It’s fun being the oldest child. Not always easy, but it is a lot of fun. You’re the first out of the house after graduation, you get to lord it over all the younger kids, and being the oldest male in the home, I always got the biggest piece of chicken at dinner time. The worst thing about being the eldest is that I had to grow up with a headstrong, temperamental younger brother who was my funhouse mirror reflection in every way. Our mama named him Phillip; his original nickname is Mr. Big Stuff but, I shortened it to Stuff as the years went on.
“Mr. Big Stuff” is a song by singer Jean Knight released in 1971, the year of my brother’s birth which was nineteen months after mine. My brother as a youngster was a ball of soft, curly hair and big, dark brown eyes that made him always the center of attention among family and strangers. From my hazy memories the song always fit Stuff because he had no problem being that center even at a young age and he made it known early on that he wanted everything his own way. That worked for me because I liked to fade into the background to see how all the angles played out even as a kid. I never wanted the spotlight because scrutiny came with it and I didn’t want to deal with it. Stuff, flash bastich he’s always been, welcomed it.
My sibling and I differ in everything from the physical to the mental and I wonder why we didn’t drive our mom crazier than we did while growing up. You don’t have to be a deductive genius to figure out there was a lot of filial violence over those years. Stuff has a hair-trigger temper while mine builds up until it explodes. Most times I’d let Stuff have his way because I wasn’t up for the back and forth but when I reached my full measure it would be on like Donkey Kong. We never broke bones or bloodied each other…much but we both dealt deep body blows when we threw down. I won most of them physically because I’ve always had size and inches on him but he got his licks in too. Stuff always won the PR war though because somebody was always there to tell me I was too big to be hitting on my younger, smaller brother no matter what he did.
I stopped trying to win that battle eventually. By the time Mama moved us to Georgia from Philly, I was old enough not to give a damn either way and just hit the door to the library or a convenience store to pick up some comic books when I felt a scrap about to come on between us. I knew more than anyone Stuff was no angel so it was better for me to handle crap between us the way I did than expect anybody else to see my side of the story. I’m quite certain I was just as wrong as he was the many times we came to blows but in the heat of combat, it’s not about who was right just about who won.
It wasn’t always a Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter mash-up between us though. I knew I could always count on Stuff to use his excellent art skills for any school projects I had while I was his own personal Google with the answers to any questions he might have about school, politics, and life. I was also the only one who knew how to cook grits the way he liked ‘em when our mom wasn’t home. Hey, we’re from Da Durty just as much as North Philly.
I sometimes think Stuff and I would have had a better relationship growing up if there had been more years between us. That year and a half difference kept me from being as protective of him as I probably would have if he were substantially younger than me. I’m certain he always took my judgment skeptically since he didn’t think less than two years gave me any greater store of life experience.
Whatever it was, Mr. Big Stuff and I still have a complex relationship even today in our middle years which is built just as much on raw and bruised feelings as deep love and loyalty. We feed each other with long-handled spoons and keep the miles between us so our relationship maintains an even keel. I’m not saying we’ll start throwing punches again if we have to spend too much time around each other but I’m not saying we won’t either.
I do know that Stuff was the first one to call me in the hospital when I almost died four years ago to tell me that I couldn’t leave him to deal with our kookoo for cocoa puffs family by himself. He also let me know he would settle some debts for me if I didn’t walk out of ICU that could only be put into the black with some red. Like I said, neither one of us are angels.
What do I give him back though? I like to think he knows I have his back even if it’s something I don’t verbalize too much. That’s my fault but our rocky shared history and my macho pride explains my reticence in that area. Better to be there when he needs help than walk around saying I will when times are easy and be ghost when they get tough.
I wish our bond was stronger or, rather, more open but everything in its own time. We’re both getting older and will need to be there for each other when it comes to looking after our mother and our children as the years go on. That’s duty, though, when our relationship should have a little more joy mixed into it but, again, everything in its own time. Stuff and I may never resemble the Wright or the Wayans Brothers but, knock on wood, we’ll never be the New Age Cain and Abel either. Hell, I’d be happy if we were more like the Marx Brothers because then there would be a little more unpredictability to our already animated family gatherings down in Da Durty.
–Jason O. Logan