I doubt my brother Steve reads my blog. He’s not a social media kind of guy. He lives almost 3,000 miles away in North Carolina; I live in California. We are 4 years apart. He is my sibling closest to me in age, and the one with whom I share the most memories of our lives after our mother married her second husband, Van. We went through a lot together in the 1970s. But time and life have a way of distancing people from those kind of bonds. He is a man of faith, conservative of politics. I am a woman of confused thoughts, led by my heart and a desire for kindness. We don’t talk about religion or politics at family gatherings, but family gatherings are very rare in any case. He keeps more in touch with our sister Ellen, the glue of the family, so to speak, who tries her best to keep us all from drifting too far apart. The last time I saw my brother was after our sister Cathy’s husband Ralph passed away, much too young. I don’t think we spoke much except to tell our favorite Ralph stories.
Steve was my protector during the Van years. Dubbed by Van as Little Shit, I was always in trouble for some imagined offense or slight. I was honestly a well-behaved kid, good in school, and mostly quietly in my room reading or drawing. But Van saw the worst in me. I’ll never forget Van going ballistic over something I’d done (and really it would have been something minor, like not closing the screen of the sliding glass door all of the way) and chasing me through the house with a two-by-four. It was the summer of 1973, and we had just moved to Gardnerville, Nevada. I was almost 12, Steve almost 16. He was more than a foot taller than me, quick and wiry. I was neither of those things. He got the piece of lumber away from Van and helped me get to my room, where I could lock the door. I needed my brother, and he kept an eye on me.
In 1972, on our drive from Georgia to California, my brother, in my memories, is endlessly enjoying all you can eat breakfast buffets. There is the time he locked me out of the car in the New Mexico desert, but even that in its way is a fond memory.
My absolute favorite memory of my brother on that trip is at a fine dining restaurant at the Sheraton resort in Tucson, Arizona. Mom and Van would typically disappear for a few days after we checked into whatever town’s hotel/motel, leaving Ellen, Steve, and me on our own for the most part. We spent 2 or 3 days in Tucson, the 3 of us floating in the swimming pool and seriously out of our element. The Arizona desert in summer is a vastly different place than the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.
Van must have been in a good humor and slipped someone at the hotel restaurant a lot of money, arranging for “the kids” to spend an evening in the restaurant, ordering whatever we wanted and playing at being grown-ups. It’s actually one of my very favorite memories of my brother.
We wore our best clothes. We were shown to a nice table. The maître d’ treated us with the utmost respect, but was probably laughing inside. We were brought amuse-bouche, in this case little stuffed grape leaves. It all seemed so over the top to me at 10 years old. Steve ordered everything that could be made table-side and preferably set on fire. Whenever I see Crêpes Suzette on a menu, I smile and think of my sweet brother.
This is a short, unfinished, and very rough bit from the Little Shit memoir-in-progress. But I wanted to post it today because I’ve been thinking of you, Steve.
[text copyright Genevieve Cottraux 2017]
“You’ll get us in trouble. It’s too expensive!”
Steve looks over the top of the menu at me. “He told the maître d’ to give us anything we wanted.”
I look to Ellen but she smiles and shrugs. She’s enjoying having our brother act like a big-shot man of the family.
“And he put me in charge.”
The waiter approaches, turning to Steve, ready to take our dinner order.
“We’ll have the Caesar Salad and Steak Diane for three.” His voice seems deeper as he gives the order.
“Very well, sir.” The waiter walks away.
I shift in my chair and pull up my white knee socks. “It’s really expensive! He’ll get mad!”
“He’s never going to look at the bill. It’ll just be part of the room charges.” He signals the waiter. “Could you bring another round of drinks, please?”
“Two Shirley Temples and a Roy Rogers, right away.”
I look down at the menu for what Steve’s ordered. Table-side service—I’ve never seen such a thing before, and the prices are so high!
The waiter brings the drinks and I take what I think is a ladylike sip of the pink drink through the straw.
“What if he does look at the bill this time?” I don’t know if I can eat with the knot I feel in my stomach.
Steve counters, “What if he does? It’s Mom’s money.”
He nods approvingly as the maître d’ wheels the table over and begins assembling the Caesar salads.
“You don’t like dressed salads or half the things in Steak Diane,” I point out.
“Maybe I’ll like it the way they make it here,” he counters.
Eyeing the menu again, he looks to the maître d’ again and says, “And for dessert, we’ll have the Crêpes Suzette.”
After a few days of floating in the pool in Tucson, I had the worst sunburn in recorded history, huge blisters on my back that will color my memories of our next stop, the Grand Canyon.
Steve, whatever the times bring or however different our paths through lives are, you are always my big brother and I love you.
Peace and hugs.
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