My Little Brother Turned 50 Today…Memories of a Big Sister…

I was three when I came home from a trip to my Grandma Shoots’ house to find that I was no longer an only child.  The usurper was ten lbs. of trouble topped by a giant head which had torn my petite mother stem to stern when it passed through (that was all from the Shoots side)…they told me his name: Jeffery Layne…we called him “Jeffy”.  I thought he looked like a little old man!

Jeffy wasn’t much fun for me the first year…he slept too much!  If I caught him asleep, I’d give him just enough of a poke to wake him up…unfortunately for me, Mommy caught me doing it more than once!  Later, he repaid me for disturbing his slumber by sinking his teeth into my upper arm: “Mommy, Jeffy bit me!” was a common complaint thereafter…

Jeffy was very cautious…I was walking at eight months, but it was well after his first birthday before Jeff was brave enough to take his first independent steps.  I remember him getting down on all fours and turning around backwards to negotiate any small change in the terrain.

My brother was the noisiest kid I’d every encountered in my short life.  He screamed constantly, not because there was anything wrong with him, but because he seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice!  It’s a wonder I lived through the summers of 1964 and 1965…our poor mother used to keep the windows closed (in our 95-degree Ohio weather) so the neighbours wouldn’t think she was beating him!  Luckily, by the time he was two, Jeffy replaced screaming with singing (which he would often practice randomly at church, during Daddy’s sermon).  We have an audio tape of Jeffy singing his version of the theme from Batman: “Batman! Wah, wah, wah, wah.  Batman!”

Jeffy had curly brown hair, which endeared him to everyone who saw him in my parents’ arms:  “Oh, what a pretty little girl!”, they’d say.  Wanting to put an end to the confusion, Daddy took my brother for his first visit to the barber when he was two…Jeff never had curly hair again!  I think he must have been inspired by the experience, because when he was five, my dad asked Jeffy what he wanted to be when he grew up: “I want to be a barber,” he answered.  “I got REAL scissors!”

Three-year-old Jeffy stuck at the kitchen table playing with his balloon boat, while he was supposed to be eating his peas!

Three-year-old Jeffy stuck at the kitchen table playing with his balloon boat, while he was supposed to be eating his peas!

The year Jeffy turned five was a particularly memorable one: We moved to Canada that summer, and for his birthday, Jeffy got a brand-new metallic green bike with a banana seat, monkey handlebars, and training wheels (which would stay on for the next three years…did I mention Jeff was cautious?).  Jeffy also was sent reluctantly off to kindergarten, which in hindsight, I don’t think he was ready for…almost every day, I was summoned from my Grade Three classroom to come to the kindergarten, because “Jeffy’s crying again”.  He missed about half the school year due to tonsillitis, which was lucky for me…I had just enough time in my own class to pass!   I remember being jealous when Jeffy came home from having his tonsils out…he got to have ice cream!

Jeff with his brand new bike.

Jeff with his brand new bike.

That first year in Canada was also the year that we had our first cat named Tripper…Jeffy was particularly fond of him (and a decade or so later, named a second cat “Tripper”).  We started attending church in Trenton, where Jeffy and the minister’s son, James, became best friends, and engineered many wild adventures, which you can read about here: https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/our-first-year-in-canada-part-1/, and here: https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/our-first-year-in%C2%A0canada%E2%80%A6part%C2%A02%E2%80%A6/.

In 1970, our family moved to Rednersville, where we met our friends, Jimmy and Dougie.  Jeffy and Dougie were the same age, and Jimmy was a year older.  I used to organize plays and musical productions in our back yard, which the boys would ultimately get roped into.  When I was ten, I had mastered Bob Dylan’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” on the guitar, and recruited my seven-year-old brother to play the part of the girl picking the flowers.  I made a “wig” out of paper cut into strips, and plopped it on Jeffy’s head.  I played my song and sang, while he skipped around the back yard collecting the paper flowers I had carefully coloured.  The audience loved it!

Our dad built us a tree fort, and had purchased an old VW van, which he parked underneath it…the four of us spent hours playing in the van and the tree house.  We also had a path to ride bikes around the house, since we weren’t allowed to ride on the road until later.  One of our other favourite activities was a modified form of kickball, which we called “Running Around the Bases”.

When Jeffy was eight (and I was eleven), I suggested we get a paper route together…we had about 50 customers between us.  Jeffy did the closer houses, and I did the ones farther away.  Sadly, Jeffy had all the good tippers on his part of the route…jealousy reared its ugly head again!  The little bugger saved most of his money too, which I had great difficulty doing (although I did save enough to buy myself a ten-speed!).

We spent every nice day outdoors, which wasn’t always the best thing for my brother…Jeffy had inherited our mom’s hay fever in a big way!  I remember hearing him sneeze and sneeze and sneeze all summer, especially later on when he was picking vegetables for a living.

Jeff and I at the Sandbanks, ca. 1972.

Jeff and I at the Sandbanks, ca. 1972.

My mom had gotten a job by the time Jeffy was eight, so we were left to our own devices after school, which often led to bickering…one time, he was chasing me, so I ran into the house and shot the little slide bolt on the door over (our only lock).  Somehow, the lock ended up getting broken!  Another time, I thought it’d be funny to put icing from the beaters onto Jeff’s nose…he apparently didn’t share my opinion!  He chased me upstairs, and pushed me backwards into the bathtub!  We rarely fought physically, but that incident has always stuck in my mind.  Usually, I’d claw him with my nails if he started hitting me (he used to bite me, remember?)…our parents were not impressed!

When Jeff was thirteen, our parents gave us some money they’d saved for us, probably about $1500 each.  Jeff bought himself a lawn tractor from Sears, and soon had lawn mowing customers from all over the neighbourhood (I started a candy store).  He was a hard worker, and earned enough money to buy his first car from the proceeds, a Renault that he’d drive around our fields because he wasn’t old enough to have a license yet.  Jeff tried to teach me how to drive it, but I never mastered the art of letting the clutch out slowly enough not to stall the car!

Jeff got his driver’s license soon after he turned sixteen…I didn’t have mine, so my brother became my new driver…I think our parents were glad to get a break!  We took a memorable trip to Ohio in a borrowed Honda Civic with our mom one summer: https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/the-kilbourne-vine-caper/

In the summer of 1982, Jeff was working for a market gardener picking produce, and got me on to the all-male crew…that was one of the funnest jobs I’ve ever had (and a lucky break since I’d been laid off from my job at the photo lab because I’d had to take six weeks off for my college internship!).  It was in those cornfields that Jeff had some of his most spectacular sneezing fits!

Jeff on his way to work on the farm...

Jeff on his way to work on the farm…

I left home in 1983 and moved to the Maritimes…Jeff stayed at our mom’s house for several years and helped look after her (she and our dad had divorced in 1985, and she was chronically ill).  Later, he took a soldering course at Loyalist College.  Jeff’s first job after finishing school was at Leigh Instruments in Carleton Place, where he met and later married my sister-in-law, Bev (I like to think he picked her because she’s a lot like me).

In 1994, my niece, Taylor Dawn, was born.  Jeff was a doting dad and taught Taylor useful things, like how to fetch beer for him and play golf.  She inherited his love for classic cars (and beer), but she turned out all right anyway!  Jeff, Bev and Tay visited my family in Moncton, New Brunswick, in the summer of 1996.  We took them to the Magnetic Hill Zoo, which featured a small train to transport visitors around the property.  We were all riding on the train, and Jeff stuck his head out the window to look at something behind us…he pulled it back in, just as we came to a signpost along the tracks, which was disturbingly close.  When Jeff realized that he might have been decapitated had his head been out the window for another split second, he freaked out: “I could have been killed!”  He talked about it for the rest of the afternoon year..I don’t think he appreciated my uncontrollable laughter at the situation…it made for a good story, though.  Jeff’s always been a master storyteller!

Today, Jeff is still working at what is essentially the same company in Carleton Place (its third incarnation is called “DRS”).  He spends his spare time riding his motorcycle, working around the house and yard, and fishing small dead animals out of his back yard pool.  Jeff has also organized a regular summer “Cruise Night” for the other classic car lovers in the area, which has raised several thousand dollars for the local children’s hospital over the years.

Jeff and Bev on the bike...they wear helmets when it's moving!

Jeff and Bev on the bike…they wear helmets when it’s moving!

Happy 50th Birthday, Jeff!  I tease you a lot, but you’re still my brother and I’m very proud of the man you’ve become!

 

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