Bits of my early life emerge in flashes of memory. They spring up without warning, dissipate quickly, and leave behind a faint aura of recall. Although tinged with sadness, I see them wrapped in warmth and laughter, as gifts from the past.
My brother Stan, four and one-half years my senior, starred in many of these memories. Tall, dark-eyed, and wavy-haired, Stan had gleaming white teeth, a gentle ski slope of a nose, and was the good-looking member of our family.
As children, he and I played together, confided in each other, and talked about our dreams, fancied transgressions, and daily happenings. We were confident that our family bond was not merely robust, it was shatterproof. We were kids. What did we know?
Stan died in a car accident when he was twenty-six. I still grieve for him and am the only one left to do so. He had no children, and neither my husband nor my two daughters knew him. His spontaneous appearances in my head are, however, stored safely in my psyche. They appear at a moment’s notice and are reminders of quirky events that are as real to me now as when they first occurred years ago.
Since my brother was my teacher, my protector, and my best friend, one of his responsibilities, as he saw it, was to preserve my budding, but largely hypothetical, popularity.
One quiet Saturday night in April, our dad, book in hand, was asleep on the couch after a hard work week. Stan, then a senior at the University of Bridgeport, and I, a junior at Bridgeport’s Central High, were dateless — a rare experience for him but common for me. After a brief discussion, the two of us decided to go to a movie. We scribbled a brief note to Dad and hopped a Main Street bus.
Taking seats in the middle of a long row, we sprawled back, comfortably familiar with the twenty minute ride to downtown Bridgeport. Three stops later, though, my comfort disappeared as two bouncy cheerleaders with their dates, boarded and sat down several rows in back of us. I barely knew them but I felt their stares and my face reddened.
Saturday night was date night; no date meant a night holed up alone in your room or with girlfriends. This behavior was based on a widely recognized but unspoken social rule of the ’50’s that stated:
A girl old enough to date
on a Saturday night,
must have a boy in hand,
or stay out of sight.
My brother, sitting in the aisle seat next to me, didn’t count as a date. He was . . . well, he was my brother. No one knew otherwise. And that soon turned out to be the point.
“Oh, Stan,” I hissed. “I know both those girls. Just a little. They’re in my math class.” At that, my brother, fully aware of the Saturday night social rule, and in distinctly unsib-like fashion, casually draped his arm around my shoulders, moved closer to me, and murmured, “Not to worry, kiddo. You’re now my date for the night!” And for the rest of the ride we stretched our thespian abilities to the limit by dramatically whispering to each other and trying hard not to giggle.
The playacting ended with a mighty flourish when, at our stop, Stan gallantly helped me off the bus. I grinned. I loved it. What a guy!
I felt the eyes of the four high schoolers follow us as we stepped onto the sidewalk. Although I wasn’t sure whether or not they believed that my brother was my date, it no longer mattered. All my embarrassment had disappeared, and I recognized, once again, that Stan had always brightened my world with thoughtful acts that other brothers couldn’t possibly envision.
And so, I consider myself lucky. Stan is long gone, yet our bond remains strong and embedded firmly with memories holding gifts from the past as keepsakes for the future.
Editor: Edwin C. Goldstein