I have an older sister. I have a younger brother. I am in the middle.
Like my father, I occupy the center of the sibling sandwich in between my older sister Diane and my younger brother Mitchell. On October 30 of this month and November 4 of next, Diane and Mitchell will reach sixty and fifty respectively. Landmark ages and cause for celebration.
As a child, Diane was probably the first person close to my age I looked up to for guidance about the world. Although just four years older, I thought she possessed all the wisdom of the world as she always could help me find my way. One of my strongest memories as a young child revolved around our love of the Beatles and their music. She would share with me her prediction for which song would make it to Cousin Brucie’s top ten count down on ABC radio. We’d listen from our separate bed rooms and I could hear her excitement as She Loves You or Yesterday moved up the charts. Somehow I recognized that my sister was wise and worth listening to since she always seemed to know what song would reach the top of the list.
As we grew up, I also admired Diane for her choice of friends. Crushes on her girl friends would be a regular part of my maturation and I still get nervous at the mention of the name Ellen Levy.
Diane and I shared so much but most of all we lived in the same protected family where we ate dinner promptly at 6 PM, watched Ed Sullivan on Sundays and always found time to play games together like Scrabble and Hangman with Aunt Annette. We shared Jiffy Pop made on the stove and backyard games of Nok Hockey. Summers were filled with Camp (Allegro for her and Winadu for me). We both had responsibility for Heckle and Jeckel our parakeets. At the end of each summer our parents would picked us up from summer camp and we would have some type of family vacations to Maine or Cooperstown. We share memories of visits to our grandparents where we were bathed in love and showered in candy.
Diane is now a grandmother. These are words that are still hard for me to say but they make me realize how quickly the moments pass. I can hear our beloved Poppa George telling us Tempus Fugit which meant nothing to me as a kid. I thought he was just making up funny words and sounds.
I think I get it now.
Watching Diane as the grandmother to little Henry reminds me of how loving and caring she was to me as her little brother. We never fought or at least I don’t remember fighting. We never really had a mean word for each other although I loved to joke about her joy of cooking and she chided me for my tearful toasts. I have been truly blessed.
Then came Mitchell and a new blessing.
In November 1960, on a cold Friday three days after the election of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our younger brother was born. Kennedy may have been born to run but Mitchell was born to sing and perform and act on stage. He was our own little variety show making Ed Sullivan a waste of our time. His knack for playfulness and fun made him an immediate hit in our little world of Swanson TV dinners, confetti jello molds and trips to the Tavern Restaurant in Newark with our extended family.
As kids, I loved being his older brother and taller than him. He had to look up to me both literally and figuratively. Today he towers over me and in an oddly comforting way, his height reminds me how tall our father was. When I visit NJ and see him, reaching up and giving him a big hug helps me with the loss of hugging my father. Odd how that works but there can be joy in being shorter.
From Meet the Mets, Broadway show tunes to themes songs from Mr. Ed…I remember Mitch singing before he could speak. These were the pre-Bruce years before Stone Pony and Asbury Park. Where Diane loved Cousin Brucie, Mitch wished that Bruce Springsteen was his cousin and remains The Boss' biggest fan.
As Mitch grew into middle school years he was always in a play acting and singing and in some kind of performance that required an English accent or over sized suits. I vividly remember going to see him in plays where my parents would go early…big surprise and reserve the front row for our grandparents, Annette and for all of us to see Mitch. He never disappointed us as he was a natural on the stage and seemed to come to life in front of an audience. So many years later, not much has change. The stage is different for Mitch as a financial advisor and Member of the Westfield Board of Education but it still includes him finding his voice in public.
Of all Mitch’s unselfish and loving acts, the one that will last forever in my heart will be the trip he took our Aunt Annette weeks before she made her transition several years ago. He and Leslie invited Annette to visit London with them… sort of like a victory lap. To this day I still can’t believe she went with them but in my heart I knew that her going was her way of saying its time to move on. But Mitchell in his never say no attitude had to lead the band and take her on that trip. I will forever be grateful for this act of kindness.
Mitch may have looked up to me as his older brother but I always admire his passion for life and his willingness to give things a try- no holds barred. Just go for it and see what happens was probably the words written in his high school yearbook. It’s that joy of living and live for today attitude that has always helped and inspired me. As the middle child in the pecking order, I always leans toward the more modulated and balanced approaches to life and I am pulled forward by Mitch's energy.
So today I celebrate the pending one hundred and tenth birthdays (combined) of my brother and sister. I love them both so much and am grateful for their presence in my life.
Like the cream cheese in a bagel, I am protected in the middle.
Labels: Aunt Annette, Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Diane, Family Moments, Henry Asher Dodd, Mets, Mitchell