AS I ROLL THIS PASTRY, I am saying the words out loud: "My brother is coming to visit, so I am making a cherry pie."
These are all new words. No, not the "cherry pie" part. I have made a few in my day. It's the "my brother is coming to visit" part. My brother never used to visit, at least not on his own, not without his wife and kids for maybe a special occasion. So that is strange enough.
But, really, it's the "my brother" part that is the strangest.
My brother. Suddenly I have a brother. When did I get a brother? I knew my sisters had a brother. I knew my parents had a son. But a brother? Me? No. He was something else. I called him my "uncle" because he was 12 years older than me, and because I did not understand him. I did not understand why he had to gouge his knuckles into my ribs, or jab my elbow with his fork, or dump sugar on my pork chop, when he sat next to me at dinner. I hated sitting next to him at dinner.
No, he wasn't my brother. He was some dorky pest we had living in our house who happened to be king. He is the oldest sibling. My two sisters were his royal subjects. They served him cupcakes and they washed his go-cart. As the youngest, I was the lowly peasant who learned to keep a low profile in his presence, lest he decide to throw me in the grass and tickle me until I was ready to throw up.
"I'm telling!" I would say.
He would laugh. "Go ahead and tell!" he would say. As if telling meant anything. As if "Johnny is tickling me!" carried any weight with my parents, who had larger things to worry about because their firstborn was, well, a force. A tornado. A hurricane. A runaway train, so you'd better get the heck out of the way.
Once, when he was baby-sitting, he dumped an entire bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup on my sister Claire's head. As it happened, we were out of shampoo. I can still hear her in the shower, sobbing, as she tried to clean her hair with a bar of Ivory soap.
Another time he squirted whipped cream all over my cat.
My brother was big with goo. He was big with gumming up your peaceful life. Looking back, I think he must have been awfully bored. He needed a focus. He needed a purpose.
At a young age, I decided I had nothing in common with this creature called a brother, so I would officially ignore him. I was 9 years old when he got married, at 21. Our lives intersected because of his wife, whom I adored with all my heart. And then his kids, whom I adored with more heart than I ever knew I had. And then the 30-acre farm he bought, which I embraced. The pond he dug, which I swam in. The cornfields he planted, which I romped in. The dogs and cats and horses he accumulated, which I cherished. He created quite a wonderland for himself. His wife, his kids, his friends, his patients in his dermatology practice, the township people he worked with, everybody adored him. They said he was a generous man with a huge heart, not to mention a runaway train with an eye on making life for his family more and more spectacular.
I guess he didn't tickle them. I guess he didn't dump syrup on their heads. I don't know. Because eventually I moved away, got my own life.
Every year, he did Christmas. He did Easter. He did all the birthdays and all the graduations and all the anniversaries. He was the keeper of the family traditions. He emerged a good king, a most benevolent king.
But a brother? What, anyway, was a brother? A sister I understood. A sister was someone who shared your language. A sister was an automatic best friend for life. But a brother? I didn't have a brother. I had a king who didn't know me, could never possibly understand me.
Recently, my brother's vacation got canceled because of a family emergency. He took care of the emergency, had a few days left. He called to ask if he could visit me. Me? This is the third time in two years he's decided to visit me. Me? He wanted to take his motorcycle on a long ride, and my place is a well-positioned five hours from his.
When my brother arrives, we take a walk around the 50 acres I call home. We pass my pond, and talk about a plan to make it bigger, longer, and a place to swim. We pass my cornfield. We pet the dogs and cats and horses I've accumulated. He says I'm creating quite a wonderland here. My husband tells him I'm a runaway train with my eye on making our life more and more spectacular.
I had no idea. I had no idea I was turning into him. I had no idea that a big brother is someone you emulate, no matter how hard you try not to. At dinner he asks for a second helping of cherry pie, and that feels pretty good, too.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.