Winter – In Honor of My Brother’s 50th Birthday

My brother Brian, giving Smokey (Bear) hell.

My brother Brian, giving Smokey (Bear) hell.

Happy 50th Birthday to my dear brother Brian, with only a few more days until March 17th, the day he shares with our patron saint, Patrick. I just found out he is vacationing with his wonderful wife, Heather, in Aruba right now.

When winter came, we were usually pretty happy when a snow day hit, not necessarily because we were out of school, but we would get up early and hit our walk, then go shovel out the neighborhood with Johnny, Joe and Mark. Since sidewalks were now mandatory throughout North Wales, there was plenty of business. But after that, we’d usually go get something at Thomas’ News Stand, then make our way to the other side of Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Pennsy Avenue” was a long hill, starting at the railroad bridge, and dropping gradually all the way down to Walnut Street.  Any good snow left the road pretty treacherous, even too slippery to plow, so it was just as easy to leave the top blocks alone, I suppose.  The result was some great sledding, skidding, sliding, or making trips down the hill in whatever you had.  Toboggans, sleds, discs, sheets of plastic, waxed boxes, your ass; if you could slide on it, it was heading down that hill.  Getting tired of that though, eventually led to a few alternatives: “boothopping”, pelting cars with snowballs, or both.

I still cannot figure out how boothopping was such a local phenomenon. To this day, when I describe it, people look at me like I’m from Mars. Whatever you happen to call it, we would skulk in the shadows between parked cars, usually one or two back from a stop sign. As a car pulled up to the intersection, you would sneak out and grab hold of the rear bumper and crouch down as low as you could go.  Then the unsuspecting driver would have completed their stop and started forward again, usually with two or three kids in tow.

Because it was so dangerous, we got lectures at school about how some kid was killed (insert any nearby, but far enough off neighborhood where confirmation was difficult) boothopping. You heard the story so many times, it’s probably where I got my eye-rolling look from. The drivers didn’t like it much either; there were times when, say, a Volkswagen Beetle, with its gently curved rear bumper attached by just two pistons, would pull up to a stop and six kids would rush out and battle for position. Even with the rear mounted engine, when you are spinning your wheels in that car, you realize there is a reason. That’s where trouble kicked in.

I have to divert a little here for some perspective.  Maybe it was the long Philadelphia winters.  Or maybe people in the Northeast are just generally pissed off.  But catching kids on your bumper was treated a lot like the next subject we’ll discuss- if you caught someone, they were going to get their ass beat. So when the driver door opened, there was usually a flight of young children heading out of harm’s way.  But some of us would be sneaky and feign disappearing, only to pop up again behind another car and right back on the same bumper when the driver got back in the car. So more often than I’d like to admit, like I said before, Brian was not as fleet of foot as some of the rest of us. And when some angry high school athlete or roughneck got out and decided to give chase, you’d better hope you could outrun or outlast them.

When I first began thinking through things and writing these stories, they were funny at first, but then not so much. There was a certain amount of sadness I found in realizing that on any number of occasions, it was every man for themselves and sometimes one of us got nabbed, and it was Brian more than me.  I found myself asking what kind of brother am I to have let him go through all that?

If you haven’t understood my perspective on what makes Brian so special to me, I’ll just be right out with it here. My love for Brian comes because he has always been to me what I was not to him. He was never my “little brother” to me, he was an equal. Some families might think that’s a good thing, but my relationship with him was more of a peer than a brother for almost my whole life. Peers, friends, well, they are there for the hard times, but brothers are there in even your darkest hours. And while Brian has always been there for me, I’m afraid I haven’t always been there for him, or the rest of my family.

As the years have gone on, I have learned a lot about myself.  I have always been focused on my career and “saving the world”, and I love my girls more than anything. But outside of that, I’m afraid my focus has always been laser-like and straightforward. Brian was not just successful, but chose to be an awesome father and family man and always chose to put others before himself. Brian stayed close to our friends and was always involved with their lives.  I was always on the periphery somewhere.  I probably drove away more friends with my attitude at times. But what is interesting is that of all of our friends, even from early childhood, I have always considered them to be so much more connected with Brian, and for good reason. He’s one hell of a guy, and of all the people in the world that I know, he is one of a very few that I look up to as what I see as truly good in the world.

Happy Birthday, Brian. Here’s to your 50th; May your coffin be made of wood from a tree we plant many years from now. Slainte.

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