I’m a kid sister. In fact, I have six older siblings and one younger. At five years old, my sister found herself the middle child between two boys: Tom, the elder, and Steve, the younger. Not willing to accept this position in life without a fight, she protested to our mother that she wanted a little sister. Mom told her to pray about it, and for years after told us all to be careful what we asked Margaret to pray about. About a year after her plea, Mom gave birth to twins, and eighteen months after that another baby, and three years after that, I arrived, and two years after that, her final child: all girls!
We lost our father to cancer when I was only nine years old, and our mother had very little work experience outside the home. Tom served in the Air Force at the time, and Steve was a senior in high school. Mom had five young ones in grade school still at home when she packed up the family from LaCrosse, VA in Mecklenburg County and moved us back to Bensley in southern Chesterfield County – into the same house where she had home-birthed Steve eighteen years earlier. We had very little to our names, and Mom struggled to make ends meet and put food on the table.
College was out of the question for Steve, as he knew the responsibility for helping Mama would fall to him with Tom away. Even with potential for scholarships, Mama simply needed too much help to lose him at that point. His paychecks often went to help with electric bills or gas; however, a more important part—in my mind at least—of his influence in my life was his simple presence. During those years following our father’s death, he invested in me. Being more of a tomboy than a girly-girl, I participated in every sport I could try out for. My athletic career began on the softball fields of Bensley Elementary School in the recreational softball leagues. Whenever Mama could not get me to my games, Steve would come and make sure I got there. Steve’s personality drove him to push me as an athlete much like he pushed himself in anything he did. He would have me pitch to him and take me to the fields to practice batting. He did the same with my music, and as a result, I earned a full year of tuition and room and board by singing my way across America.
Tom also invested in my athletics. He himself had been an athlete in high school and was well known in South Hill, VA for his tenacity on the football field. There was nothing he wouldn’t do on a field to drive his team to success, and his teammates loved him for it. I didn’t remember this for myself, but Steve recounted stories to me years later. Tom took me to semi-professional baseball games, and I still remember most of the starting lineup of the UVA Cavaliers basketball team in the early 80’s. He kept a scrapbook of them, and we watched tons of games together as the still-growing Ralph Sampson charged across that court with Jeff Jones, Jeff Lamp, and Ricky Stokes.
Tom loved movies and was a bit of a rebel. We had never been allowed to attend movies, but Tom sneaked me to my first one: the first Rambo movie. He warned me on the way in to brace myself because Sylvester Stalone would have his arm ripped off and would sew it back on himself. I watched that whole movie with a pit in my stomach because I don’t handle blood well. When the credits rolled, I looked over at him in shock wondering if I had missed it. He was doubled over laughing at me, knowing I had worried the whole time about a scene that never happened.
These days, Steve comes across as the dignified statesman, a former senator in the Virginia General Assembly, but at his core, he’s a joker. He is still well known for his peanut butter skits in his early years as a youth leader at our church. He and his buddies strutted around doing chicken skits and any other crazy antic they could think of on their bus routes to bring inner city kids to church and give them a wonderful time as they learned about God.
Both brothers ended up as umpires in my high school softball league. I had the smallest strike zone of any pitcher in the league with two brothers and a brother-in-law determined never to appear biased. When I pitched with any other umpire, I would strike out one player after another with ease because my own family wouldn’t call a strike for me unless I put the ball precisely where they wanted it. Tom called me out over and over for throwing the bat after a great hit. At the time, frustration kept me from realizing the life lessons they taught me. Now I use those lessons daily in both my personal and professional life: always strive for excellence and keep pushing yourself to be better.
I think all siblings have those they relate to more completely, and Steve has been that brother for me. Maybe my mother inadvertently planted that seed when she related the story of our births to me. Steve’s umbilical cord wrapped around his neck during his home birth–even though the doctor attended the birth–and this scared her so much she never tried another one at home. Years later, even with doctors, nurses, and “modern” technology all around, the scare repeated with my birth. Perhaps both our losing oxygen to the brain explains many things about us, but for whatever reason, I connected, and he has been more to me than simply a brother. Yes, surrounded by sisters, he is severely outnumbered, but he is well loved, and he is my friend.
Steve and Tom aren’t perfect. They have their flaws, but they will always be my big brothers, and I will always love them.
Tom watching as Dad saves little Steve from falling off the swing.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.