When I stepped outdoors arctic air hit me, hard. The cold crystallized my breath sticking it to my cheeks in frosty wetness.
In the frozen air I spotted a movement. I saw my big brother walking, no, running, slip sliding across a frozen meadow as best he could carrying a wet, steamy bundle in his arms. Barreling right behind him, bawling madly was one of our best milk cows. Her newborn babe was shivering in my brother’s arms, and he was doing his best to get it into the barn for warmth.
An overnight spring snow-storm had caught us all by surprise, but especially the cow giving birth.
I wondered how my brother found the pair. How’d he know where to look or what to do? To my young eyes, he was brave and strong, and so smart. Right then and there, on that icy morning, my big brother became my hero.
He was fun. He helped me learn to ride horse and add long columns of numbers. But, he was a hero who teased, too. He’d steal my bowl of Cheerios as soon as I finished pouring the milk or my toast when the jelly was spread. He’d even steal the down comforter off my bed. Nonetheless, that never cost him his idol status.
Evenings, as he’d get ready to go out with his buddies, I’d follow him around singing (probably annoyingly off key) the chorus from an old ‘50s song.
“Big brother, take me with you.
Wherever you’re going I want to go too.
You’re so silly the things that you do,
but big brother how I love you.”
He’d punch my shoulder and say, “Squirt, you’re too young to hang out with us.”
The end of summer brought a chill that hit me hard. My brother was drafted and got his orders: VIETNAM. I had studied about Vietnam and knew that for one hellish year he would trudge through the rain and heat in jungles of a country that neither wanted him nor appreciated his work.
I wondered how and why the Army could send him so far away. I supposed they found out he was my hero and needed him to keep our country safe. For that extremely long year, I wrote to him often of family, local events and school happenings, making sure he got the message:
“Big brother, how I love you.”
Then I got news that hit me hard. My hero was coming home. I was elated, but I didn’t know the day or time. So every day after school for two weeks, I met the Greyhound bus. Each day I stood in the fall sunshine eagerly watching the bus door open. The warmth of the waning days matched the happiness in my heart. Standing there alone I realized sadly that there would be no homecoming celebration for my hero. Our parents were on the farm without a telephone and didn’t know what day he would arrive. His would be a quiet re-entry to a country that (at the time) didn’t value the duty of soldiers like him.
Sure enough, there was no parade, no hero’s welcome. Not even a girlfriend was there to greet him when he stepped off the bus looking spiffy in his brass-buttoned uniform. There was only me, his kid sister wildly jumping, laughing and shouting, “Welcome home! ‘Big brother, how I love you.’”
Lyrics from the Song: "Big Brother" by Dickie Lee
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