on siblings and the lessons in old photos

little-bro

sibs-in-winter

Pmyrtle-beachhotos don’t lie. Except when they do, of course—a common enough occurrence in this age of easy access to Photoshop. That said, and despite all the airbrushed fakery and propaganda we see every day, there are still things we can learn from photographs.

My little brother, who lives in Memphis, was here in Santa Fe this week for a short visit. I say little, like a lot of us do, when I really mean younger. Three and a half years younger than I am, Grant is little only in my mind. He’s a big guy, a powerlifter who works as a math teacher by day and a security guy at a club on Beale Street on the weekends (where he found himself one night working as personal bodyguard for Steven Segal!). So little is not exactly accurate.

As usually happens only when I’m around Grant, I pretty much consistently called him Reeve (the name of my 20-year-old son)—and Reeve, Grant—while he was here. I believe this is because my thoughts of both Little Brother Grant and Son Reeve are kept in that space in my head occupied by young guys I’m supposed to be protecting—but that fact didn’t really come home to me until a couple of years ago when I was putting together a 50th anniversary photo album for my parents.

Check it out. In all three of these photos (as well as many increasingly embarrassingly Seventies-esque snapshots of the three of us as we grew older), I appear determined to hold on to my little brother (while seeming completely oblivious to my little sister, Cathy,* who was—actually still is—a tough little cookie, once running outside to stand on our porch and yell across the yard in her angriest three-year-old voice to the big six-year-old neighbor who had just made me cry: “Kim is a sissy-baby; Kim is a sissy-baby.”) In the photos, Grant seems perhaps a bit annoyed, but compliant.

When I was pregnant with Reeve, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do the mother thing. I didn’t think I liked kids, I hated babysitting, didn’t believe I had a maternal bone in my body. After Reeve was born, I was surprised and moved by the feelings that came along with him—and stayed—so that now I’m inclined to mother almost anybody. Here I thought these feelings came from giving birth and raising Reeve, but looking at these photos and remembering how I fussed over Grant, I realize that not only did I have a predilection for the maternal early on, I had a pretty good little trainer.

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*I feel horrible for my sister when I see these; no wonder she resented me when we were younger, desperately wanted her own room, often asked our parents whether she was adopted. . . . Oddly enough—and words of hope for families with sparring siblings—once Cathy and I left home for our separate colleges, we became much closer, a trajectory which has continued through the years so that for the last couple of decades she’s been my dearest female friend. And these days she’s closer to Grant than I am.

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sibsPhotos above of me with my brother and sister back in the day. You’ll note that in each, I am hanging on to my baby brother in ways that one could characterize as either protective or really annoying, depending on one’s point of view.

At right: a mirror shot of the three of us in Memphis in April. (Over the years, I’ve learned to trust that Grant will get along just fine without me holding on to him protectively.)

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