I have always loved this picture of me and my brother Joe, 18 months younger, taken in the fall of 1948. This might have been the last time I had the advantage over Joe. I seem smugly satisfied by his captivity. In my baby book my mom claims that “Mary Jo and Joe were always ahead of mother. Often though she forgot he was so small and played rough.” I am dubious; he does not look intimidated. Joe always pulled the wool over mom’s eyes. She never knew that Joe’s babysitting consisted of taking his brothers out on the roof and daring them to jump into the swimming pool.
All our lives, I have never been sure when Joe is pulling my leg. For 50 years he made me feel guilty for pushing him down the cellar stairs in his walker. He blames all his academic inadequacies on the resulting head injury. I believed him since Andrew (3 years younger) and I were so much better students. Before her death my mom revealed that Lorraine, our next door neighbor, was the real culprit. Significantly, I thought I might have wanted to eliminate him.
From age 7, I regularly asked forgiveness in confession for hitting my brothers. The priest should have been more skeptical about my resolution of never doing it again.
My mom and dad must have been dedicated to nurturing their children’s unique gifts at whatever cost, so Santa was allowed to bring Joe a drum and me a baton. We lived in a tiny two bedroom, one bathroom, one-story house. Was Joe allowed to play the drum inside? This picture proves the falsity of Joe’s accusation that I regularly beat him up. If I been a brother slayer, surely my mom and dad would not have trusted me with such an effective weapon. Richard obviously had not a fear in the world that my baton would come in contact with his head or his drum.
Joe is an amazing brother. I have always been in awe of him. Like my mom he much so much braver, bolder, eager to try new things, capable of stunningly creative mischief. I admired his becoming an altar boy when I knew Latin so much better. I admired his serving God and making a profit with wedding and funeral tips. I admired his persistence in track and cross country in high school when he never won and no one came to his meets. I admired his taking the driving test five separate times.
Joe came home from college with a trunk full of new shirts. He had been too busy gambling away his scholarship to do the laundry. Joe decided to try skiing for the first time the day before his wedding. He badly injured his knee and needed a shot of cortisone to limp his way up to the altar. The Epistle described how “my love comes leaping to me like a gazelle.” I admired his courageous decision to resist induction into the army and go to jail if he didn’t get conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. I was impressed by his success at keeping his plan to refuse induction in 6 weeks a secret from his bride’s family at the wedding.
Joe has fathered 6 children, been a prison librarian, ran a gas station, taught in a ghetto school, built a playground, sold coffee and ice cream, ran a chain of newspapers, been CFO of the largest US used truck company, owned an oil company, sold escalator efficiency equipment, and finally found fulfillment as CFO of his older daughter’s company. He has always been a rock, supporting me and my daughters in all our trials and craziness. Sometimes his support is endless, infuriating advice. But I always know he persists in being wrong because he truly loves me.