This one’s for you, Ms. Debbie Hicks.
This photo shows my brother a year or so after he started out…such an adorable little Kryptonian…before he would become an annoying baby brother…before he’d eventually grow into a friend…and long before he would morph into Superman.
I don’t exactly know where the idea of Craig came from…or why it came at all. I suppose Mom & Dad were giving it one more try to have a son. Fortunately for them three was their lucky number as Craig arrived in February of 1953. I barely remember him as a baby, my sister and I (four and five at the time) having been far too busy traipsing through gullies of overgrown grass, halving green grapes to make them look like toilets, running through the sprinkler in our underwear, and playing in the ‘Indian’ shack or skating on the pond behind our house in rural Gorham, Maine, to pay any heed to someone with whom we couldn’t even play.
We left this idyllic little paradise in Gorham in 1955 and settled in Falmouth, a quaint suburb of Portland along the rocky coast of Maine. Craig was still a baby, essentially non-existent, and it wasn’t until he reached past toddler-hood and teamed up with some other little ruffians in the neighborhood that he became noticeable as the underfoot baby-brother he would pretty much remain…that is, whenever my field of awareness became broad enough to notice him, and then only peripherally.
Each of us having been very much the centers of our own worlds my two siblings and I had never really formed much of any alliance. Our lives intersected on holidays, at church, during school sports, and when scrambling out of trouble by trying to refocus blame on one of the others. Who knows if we might have benefited from some sort of allied stand against our strict, unyielding, alcoholic father who was most assuredly the center of his own universe, as he unjustly ruled over his roost…secreting family skeletons as if hoarding gold, expecting perfection from wounded children, and presenting a sham of ‘the perfect family’ to anyone outside of our house.
Maybe that’s why we never formed any kind of cohesiveness in those earlier days…because we were formed, instead, to be competitive…against each other and others at large; in everything…from appearance to grades to sports…all in the quest for favor in our father’s eyes. Today we playfully argue, You were mom’s favorite. No, you were, but no one ever argues dad’s favorite. Clearly it had never been any of us.
In the summer of 1966 we moved again, this time to Bellingham, Massachusetts, a distant suburb of Boston, and in 1968 Craig and our parents moved yet again to Atlanta. I stayed in Amherst to complete my junior and senior years at UMASS, and it was with a sense of relief that I watched my parents leave. But the move would leave Craig the only chick still living in the nest, and he would endure the challenges of a father who was becoming increasingly diseased…waking to tumblers of straight scotch and more controlling than ever.
But then an extraordinary thing happened.
In 1968, at sixteen years old, Craig ran away from home. He hitchhiked alone from Atlanta to Boston, and unknowingly began his journey to becoming one of my few heroes. I couldn’t quite believe the danger, the solitude, the frightening unknown against which he had pitted himself at such a young age. Here he was fulfilling my own failed intentions of running away when I was sixteen, and I was proud of him even as I helped to negotiate his return to Atlanta two weeks later .
But this sixteen-year-old had his own terms. He would return only with the stipulation that he be allowed to move to Gatlinburg for the summer. In desperation to have him back (of what use is being a control freak with no one to control?) my father acquiesced, and Craig returned to Atlanta and moved out shortly thereafter. That was the first time that any of us had ever substantively stood up to Dad, and it was perhaps the beginning of the end of his hold over us. It would take decades and untold therapy sessions to shake loose from his grip, and still a part of who each of us is today was shaped by that tyranny.
Today Craig has two sons and five grandchildren all of whom, sadly, as do my own children, continue to walk along the path of wounded children. Try as we might we couldn’t seem to do it a whole lot better, though Craig made heroic efforts as a dad, and as ‘Pawpaw’ to his grandchildren he is beloved.
My little brother morphed into a superhero about ten years ago when I divorced. He became my friend, my shoulder to lean on, my hiking and biking buddy, and my mechanic and handyman. He has listened to me drone on over divorce hardships, troubled children, and financial woes. He’s fixed everything in my house needing fixing…garbage disposal, dishwasher, and light sockets. He’s replaced fluorescent light tubes, window shades and blinds, and door locks. He’s replaced the rubber ends on the handlebars of my bike and adjusted the seat so many times I’ve lost count. He’s done so many things for me that I can’t even remember everything, and I only hope the memory loss is due to aging and not to taking his many kindnesses for granted.
Craig became my superman of superheroes a mere month ago when he laboriously and cautiously guided me with his arm and shoulder for nearly eight hours down Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (see post ‘Descending Mt. Washington on my butt’). That day, those long and grueling hours, I had been the recipient of a degree of patience and care from both my sister and my brother that overwhelmed me with love.
I’m eternally grateful to the universe that Mom & Dad gave it another go and propagated the best man in my life. I’m proud to say that Craig is my brother, and he is Superman.
I love you, Craigy!