April is a busy month. Just jam-packed with fun things to do. It all starts with sprinkling itching powder in the wife’s bra on April Fool’s Day. (Do NOT take this as an endorsement, by the way, as you will not only have your testicles confiscated and placed in her purse for safe keeping, but you probably also be banished outside to plant the flowers that bring the showers and bloom in May.) Good Friday and Easter usually fall in April (fish to fry and bonnets to buy); then you have to pay the taxman (“Should 5% appear too small, be thankful I don’t take it all…”). After sending your check to the IRS (Incomprehensible Rip-off System), you might feel like using your tax headache as an excuse to obtain a medical marijuana card and head downtown to join the smoke-in on the capital steps at 4:20 on 4/20. Passing around the peace pipe with a bunch of aging hippies might get you in the mood to hug a tree and bicycle to work on Earth Day. Of course, 30 miles on a bike isn’t as comfy on the 56-year old butt as it used to be and you could end up sitting on an icepack for the rest of the month while you contemplate how you missed celebrating Jefferson’s birthday, World Penguin Day, John Muir Day, Paul Revere Day, Librarian Day, Rubber Eraser Day, and ASPCA day. Once your tush heals, you can finish up the month by wearing a kilt (National Tartan Day) while you plant a tree on Arbor Day. (I do, however, advise against CLIMBING a tree with said kilt on.)
Whew – and right around the corner is the 8th of May!
But in our family, the day we celebrate is April 10th – National Sibling’s Day. Huh? With 5 kids in our family, birthdays can get a bit repetitious – especially as you get older and don’t really want to “celebrate” another grain of sand falling to the wrong side of the hourglass. So, this is the day that we gather to celebrate our birthdays – all of which fall between March 31 and April 30; all 2 years apart except for our littlest brother who came a year later (apparently my parents’ rhythm method must have been a bit syncopated back in 1960.) Honestly, this birthdays-in-a-batch works out pretty well. We’re lucky to get them all over in one swell foop. We consider ourselves a lucky family in other ways, too – we actually like each other and get along; we’re all a bit goofy and have a sense-of-humor approach to life (see “swell foop” comment); we all love each other and have extended families that do too.
So, today, I write about my siblings because I wouldn’t be who I am without them – I’d probably be richer and smarter and more well-adjusted. Or not. My brothers and sisters have had a huge influence on the person I’ve come to be. The fighting & biting, the loving and shoving, the caring, the sharing, the self baby-sitting and the hand-me-downs all added another brick in my wall of self.
Stanley Richard was the first-born – stupidly intelligent and always the leader – especially when we climb a 14’er. On the trail, we call him the Mountain Goat because he is always out front, setting the pace as if he alone is getting enough oxygen at 12,000 feet above sea level. It’s like, “Slow down and smell the Columbines, dude. We’re dying back here!” At the family gatherings, he whips us at trivia or Scrabble or any other parlor game that requires a brain. Stan taught me how to play chess when I was something like 10 years old. Picture Bobby Fischer playing Erkel – I didn’t stand a chance. He introduced me to the innocence of the Beatles and the risqué-ness of “Louie Louie” and “G-L-O-R-I-A.” He picked on me and made me cry. I pestered him and made of nuisance of myself when he was hanging with his older friends. We played mumbly-pegs and Indian Wrestled on the lawn (I wonder what that’s called now in the age of PC.) We road our bikes to the pool and ogled the lifeguards and tried to get them to notice us by splashing them. His specialty was the “can-opener” and mine was the “cannonball.” KER-PLUNK-KER-SPLASH! “ Did you see me get Suzie all wet? She yelled at me! I think she likes me!” Sh-yeah; right! His nickname in high school was Cush and I was insanely proud as a freshman when the upperclassmen dubbed me “Little Cush.” He taught me how to ride a bike and then passed his paper route down to me. Later, we rode motorcycles together and fussed about our helmet-hair. Now, we talk sports and grandkids and cars and assorted old-man aches and pains.
Janis Lynette was the first girl in the family – two years younger than me (but you knew that if you were paying attention.) She’s the lovey-dovey, gentle and kind, peacemaker and nurse-maid of the family. She called me “Nonald-deedee and Nonald-deedah” which makes absolutely no sense to me now and didn’t then either, but that’s how kids are. I teased her mercilessly and she would still want to sit by me while we were watching TV and put curlers in my hair. She hated green beans and got in big trouble for throwing them at the wall under the table where they stuck to the wood paneling (which now puzzles me as I ponder the physics of that – but I know it is true; I saw them on the wall – like caterpillars on a tree.) She collected all things piggish until her house started to look like a sty. Pig dolls, pigs on the wall, piggy banks and hog savings & loans; pig dishes, pig kitsches; all manner of swine-ish knick-knacks for a decade or so. Puzzlingly, she is known to all who love her, not as “Piggy,” but as “Buggy.” I know there is a reason for this, but it escapes me at the moment. My universe is full of mysteries. She loves a good mystery, by the way, especially the spooky ones by Stephen King. She is, no doubt, his #1 fan! Janis lives in Des Moines now where she grows a garden and sends me amazing tomatoes that taste like tomatoes ought to – juicy and sweet with a hint of the dirt that begat them; she sends jalapenos that have an effect similar to a roadside IED on the internal plumbing of mere mortals. Even my chili-hardened taste buds cry. She cries when she reads my blogs. (Her heart is so big, it has to be soft.)
Lisa Darlene is the other brainiac of the group. With a great sense of humor, she was always easy to amuse. I could make her roll on the floor giggling just by saying “par le voux” in a Frenchy, nasally tone. And I did it over and over and over. And when I got tired of amusing her, she’d beg for more, “Say ‘par le voux,’ say ‘par le voux,’ say ‘par le voux.’” Energetic and rambunctious, she talks so fast you need TiVo ears so you can back it up and replay the last 3 sentences. She’s an MD in Chicago and has always been the social butterfly – more friends than you can count; more dates on her calendar than days in the year; more after-school duties than the Octo-Mom. She’s always doing something, yet rarely has a plan to get it done until the very last minute. Like me, she is often late – usually because she tries to fit too much into each minute, especially the last ones. Just HAS to do that “one more thing.” Like me, she’s been known to say, “I like too much.” Lisa’s now a Stage Mom since her pride & joy boy, Chance, has become somewhat of a local celebrity playing the chocolate-loving Charlie and singing of golden tickets. If moms were ranked in a hierarchy based on the precociousness of their kids, she would be the Queen of the World!
My baby brother, Roger Alan, has become one of my best friends after I mainly ignored him for the first 20 or so years of his life. That’s gotta be tough when you’re looking to your older brother to be your friend or to at least not be your enemy. I didn’t MEAN to be mean to him, but looking back, I was pretty much a Dill-hole. I regret now that I wasn’t a better big brother to him as he grew up. He’s seven years younger than me, so, by the time he was looking for an older brother to hang with and mentor him, I was a snobby teen-ager too interested in being cool and having fun than being a good brother and friend. I was too self-absorbed to even know that I had shorted him all those years ago until a couple of years ago. I’m sorry for any pain I caused you, bro’. I was too dumb or too selfish (or even too brain-addled) to notice back then. I’m glad we’ve become close now as we’ve gotten older and our ages have gotten (relatively) closer. We ski, we climb, we 4WD, although still not often enough it seems. Roger, I think, is one of a kind, but is also kind of an amalgam of the rest of us. Like Stan, he’s a regular Mensa. Like me, he’s creative and hard working. Like Janis, he’s kind and generous. Like Lisa, he’s impulsive, and social. (And usually late.) Like himself, he’s a fabulous friend to all who know him.
So there you have it. The short version of the story of five kids, now grown up. (Next year we’ll ALL be in our fifties.) Five birthdays in April now over. Five different people joined forever by blood and bruises and laughter and love.
Happy Birthday to Us!