I had a neat experience recently: I met my brother. Sure, Matt and I grew up together, but because our family circumstance was... unconventional, to put it nicely, we never got to know each other the way you would expect in a "normal" family. Our exposure to each other, after our parents' divorce, consisted mainly of passing each other in the hallway or maybe watching TV together. Occasionally I might give him a smack on the head if he got on my nerves, since he was five years younger than I (and it was a long time before he got bigger than me.) After I went off to college and got married, we were lucky to see each other once a year. "Hey, how are ya?" and a fast hug was about the extent of our relationship. Until this summer.
It all began when my paternal grandmother had to move out of her home to an assisted-living apartment last year. Her house, sitting empty, was causing her and my great-aunts a lot of stress. In an effort to alleviate some of the stress on all of us, I told her that during the summer, I would come and help her get it ready to sell. When the time came, I called my siblings to explain what was going on. Matt lives about three hours away and he travels all over the country handling catastrophe claims for State Farm. He's very good at what he does and he makes a lot of money (due to all the overtime pay) which allows him to live in high-style bachelorhood. Since he generally only has to work when there is a disaster, he volunteered, "Hey, I can come up with you!" It seemed like the perfect thing. After I made daytime arrangements for the kids, Matt drove to my house one afternoon and off we went.
My brother is a people-person. He can talk and talk...and talk... and he is very easy to get along with. So we talked. This was sort of a new experience for both of us, because I cannot remember a time when the two of us *ever* sat and just talked. It was nice. And it was even nicer to have him along when the serpentine belt on the van broke and left the two of us stranded on the Parkway for two hours while we waited for a tow truck. That was clearly a God-thing: not only would I have not immediately recognized the problem with the van like he did- which would have resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage- I would have been scared out of my mind all alone on the side of a construction zone while cars whizzed past. Instead, he called my mother to freak her out just for the fun of it and we sat precariously on the berm and laughed about the situation. Several hours later, we were on our way again.
We drove into Lexington late at night and debated every turn through the city. It had been a long, stressful afternoon, but we were still having a good time. I realized my brother is a lot like me and my mom, with a general outlook of "Don't worry, Be Happy!" After all, if you make a wrong turn, so what- turn around! We made a good team.
The rest of the weekend was a blur of activity- overwhelming, actually. My grandmother grew up with the Depression-era mentality of "waste not, want not". So she kept everything. No, I'm not exaggerating. Everything. Every jar, sack, useful box or plastic container which had ever made its way into her hands was kept for later. I cannot tell you how many plastic containers, bread bags, grocery sacks, department store sacks, and empty boxes I threw away. Every drawer was packed; every closet and cabinet had boxes upon boxes of both expensive and inexpensive collectibles, books, memorabilia, and.... well, junk! And everywhere, we found photos. Boxes of photos, envelopes of photos, albums of photos, loose stacks of photos. Photos everywhere. And just when I would think, I'm almost done in here! another box would appear from somewhere. It was overwhelming.
We stayed at my grandmother's empty house and spent hours looking through boxes of shared history: decades of newspaper clippings, baby photos, and every card or letter anyone had ever given her. We brought Granny to the house with us and listened to her tell stories about my grandfather, her sisters, and her high school friends. She tried on the hats she had worn in the 1950's and told us exactly where they were purchased and what coat she had worn them with. Matt and I sat at her feet and listened, enthralled, as she told us stories about her father-in-law, James Mattison, whom Matt is named after. After a while, Granny would get too tired and we would have to take her back to her apartment. Matt and I stayed up and worked into the night for three nights, going to bed at almost dawn, waking up a few hours later and doing it all again.
We went to Walmart and bought a radio to listen to while we worked, and discovered we like the same music. We went out to eat together and discovered that we both like and dislike the same foods. He confessed that he used to like it when I played all that pop-piano music when I was a teenager. I found his baby pictures, which he didn't recognize, and told him all the family stories I knew from our childhood. And of course, it didn't hurt that he still let me boss him around- because, after all, I am his elder sister.
After three grueling days, we finally got Granny's house packed up. There were boxes of photos, memorabilia and heirloom gifts ready for Granny to give each of her grandchildren and my father. We packed boxes; stacked them in newly emptied closets; vacuumed, scrubbed and swept as best we could and headed home.
Granny gave me some beautiful heirlooms: glassware she and Grandaddy collected together over the years, beautiful linens, and small things that would only have value to her and to me. I have photos of my childhood that I had never seen before, and photos of my parents back when they loved each other. These items are priceless. But equally priceless is the unexpected gift I received over those hot July days: I have a brother, with whom I have a lot in common. And now I have a friend.