Today is my oldest brother’s birthday. When he arrived I thought he was going to be my “best birthday present ever: a sister”. But my hopes and plans were shattered when Mom and Dad announced that he was a boy. No tea parties. No dress up fun. No giggly secrets. David Lee would definitely not be fulfilling the role I had imagined for my darling new sibling.
He was however, very much like a big doll at first. I remember getting scolded for stretching my arms between the slats of his crib and lifting him up. I just wanted to see how heavy he was! He didn’t even cry! After Mom got over her first few weeks of protectiveness I was allowed to hold him, under close supervision, and even learned to change his diapers- a huge mistake in retrospect. Once a skill is learned it can’t be unlearned and I went on to change many more diapers than I cared to, especially after the third brother arrived!
David was a daredevil child. Even as a toddler he was always getting into something on the farm. He fell into an irrigation vat and was barely saved from drowning when Dad grabbed his diaper and pulled him out. He was always trying to ride my tricycle or the dog or anything else that moved, which resulted in numerous bumps and bruises. He ran and fell into a brush fire and badly burned both hands. He fell into a rose bush and got a thorn stuck in the top of his foot. During a fishing trip he fell into the water and nearly drowned again. Dad had a tough time finding him in the murky water of the river. We were picking grapes one summer and he stuck his hand into a wasp’s nest.
While not quite as companionable as a girl might have been, David was a pretty good kid to have around. He was smart, funny, and strong. Even though he was four years younger, he could usually keep up with me no matter what we were doing. As we grew older he became more confident in his “obvious superiority” and was a pain in the neck, especially when reinforcements arrived- Dan in 1957 and James in 1958. They played Army and I was “captured, killed or left behind”. They played cowboys and Indians and I was “captured, killed, or thrown off a cliff”. They played sports with the local kids and I was the last chosen for their team! They played “let’s see who can take the hardest hit in the stomach” and I was always the first to hit the ground in tears. What a dumb kid!
David was better at board games. David was better at math. One year he even convinced me that he could “see colors” with his fingertips. He covered his eyes with a bandana and then told me the colors of objects by touching them. I’m not sure what he really did, but for a while I was so gullible. I retaliated by nick-naming him “Do Do Bird”.
David was always good at solving problems and building things. We created lots of forts, playhouses, tree houses, and even a 4’x6’ swimming pool. We put a plastic tarp in our pool and we were so proud of ourselves for being able to get wet and cool! He also liked to take things apart, although he couldn’t always return them to their original condition.
David and I worked the fields together and were often left alone to tend irrigation ditches or chop cotton. We made up stories and talked about books we had read and imagined what we would do with a $1,000. We could create some pretty elaborate scenarios!
Over the years we drifted apart. The boys became closer to each other and I became closer to Mom. David made some choices and traveled some paths that I just couldn’t follow. I got married and moved away. We kept in touch, but weren’t always comfortable with the differences in our lifestyles. Now in our old age we have once again become friends. We still don’t agree on everything, but we commiserate with each other about our health, share our concerns about our children and our grandchildren, and remember the good times of our childhood. He is still smart, funny, and strong.
He really did turn out to be my best birthday present ever!
Happy Birthday David!