding him in the front seat and I still remember leaning over to see him and jumping up and down in the seat, singing, “We have a baby! We have a baby!”

I remember “reading” books to him – my favorite was Miss Suzy and we have a picture of us on the couch together, the newborn Johnny propped against me while I read the story to him and showed him all the pictures.

When we were little it seems like we did everything together – our two favorite play-places were Mommy’s linen closet and the woods behind our house. Daddy built a fort for us just within the tree line and we played there or explored the woods, or played in the creek. One whole summer was occupied with panning for gold in that creek, and another with digging out the little puddle under the tiny waterfall to make a swimming hole. It never got more than a foot deep or so, but it was glorious.

We climbed the oak tree in the back yard and named the different branches – one was the living room, another the kitchen, and we each had our own special branch for a bedroom. The ancient mimosa tree in the front yard was especially interesting. Its trunk split in two fairly low to the ground and the upper part of the tree had a definite left side and right side. The left side was mine because it was sturdier and easier to climb. Johnny was fearless so he owned the right side and climbed so high that the limbs swayed up and down with him.

On rainy days we would take all the pillows in the house and make a border around my full-size bed, then bring all of the stuffed animals into the ark with us to ride out the storm. I don't think we ever made it, though. It seems our boat always sank as sitting and waiting for the rain to end did not appeal to the little ball of energy that was my brother - he'd rather play the part of a whirlwind than of Noah.

Every once in a while Daddy would bring home a refrigerator-sized cardboard box for us to play in. I always wanted to play house in it, and Daddy would cut a flap for a door and openings for windows and then I would draw curtains around the windows and Johnny would get all the dolls and stuffed animals to populate the house with. But after a couple of hours of quiet domestic play, my energetic brother would decide that something was going dreadfully wrong and this meant that Superman would come crashing through the wall of my lovely little cottage to rescue some doll or other. Those boxes never lasted more than two days or so.

When we were older we played kick-ball and kill-the-man with the neighborhood boys, who always came to our yard to play. We rode our bikes all over our neighborhood, but the best part was the hill in front of our house. Johnny built a ramp near the base of it and we would fly down that hill and hit the ramp, pretending to be Evel Knievel.

At night, after we went to bed, Mommy would take requests and play the piano for us. I always wanted Chopin's waltzes and my favorite was the one that starts with a long trill. Johnny preferred the Carpenters and this difference grew with us. In our teen years I still preferred classical music and Sandi Patti and Johnny preferred AD/DC.

Of course, we also fought like cats and dogs, especially as we got older. Two and a half months before my 13th birthday and Johnny’s 11th our baby sister was born. We’d always hoped to have more brothers and sisters and when this little one was announced we had many arguments over whether it would be a boy or a girl. Naturally I wanted a girl and Johnny wanted a boy, and when Anne Marie was born I felt like she was especially mine and I didn’t want Johnny to play with her. So we fought over her.

When I was about nineteen or twenty we made up and quit fighting, but I really regret those early adolescent years when it seemed we’d forgotten how much we loved each other. We never had much time together after that. I went off to college when I was twenty and married when I was twenty-two, moving to Biloxi with my Air Force husband the day after our wedding. I only saw Johnny four times after my marriage – in the spring of 1988 when he and Mom and Anne Marie came to Biloxi to visit us for a few days, again on Father’s Day weekend when I drove home to be with Daddy and the family, on Christmas of that year when Mike and I spent several days there, and when our first baby was three months old when he and Mom and sister came for a visit. On my birthday of that year, he called to tell me happy birthday and we talked a bit, and I told him I’d call him on his birthday. We said “I love you,” and hung up. Seven days later, on the second of December, Daddy called to tell me that Johnny had died.

I still miss him terribly. I miss saying, "Remember when we used to...?" All my childhood memories are me-and-Johnny memories. But I rejoice to know that he fought the good fight, and in God’s sovereign timing, he finished the course, having kept the faith. I look forward to the Resurrection with hope.

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