What does one say about older brothers?
Do you talk about the times they spilled your secrets, or the times they kept them?
Do you talk about the times you swapped punches with them, or the times you closed ranks with them?
Do you talk about the flak they generated, or the flak they absorbed?
Do you think of the things they taught you, or the things you found out for yourself? Do you take out the scales and try to weigh the balance between the two?
Do you depict them as irresponsible, or merely true to themselves?
Do you marvel at the ways in which they are different from you, or the ways in which they are the same?
Do you wonder how frequently and how closely you will stay in touch with them after the unifying central bond of your parents is gone?
You could do any and all of those.
Or, you could just page through the years of memories and look for one you like.
It would have been sometime around 1991 or ’92 when my older brother Eric spent a summer working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, one in a long line of summer jobs he held over the years.
Working the late shift meant he got to divvy up the remaining chicken with his co-workers and take some home at the end of the night.
We got sick of the bird after a few days, and he stopped bringing it home. But early on, we were still looking forward to it.
And the first night he brought home a box, he and I sat around the family dinner table ’round midnight, cheerfully devouring the chicken while we shot the breeze about Public Enemy or Michael Jordan or our summer jobs or whatever else was top-of-mind to a couple of college-age kids in the suburbs of the Rust Belt.
While I’ve grown to know the health hazards of late-night eating, there is something wonderfully cozy about sitting around a table late at night sharing food with someone else — especially when one or both of you has just come home. A single light shining through the kitchen window into the darkness, and a modest treat on the table, is as welcoming as home gets.
I think I first got this feeling when we would take family trips from Rochester to Stamford. We’d arrive late — maybe around midnight — but we’d still be a little strung out from the road, not yet ready to turn in, and sometimes we’d gather around the kitchen table and have a short glass of Seven-Up or something, and immerse ourselves in the comfort of having reached a friendly destination.
But, back to the Nineties:
There were no Big Reveals and no heavy discussions on this semi-forgotten evening. Just a straightforward, open, very pleasant sharing of time and space and chicken.
It is a fonder memory than its raw materials would indicate.
Happy birthday, older brother.