Big brothers are an enigma–at least, mine was when I was growing up. If anyone at school or elsewhere. ever picked on me or yelled at me, my Big Brother was right there in their face, fiercely daring my tormentors to try someone their own size by picking on him instead. On the other hand, my brother was the champ at teasing and tormenting his sisters. To be fair, he wasn’t really being mean, but he did have an inquiring and inventive mind. As proof, my “Betty” doll had a huge piece of its plaster forehead missing because my brother had used her head as a hammer for his Meccano construction set. My “Suzy” doll had the thick long eyelashes of one eye trimmed to nothing because my brother wanted to see if it grew back. It looked very strange when Suzy closed her eyes and only one eye looked complete. Of course, all of this may have started because I had borrowed a piece of his cherished train tracks so his train couldn’t run and hid his small hammer from his construction set but, I certainly wasn’t going to ‘fess up to any of that! Besides, I never said I was a “perfect” child–after all, younger sisters were put on earth to torment Big Brothers and probably vice-versa.
If he wasn’t there in person to defend us, my brother was determined that his sisters knew how to fend off bullies and/or boys with active hormones. We were “taught” how to kick and punch while giving our scariest karate yell. I remembered his encouraging piece of advice, “Bob, weave, punch hard , then run as fast as you can!” I only had to use this tactic once. As for the amorous boys, my sister and I figured out our own moves. I still recall the time a date came to take me to the movies. The TV hit that season was “Dragnet” and my brother’s tough “grilling” would have made Sergeant Joe Friday proud.
One of my favourite memories was of my brother and I going to the Saturday matinees. Dad would give us each a quarter–15 cents paid for the movie ticket and 10 cents for our treat. My brother discovered “The Nuthouse, “a newly opened popcorn and roasted nuts place , two doors down from the theatre. He convinced me that if we “pooled” our treat money, we would get a huge bag of buttered popcorn or cheese-flavoured popcorn or caramel popcorn or a decent bag of roasted nuts. To a small kid, big was a good thing, especially when it came to snacks. If pooling our treat money got us something good, with lots to share, I was quite agreeable.
My brother’s first paying job was busboy/dishwasher at a popular tourist restaurant in Victoria. He worked weekends, holidays and throughout the summer months to earn his university tuition. It was hard work but he enjoyed his job, the people he worked with as well as the customers he met. After a week, he was amazed to learn he would be given a share of the tip money. He was so proud and happy when he gave each of his sisters $2 from his share of the tip pot. It was the policy of the restaurant that any of the industrial-size pies not sold by day’s end would be sold to the staff for $1. Once in a while, my brother would bring home an enormous apple, lemon meringue, cherry or peach pie–carefully carrying it on the bus ride home.
My brother had always been a “foodie” before the term was ever coined. When he was working throughout the interior of British Columbia, he would often write home to tell us about some fabulous truck-stop or small cafe where the food was plentiful and tasty. When he came home, it was to try and cook the foods he had tasted–giving us an idea of what he had experienced. Because he was often working in areas where camping, fishing and hunting was the norm, he developed a taste for bannock bread, one of the simplest things to cook over an open fire–or so he was told. It took a lot of tries at home, in a frying pan on an electric range, before it finally turned out the way it was supposed to. It also took a lot of reluctant tasting by his dubious sisters.
It was a sudden heart attack that struck my brother down. He was far too young when it happened. Even when years passed, there were often little things that made me think of him. The Farmer’s Market on Sunday was selling fresh hot bannock and I had to smile when I saw them. The price of 2-dollars for the “Red Wagon’s” hot butter popcorn–freshly popped and drizzled with real butter–had me laughing when I remembered the huge bag we got for 20 cents, way back when.
I feel very blessed to have had a Big Brother who genuinely cared so much for his sisters. It’s when something is suddenly snatched away forever that you feel the loss more. My brother taught us a lot by example–being considerate, kind, share your knowledge and to take a stand on something you truly believe in. I like to think that being the oldest, he “broke the trail” for his sisters to follow. The other day, my brother’s advice came to mind as I restrained myself when confronted by an obnoxious salesman: “Bob, weave, punch hard and then run as fast as you can!” If only we could really do that now. . . .