When I was born, I had a brother, Norm, who was about a year and a half older than I. My brother, Bob, was born about a year and a half after me, but I have no memory of it.
I was four when my brother, Fran, was born, and I remember it very clearly. My mother came home from the hospital after what seemed like a long absence. She was brought in and carried upstairs on a stretcher, and it seemed strange to see my energetic mother carried in that way, covered in sheets, except for her head, and looking so lifeless.
“Where’s the little baby?” I asked, as they were puffing carefully upward, “Didn’t it come home too?” Before they could answer, a nurse in a white uniform and a stiff little cap came in the front door carrying the baby. I couldn’t really see him. He seemed to be just a bunch of blankets all wrapped around each other. I bounced over to get a better look, but the nurse said, “Shh! He’s asleep. You can see him later.”
When we were finally taken into the bedroom to see Fran for the first time, my older brother, Norm, just looked at him for a minute, and then said, “Hmph!” My younger brother, Bob, looked at him for a few moments, making his assessment. “He’s too little to play with!” he said in disgust. “Well, he’s going to grow bigger,” I assured him.
I didn’t see anything wrong with that new and exciting person, and looked at him in fascination, especially at those little miniature hands. I reached out a finger tentatively to touch one, and Fran’s tiny fingers closed around one of mine so sweetly and deliberately, I felt a surge of love and joy. There began a connection that was never broken as long as he lived.
Fran was the happy one and the generous one of the family. His heart was big, uncritical, kind, and giving from the start. I was selfish, Norm was selfish, Bob was selfish, but Fran was always willing to share whatever he had. Our mother was always telling us to share our playthings, to be fair, and to be kind to other children, but no one had to tell Fran anything. He seemed to have been born knowing these things.
When we lived in Geneva, Illinois, where we moved when I was seven, we used to go on picnics to the Camden Woods, a lovely hilly area west of town. We used to have to lug everything quite a distance over the fields from the car, with everyone carrying something, and Norm always grumbling as he carried the large thermos of lemonade. My mother would spread out a tablecloth on the ground, and we would picnic under a huge oak tree. After that, we would all scramble up our favorite hill, which had a wonderful flat top and wasn’t hard to climb.
One day, as the grown-ups talked and we played on that hill, Fran found some loose change in the grass--an exciting event! Bob looked jealous, disappointed that he hadn’t found it first. Bob would have kept it, Norm would have kept it, I would have kept it, but not Fran. He counted the change, and without a moment’s hesitation handed some of the coins to Bob, saying, “Here, Bob, here’s your share.” Bob was ecstatic. I was amazed. I wouldn’t have even thought of doing such a thing, but couldn’t help but admire him for doing it, and loved him for being the way he was.
Not only was Fran generous and kind, but he was funny. He could always make us laugh, even when we were mad at each other, and many of our childish battles and rivalries would just melt away because his humor would make it seem so silly.
Later, we moved back to the “North Shore,” the suburbs north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. His imagination and humor were fun for us all. When we lived in Glencoe, and he was in high school, he had all sorts of inventive schemes in his room to make things easy to do. He rigged up a string to a light chain so he could put out the light after he was already in bed. At night he arranged his clothes on a chair by his bed so that in the morning he could get dressed in less than a minute.
He was creative about everything—always looking for a better way to do anything he had to do—and also was imaginative about getting a laugh. He put up a sign on the wall by his door, saying, “Only good-looking people may pull this string.” A little red string hung enticingly from the lower part of the sign. Of course, no one could resist pulling it. When they did, it opened downward, revealing a message that said, “My, but you’re conceited!” Everyone had to laugh.