As the oldest child, I had a connection to my brother that was a big sis' and little bro' relationship. His loss made me open my eyes.
This is an excerpt from a short story about our relationship.
"Rhonda, you're going to have a baby brother." This is a statement that I heard often from my mother, Gerri -- so I'm told.
My brother, Elbert, came into this world when I was two months shy of age two. Prior to my brother’s arrival, my mother kept telling me that I was going to have a baby brother. Now, in 1958, my mother did this in blind faith because there were no tests to determine a baby’s gender like there is today. So, with her declaration as truth to me, I ran around telling everyone, “I’m going to have a Baby Brother!”
When my mother returned home from the hospital, my standard introduction was, “This is Baby Brother.” The name Baby Brother stuck for a couple of reasons. First, he was named after my father, but he’s not a junior. Elbert is my father’s name, but unlike my father, Baby Brother has a middle name. Second, the name Elbert just doesn’t lend itself to a nickname although later in life his college buddies started calling him “Elbo.”
It was established; his name was Baby Brother and that didn’t change with the addition of two boys. By the time the other boys were born, everyone was calling him Baby Brother – family, friends and even the neighbors.
When Baby Brother was a toddler, he had very dry skin because of eczema.
One day I decided to “grease up” his dry eczema riddled skin. (Big sis’ taking care of little bro’.) His poor little toddler frame was covered in hair grease (hair pomade) from head to toe. I got so grease happy that I even put some on the wall. It took my parents years to get rid of that spot.
We were a close family; but, with seven children, two parents, one grandmother, and one uncle in one house, outside playing was the place to be! Six of us did; one didn’t. Guess who? Baby Brother. In his room propped up on the top bunk bed listening to his music is where he would be. He loved himself some Elvis Presley. One day I teased him and he kept right on singing, “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog.” (Hey! Did he call me a hound dog?). I didn’t notice, or I just didn’t catch on to the fact that he was dancing to the beat of a different drummer. Better yet, he was the drummer.
For some unknown reason, the seven of us sat in a row when we watched television. It gave Baby Brother great joy to slap us in the back of the head in “Moe” style as he left the room. He got that move from watching the Three Stooges. Funny guys do funny things. Even his food was funny. I remember looking at him in disbelief as he prepared his favorite sandwich made with grape jelly and mayonnaise. Yuck!
As the seven of us grew up, Baby Brother’s name turned into Ba’ Brother. The other two boys were into basketball and football. But true to form, Ba’ Brother was still beating his own drum. He was into soccer and fencing. I can still see him in his padded vest and screened mask carrying his sword. I’m glad that he didn’t know how to fence when we were younger and I put my big sister moves on him.
Ba’ Brother was very strong-willed, because, as an African American teenager growing up in the early ‘70’s, he withstood ridicule received due to his choices in music and sports. He didn’t succumb to the peer pressure. As a child, I didn’t have a label for what I knew about my brother. Today I do. I see that way back then he knew that it wasn’t a Black thing or a White thing. It’s a me thing. What’s inside a person supersedes color boundaries. I shouldn’t let anyone put me in a box nor should I put anyone else in one. I’m free to be me but I have greater freedom when I allow others to be themselves.
Well, Ba’ Brother is gone now. It wasn’t until I was at his funeral and heard all the good deeds that he’d done that I realized I didn’t pay attention to Ba’ Brother as a man but only as my baby brother. It hit me like, wow! Where have I been? What world was I living in? The big sister world?
That moment taught me to look at my other siblings –Donna, Carol, Gregory, Sharon (Peaches), and Derrick – and see the great men and women that they are and the many positive things that they are doing.
Ba’ Brother’s life taught me that life is short and I have to pay attention along the way. So, here’s a “shout out” to all the little brothers and sisters around the world from a big sister!