Today is my big brother Ian's birthday. It's been forty years since he was killed but I still remember it distinctly, as if the moment was a fragrance stored in a bottle, fresh and poignant. I don't feel much sorrow anymore; it's more like a bittersweet walk down memory lane, where I see him smiling, or pulling canned blueberry turnovers out of the oven while I beg beside him like a desperate puppy. He always relented and gave me one, piping hot with an extra squeeze of icing. So I'm going to share a little of my memory walk with you. Let's saunter together down the gentle and beloved remembrance I have of my Ian.
Ian was twelve years older than me. I was the last of four kids. Mom worked as a waitress, so she told my two brothers that they would have to watch over me and my sister Kat when she was not there. Frank was in charge of Kat, who was a year and a half older than me, and Ian was in charge of me. One of my first memories was of him teaching me how to properly wash my face. I was to splash it twice with warm water, then rub it all over with soap in a circular motion, then rinse three times. He showed me how to squeeze toothpaste from the end of the tube instead of the middle, then told me why this was more efficient. "If you know why, you'll remember it," he said.
We lived in a rented farmhouse when I was in first grade. Ian and Frank babysat Kat and me one Saturday night and let me eat half a box of Chicken-in-a-Biscuit crackers and a whole bottle of Pepsi, which I quickly barfed all over my favorite t-shirt. Frank wouldn't touch my smelly self. It was Ian who carried me into the bathroom, pulled that puke shirt over my sobbing head, and hosed me down in the shower. He dried me with a towel and doused me with talcum powder, telling me how sweetly I smelled after that. He carried me to bed and tucked me in, dropping a kiss on my embarrassed little brow. Years later, when I was a waitress, a little girl barfed her dinner all over the table at the restaurant and no one would help her. Her dad was shouting and embarrassed, her mom useless, the siblings scared and silent. Even the busboys refused to clean it up. And all the while, this little girl sat there, filthy and wretched, tears running down her humiliated face. I went over and cleaned the table, the floor, her face, all the while repeating my Chicken-in-a-Biscuit story. We became sisters then, this tiny stranger and me, and I remember how important Ian's kindness had been. I brought her orange sherbet to clean the nasty taste from her mouth, then kissed her sweaty little head. Would I have done that if Ian hadn't shown me the exact same kindness? I don't know. I hope so.
When I was seven, and our mama cat had her babies in the middle of his bed, he chastised our mother for not calling him home from school. "Don't ever do that again, Mom," he said, "You make sure to call me. I don't want her to ever go through that alone again!"
I was in second grade when he came to the rescue one Thursday afternoon after school. I was walking home when the local infantile hooligans surrounded me, kicking me every time I tried to get away. They knocked me down and scraped my knees, trying to pull my tights down so they could see my underwear. Ian rode up on his motorcycle like a knight in shining armor and chased them away, swearing like a sailor and threatening death if they ever touched me again.
He was studying chemistry as a freshman in college when Kat and I would plague him unmercifully to "spin the dial" on the Twister game so we could play. He'd lay there on his bed, one hand holding a book, the other one spinning the dial.
Every Sunday after church, Ian stormed into the house, threw his arms straight up over his head and bellowed, "FOOD!!" at the top of his lungs. He ate like a horse. He was allergic to honey but still tried to sneak a taste here and there because he loved it. We'd know because he would instantly swell up as hives erupted all over his skin. He mixed a concoction of pancake syrup and peanut butter together that he named "Goop" and showed me how to mix it correctly so I could make my own. My love of cooking stemmed from those moments of wrist flapping fun, stirring peanut butter, stiff from the refrigerator, with maple syrup until it blended smoothly. We ate it on saltines.
That's just a small snapshot of moments with Ian, ones that stand out in my brain. I try not to think about all the blood or his shocked expression in death, the stolen money from his wallet or the gore-sticky motorcycle he died on. I choose to concentrate on the good and dismiss the importance of the bad. I spent more than enough time obsessing over the bad; did it for years. Now I remember his saucy grin, his guitar playing, and that spinning Twister dial. He was, and is, a beloved character in my life and always will be. Happy Birthday, Ian. Love ya.