Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Supporting Role: My Sister's Narrative

When I was six years old, it dawned on me in a flash that, with the birth of my brother, Gary, I had been assigned a supporting part while Gary took the leading role in the family.

In my mind's eye I can still see my brother squatting on a white blanket and laughing into the camera. That was in 1954, a few months after my brother was born in late December of the preceding year. The picture was taken at home. Home was in Northwest Philadelphia. My mother was thirty-eight years old at the time. My mother and I were looking at the photograph in that moment's recollection from 1954.

Gary was a happy child, said my mother, looking at the photograph. She didn't say any more, and I didn't say anything either, and looked at Gary squatting on a white blanket and being happy. I don't know what was making him happy, he was alone in the photograph, not clutching a toy and he was still happy. I envied him his happiness, I envied him the white blanket, and I envied him his place in the photo album, too.

Gary was right at the front of the album, ahead of all the other family members, while I was way at the back. And Gary's picture was quite big, while most of the photos I was in were small, not to say tiny. Snapshots taken by my parents with what they called a Box Brownie, and apparently this box thing could only make little tiny photos. You had to look at the photos with me in them very carefully to recognize anything at all.

For example, one of these tiny snapshots was of a pool with several children in it, and one of them was me. All you could see of me was my head, because I didn't know how to swim then, and I was sitting in the water, which came up almost to my chin. And my head was partly hidden by a child standing in the water in front of me, so that the miniscule photo with me in it only showed part of my head right above the surface of the water.

And what's more there was a shadow on the visible part of my head which was probably made by the child standing in front of me, so that the only bit of me you could really see was my right eye. While my brother Gary looked not just happy but important even when he was a baby. On most of the photos from my childhood I am either only partly visible or sometimes not really visible at all.

I envied my brother's leading role in the family.

1 comment:

Evydense said...

This makes me chuckle, Gary. I'm the youngest of five in my family. In our family album, there's a picture of my oldest brother about every hour and 15 minutes of the first 6 years of his life it seems. There are exactly two pictures of me before I'm about 12. Mom has always claimed that the camera broke and they couldn't afford to get it fixed or get another one at the time. Sounds a bit fishy though, don't you think!!