Parents and siblings, 3.3

3.3: A sibling. Write about a sibling. Begin with some general impressions. Then tell a story or two  

Somewhere in the family archives, there’s a picture of my brother lifting weights in the backyard. He’s holding barbells over his head, his legs bent at the knee, in a power stance. He bought the weight set with money he earned delivering papers. Another picture shows him with our two cousins Dean and Steve up at Houghton Lake. They’re holding a fish stringer stretched between them. It’s an iconic family photo we called “the forty fish.” I’m in the photo too, standing next to my brother. Forty lake perch, dinky little things our parents and aunts and uncles must have thought not worth keeping, but to us it was Pike’s Peak. To them it was, anyway. I’m in the picture, sort of at the edge, great by association.  Two years and a few months older, my brother Tom went before me. He tested the thickness of the ice before I stepped out on it. He went to school. He joined the scouts. He delivered the Midland Daily News, he went to camp up a Bear Lake, he bought a three-speed bike, he wrestled, he smoked, he wrangled with our dad (continuously, it seemed) about blue jeans (he was pro, our dad against), about church, about the war in Vietnam. Tom drove, he rode a motorcycle (briefly), he went to college. He got married. I came up behind him. Because of him my coming of age was probably easier.

He was not reckless, but there was an air of impending low-level disaster about him. His first car, a navy blue Ford Falcon, plowed through a wall of our house one night when he came home late. He knew how to drive a stick. This would have been before alcohol, before substances. When he pulled into the garage, I guess he thought he had shut the engine off. Maybe he sat there listening to the radio. When he took his foot off the clutch and the brake, the vehicle surged jerked forward and collided with a wall. Before going to bed that night, he wrote a note apologizing for the accident. “My bank account is open to you. I’ll pay to fix the wall.” 

The next car he drove was four-door Oldsmobile, a car big enough to taxi five other guys around on summer nights. Around the Fourth of July one night, he got his hands on a number of Silver Salutes, sizable firecrackers. We rode around town setting off these from the car. He drove. A pal, maybe Joe Davilla or Jimmy Schreiber, would light a fuse with the cigarette he was smoking and chuck the firecracker out the window into someone’s front yard. They were loud. 

We had been warned about fireworks. Our dad told us stories of boys missing fingers, blown off when they weren’t careful.

Jimmy Schreiber said, “This is like a little piece of dynamite.” 

“M-80’s,” Joe Davilla said, “are stronger.” 

“Like a quarter stick,” Jimmy Schrieber said.  “If we put a bunch of these together, we could blow something up.”
I wasn’t allowed to touch one. It was a big guy thing. I wanted to. And I didn’t want to. Finally I got a turn.  I was sitting in the back seat, right next to the door, the window down. When I lit the Silver Salute off Joe Davilla’s cigarette, sparks started squirting from the fuse, landing in my lap. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it. I tossed in the firecracker in th direction of the window, and it bounced right back in the car and fell on the floor right in front of me.  IT’S IN, I screamed, and dove into the front seat. The explosion was deafening. I was convinced there would be a hole in the floor and we would have some serious explaining to do when our dad found out. There was no hole.

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