You know him as Joe, Grif, or if you’re a young guy working with him, Old Man. Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve reverted to calling my brother, Joey, as I did when we were kids. There are too many Joes in my life. When I say Joey, people know I am referring to my younger brother. They also know if I say WoJo, it’s him I’m talking about. That nickname came during adolescence, having something to do with him riding a Kawasaki and a character from Taxi—WoJoKawalski. Don’t ask. In my brain it made sense—especially when it just became WoJo.
For the kid hierarchy in my family, we have Jackie, born a tad over two years before me. Joe came along three and a half years after, with Joanne pulling up the rear ten years behind me. Jackie and I were a mini-force being on our own for those years. Everyone thinks she was totally innocent and that I was the culprit in our escapades, but they’re wrong. Jackie caused almost as many issues as I did.
Getting a Kid Brother
Then the brother came along. Monkey arms we called him. For being a small baby, his arms seemed to go on forever. An anomaly.
Like Joanne’s hair was an oddity. Our parents carted her home from the hospital and all we could see was a massive head of black curls. Joey had a tad of hair, but it was board straight. Jackie and I had that Gerber-baby wisp of hair.
I remember being jealous of Joey when he got to attend Kindergarten in our (ten?) room school. That hadn’t existed when I was his age.
How did it ever start? Us calling him the Golden Child? Was it because our parents caught us when Jackie and I ganged up on him? They rescued him. Instead of catching him when he beat on us? Joey could do no wrong. Well, except for when we bit each other in the head—what possessed us to do that? Or when we, ahem, played beautician and cut each other’s bangs. Short. Like way short. Like don’t show my stylist those pictures.
One of us, somewhere along the way, bought him a mirror meant to convey sarcasm. (Okay, it must have been me.) Etched in the glass? “Damn, I’m good.” Ha. Yes, we are still sarcastic. I believe he still has the mirror.
Brother and Sisters and Friendship
There were a few years where I, the teenager, thought my brother was nothing but a pain in the rear. He was always there and drove me nuts. Our junior and senior high schools were—are still—combined in one building. Seventh grade he told my friends his childhood nickname for me. Look, in his defense, we both attended speech class to work out a few kinks. My issues were the letters s, r, and l. Joey’s? His nemesis was an r. And that was a problem for me because he couldn’t say RoseMary. Or RM or any other fun version of my name. Nope, he switched it to Hosemary. Bad enough in the confines of our home, but let that loose among teenagers. It was so not fun.
Yep, I could have clobbered him.
Thank goodness a friend quickly dubbed me, “Mur,” and my permanent nickname took over.
For a number of years, my liking and disliking of my brother wavered. Sometimes he was okay to hang out with. Jackie and I would teach him to dance. Other times, he was just a bother and we would relentlessly harass him. Siblings, right? Anyone who isn’t an only kid knows what I’m talking about.
Something happened, though, when I left for college and returned again. That summer of being 19 found Joey and I forming a friendship beyond siblings. We went to the drive-in movies, hiked, goofed off. When we both were over 21, we went to bars, drank beer, and danced with friends. I found that I simply liked the person my brother was becoming.
Didn’t See That Coming
Joey was, in a word, nice. Over the decades of my life, Dad’s highest praise for a person still resounds, He was a hellava nice guy. That remains my greatest compliment for anyone, to state that he or she is nice. Nice is so underrated today. As is kindness, which is another word I would use to describe my siblings. We saw a lot of gentle kindness from Joey during our parents’ illnesses. But I’m not going there today.
A boy growing up with three sisters builds a unique perspective on girls, then women. I don’t profess to know Joey’s thoughts, but I think being nice and kind play a part in how he treats the fairer sex. Though, again, to be fair, we weren’t always those things to him as kids!
In 2009, after losing Mom and Dad, I was baffled for what to do with life. Let’s just say it culminated in an October road trip from Pittsburgh to Montana with Joey. Our deal was I—former California resident—would drive through the cities. He would get to do fun things like head north through Iowa and traverse across South Dakota. Can you say flat? Boring? Fallow corn fields? We didn’t do too badly except for him getting us around Chicago. Oops. But gosh we had fun.
Like every time I’ve crossed the Mississippi River, we stopped to ponder Mark Twain’s adventures. Us kids are avid readers, so Joey and I discussed writers we share a liking for and ones we don’t. We grew up on Star Trek, so had the ST versus Star Wars debate. It’s a three-day drive, so we had lots of diverse conversations. Unlike the same trip taken with Jackie, my Rogue’s radio did not get stuck on high. Thank goodness because I don’t think Joey would have done a sing-a-long as Jackie did!
Two Sisters and the Brother
It’s not unusual for Red Lodge, Montana (and other areas!) to get snowfall anytime Mother Nature has a whim. This time it was early October and boy did we get a dump of the white stuff. So much for us taking Joey on a nice hike to East Rosebud. What we did as the snow came down was hurriedly scoop up the last of Jackie and John’s garden. Then we prepared the vegetables for freezing. Years after, Joey said that event put him off carrots for a long time. Ha!
In the long evenings, we played some of our childhood games. Since I was there, that most likely meant Parcheesi—a game I am still mad for playing! We would have had a brew (him) and wine (us sisters) and laughed—even more than we did as kids.
And there it is—our relationships change over the course of our lives. Whether it’s with the older or younger sister. Or with our parents or cousins. Or a different interweaving of your life with your brother’s. What never, ever changes—at least blessedly for us—is the unconditional love we have for each other.
Aggravate me, irritate Jackie, hurt Joey’s feelings, irk Joanne. Yep, we do it to each other from time to time. But always, always, there is love.
Happy sixtieth birthday to my baby brother, Joey. As our niece says, I love ya, man.
Note: Top photo is at a car show–brother is well-known in Muscle Car circles for his stellar body work.