Memories of my childhood come through in shades of grey, like old pictures your grandmother keeps stored in a box in the closet beneath the old linens and hand crocheted afghans. Musty storage and time has faded them. My memories are fuzzy around the edges; snapshots of people and moments. Tiny tremors of feeling. Most of them anyway. Every once in a while, I have a vivid memory full of color with smiles and emotion. Freedom. Childhood. Sometimes they are in slow motion, like you see in the movies, with lingering smiles and echoes of laughter; intense feelings of joy and sadness, sometimes both.
I can’t remember how old we were. We were old enough to swim, unaccompanied by adults or lifejackets, but young enough that we still played together. It was raining. There was no thunder or lightening, just one of those good old rainstorms that briefly cool the southern summers and leave a trail of stifling humidity in its wake. The lake was flat and calm, perfectly smooth except for the rain drops. There is nothing more relaxing and revitalizing than staring out over a body of calm water – an ocean, a lake, an untouched pool. They are full of possibility simply waiting for you to play, to make waves.
We swam out into the middle of our cove with our old black inner tube. You can’t buy inner tubes like this anymore. It didn’t pop in the heat or when our giant golden retriever jumped on it or when the cousins played with it for hours. It was made of thick rubber. It never lost air, never had to be re-inflated. It could cause serious injury with the metal inflation valve that stuck out like a round knife waiting to scratch anyone having too much fun. For some reason, this didn’t cause concern, even among the parents. They’d patch up our scrapes with waterproof band aids and send us back into the water.
Our cove was quiet with only a few funky old lake houses scattered along the pine tree shoreline. Weekenders like us. The middle had a clear view to the cloudy sky. On this day the rain was falling steadily. We reached the middle and climbed up on the tube, sitting across from each other. We locked our legs underneath us and started rocking. We rocked and rocked with all our might, trying to launch each other into the air. We finally got enough motion that one of us flipped out dragging the other along. We laughed. We laughed like only kids laugh, where your belly hurts and if you stopped playing for long enough, you’d realize your face does too. We stayed out there for hours until we were exhausted from bouncing and laughing.
I have wondered if the loss of my brother has made me value our relationship more or if I always knew that it was special. I think I always knew. He was my best friend, my earliest memory. We built forts over the air conditioner vents and climbed inside to cool ourselves in the summer. We played school in the dining room rearranging the table for the teacher’s desk. We wrestled on the couch. We protected each other from neighborhood bullies. We fell asleep side by side anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival. I haven’t hugged him in 11 years.
My brother is part of the reason why I have three children. I want them to know the awesome, unique love between siblings.
This summer I watched my three children build forts in their bedroom, the den and the dining room and sometimes all three in the same day. I witnessed epic brawls and moments of true tenderness. I saw the older ones bring toys to their baby sister when she cried. I heard my oldest congratulate his little brother when he built a cool lego ship. I watched the baby follow the boys around the house and sit right in the middle of whatever they were playing. I heard “You are my best friend” and “I wish I didn’t have a brother.” And I think to myself, this is just the beginning for them.
I want to nurture the same love that I have for my brother in my children while always being aware that that is all I can do. The rest will be up to them to work, to care, to forgive and to love.
There will be many rainstorms in their future. I hope they weather them like we did.