did you know my brother?

Dear little red-haired girl,

I’ve been looking at old pictures and other stuff from when I was a kid. Such a long time ago, it seems. I have so many old photos. Some I can’t even remember who the people are, nor why I ended up with them; others I can almost tell you the minute they were snapped. I came across the enclosed picture today. I can smell the crisp autumn air, and hear the whoosh-whoosh of your mother’s crinoline slip under her full skirt, and the impatient click of her high heels on the pavement as she tried to adjust the camera…I can even feel the scratch of the wool coat your brother wore as he stood beside you, glaring at the camera and muttering under his breath, just before your dad made him stand on the other side of him so you’d quit squirming. Do you remember this picture? I didn’t think you would. You probably don’t remember when it was taken either, but I do. It was the fall of 1961, and you must have been about 3 or 4. I remember watching this scene from a distance, envious of the pretty clothes and the close family ties your family seemed to enjoy – even though you didn’t look very happy in this photo. I wanted to belong to your family, but could only stand across the street and watch as your mother snapped the photo, and then you and your family walked down the street to that big white church and disappeared inside. Were you going to a wedding? Or a funeral? I never knew which, just that you stood there together on the sidewalk as a family, making a memory. Your family never realized you were making a memory for me too. Funny. I don’t think any of you even knew you were being observed.

It was a surprise to me that we ended up in the same school just a few years later. You and Donald were in the popular crowd, but you didn’t seem to be particularly impressed with that status. We never became friends, but I’d watch each day as your mother or father would pick you and your brother up after school. It must have been pretty special, not having to ride the bus home. Your brother Donald was in the same grade as my older brother Jack; I’m certain that they never were close friends either, but they did know each other. I think Jack had a crush on you even then.

I found this picture in his things…I wonder how he came to possess it. He must have asked your brother for it at some point. As I look back over the last 40+ years, I can’t help but wonder if Jack had been watching your family that day too. I never saw him behind me, but I have a feeling that was why he cherished this particular picture so much. I wondered if Jack singled out this picture, or just mentioned to Donald that he’d like to have one for his album, since he had always wanted to be a professional photographer and was such a photo-hound. Did Donald give him this one as a joke, because you were so little in it? Or did he even think about the fact that you were there at all – sometimes big brothers just don’t think about little sisters. Or it could’ve been that he was warning my brother to back off, that you were too young to think about boys and he was your big-brother guardian. Whatever the case, my brother never even spoke to you, as far as I ever knew. But, as I have recently discovered, he never lost that crush either. You were the little red-haired girl he always dreamed of. He did marry a red-haired girl, by the way.

Well, that’s about it, I guess. I know you probably don’t even remember me, but I thought I’d write and see if you wanted this picture back, since my brother is gone now. He never talked about it, but he kept it tucked away safely, so it never even got the edges bent. I wonder, does your husband love you that much? I hope so! Everybody should have least one chance to be somebody’s lifelong crush, to know that just by existing you bring joy to one person.

My brother loved his wife very much, but I see now that he always carried that youthful crush in his heart for you, his first love. I thought you should know that. His wife is gone now too, so I can share this with you, without hurting her.  Jack loved her and was totally devoted to her, and would never have left her, even for you – his boyhood crush. I think the memory of that little-boy love was what he cherished the most.

It’s interesting how one little picture can change a person’s perspective on life. I grew up thinking my brother Jack was a rough, tough kind of guy, who never cared what anybody thought of him. He had a chip on his shoulder that he just dared anybody to knock off, and never gave the slightest hint that he could be overcome by any emotion so wimpy as a boyhood crush. I never knew his deepest heart until it was too late. Did he ever share that part of himself with anyone? I’m sure he never mentioned it to his wife. Do you share your deepest feelings with the person closest to you? I urge you to do that. I wish I’d known Jack for the tender hearted person he really was.

The above story was written in response to this week’s WP writing challenge, A Picture is Worth 1000 Words. Although most of it is just a fictional take-off on the photo provided, some of it hits pretty close to home. I’ll let you guess which parts are fictional and which are truth.