A big brother’s love from childhood to middle age
In the eyes of his 6-year-old younger brother, Michael could fly. He could dive over my father’s Ford, hit the ground in a perfect somersault, and with a smile on his face and grass stains on his pants, end up on his feet.My brother could climb trees and telephone poles and fight like a demon – he’d seldom win but he never retreated. He was 11 years older than me and called me “Little Buddy.” When he was 14, he wrote a poem about me. “He’s a cocky lad to say the least, and he’s not afraid of man nor beast.” If the truth be told, my natural inclination though was to be afraid of man and beast. Some children are born fearless; I was sensitive and high strung. My brother Mike wouldn’t hear of that. He was determined to make me (in his words) “A scrappy son of a B.”The priests who taught Michael in junior high school told my mother that he was a “late bloomer.”
In other words, he was immature for his age. Mike didn’t quite fit in with the other boys; he was different. He was small and because of a head injury, wore glasses and had a slight stutter. He was teased, but only to a point, because Michael was unpredictable and maybe slightly unstable. I’m sure it was hard for him, but that was a blessing for me. If Michael had been like the other kids, he might not have had the time to spend with me.I was the youngest and he was the oldest of six children. My other siblings wanted little to do with me, but Michael was different. He would come home from school, ride me down Main Street on the handlebars of his bicycle and buy me ice cream. He taught me how to climb trees, box and to spit through my front teeth. He bought me my first bat and ball (with his own money) and convinced me a knee to the groin isn’t always dirty fighting.I can remember the first time I realized that I was taller than my oldest brother. He was leaving to go into the Army when I was 12. He hugged me and said, “Be tough Little Buddy.” While holding Michael, I noticed that I was taller and almost as wide. It must have been that way for some time, but I just never noticed. My father and I put Mike on a bus that morning. Watching him roll away, I imagined the worst. American troops were just beginning to be sent to Vietnam; would he be one of them? I also was concerned that the military people wouldn’t see past his peculiarities to his goodness. I was wrong.
Michael flourished in the military. He was surrounded by other recruits who, I’m sure, felt awkward and displaced. This was nothing new to Mike – he’d felt displaced his whole life. Michael served in Army Intelligence. We weren’t sure exactly what he did there, but we assumed that he did it well. When he was discharged from the Army, he was recruited by other governmental organizations. I hoped at the time that he would take up their offers and become a secret agent. That would show those guys who teased him. But he decided to return home to Boston and got a job driving trucks. Michael was, and still is, my biggest fan. From Little League to high school football, he was in the stands when possible and demanded graphic recaps when not. When it became apparent that, unlike my siblings, I wasn’t college material, he was there to console me. “You don’t need college, Little Buddy. There is a big world out there that doesn’t charge tuition; go see it.” When writing, TV and radio eventually replaced sports for me, Mike was still a devotee. I’d bring home tapes of my shows and copies of my columns.He would read, watch or listen, sit quietly for a minute, as if forming an opinion, then look up and say, “That was perfect.” I knew my stuff wasn’t – and isn’t – perfect, but it still delights me to hear Michael say it is.
I used to tell people that my brother Michael gave me confidence. I was wrong. What Mike gave me was love. Confidence can’t be given: you either feel good about yourself or you don’t. If you think you’re ugly, weak, stupid or worthless, no one can tell you differently. But when someone you love and admire treats you like you’re special, you sometimes come to believe it. You can always find people to point out your weaknesses and faults. It is refreshing, particularly as a child, to have one person who sees you through the thick eyeglasses of adoration. Of course, I never took my brother’s compliments too seriously. After all, Mike is different …Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America,” can be seen on RSNtelevision, heard on KOA radio and read in several mountain publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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