A lot of what seem to be childhood memories, aren’t ones we actually recall but rather, are those that are recounted to us. Indeed, there are many stories retold about my brother and I. Many are divulged to further underscore characteristics or mannerisms we each have long held, or they seek to illustrate and attest to the close relationship we have long had with each other. Often repeated are stories about me talking for my brother. It had become our unspoken habit (as it is inclined to be between a three-year old and a one-year old) that, rather than speak, my brother would instead point at items, on our dining room table for example, to which I would helpfully assist his communication by calling out the names of the items my brother desired: he wants milk! more ketchup! two scoops of ice cream! To the point, as it it is most often related, that they worried he may not ever develop speech (this is the decidedly most dramatic retelling; though the apparent truth of the story was that he was slower to begin speaking words than I; and, as the first child – was their standard.) It does highlight the differences between us: I, the one with the gift of gab; my brother, alternatively, is the strong, silent type. My aunt thought of us like Charles Schultz’s Peanuts characters, Snoopy (me: loud, gregarious) and my bother– his quiet, non-verbal side-kick, Woodstock.
Stronger personal memories often begin with a marker of the time, like a photograph. The photograph provides the first sensory recall. And then the picture, well, is worth a thousand words. (Give or take.)
It is Halloween. The smell of damp leaves and wood smoke permeate the air. Our house, a bungalow, sits on a street that hasn’t yet been paved; the bottoms of our white suits are muddied brown. We are costumed as matching stylized-French clowns. My mother has taken creative liberties with our face design. I am five years-old and my brother is three. Our melted, smudgy faces reveal that it is after trick-or-treating. It has been cold (as is my re-occurring memory of all Halloween nights in our Canadian province in the 1970s; I easily remember many of our costumes which required modifications to accomodate wearing snow-suits underneath them), and we are tired (and likely crashing from a sugar-rush). It is truly my first strong memory; when I keenly remember the feelings I had in that moment, and how I really feel about my brother. There is much told in my brother’s expression, I can read it still this day. His eyes, large; seeking to understand– he is affronted. The lip quivers forward to loosen tears. First, I am standing apart from him, considering for the moment that he is visibly in trouble, and I am not. But I cannot leave him to his punishment alone. I move to my brother and wrap him in a hug, my eyes plead his forgiveness, and I speak for him again. He’s innocent! He’s sorry! Whatever, the smirk says– forgive him! we’re cute! (remember, the other parent is taking the picture). Let’s move on, there’s candy!