When I was a kid growing up on a dead-end street in Hillside, factories at the top, factories at the bottom, all playing fields to us, we had an ice-cream man who served soft ice cream along with the Good Humor bars. The most expensive item on the truck was a chocolate shake.
The block was full of kids ranging from me and my best friend Anne, the youngest, to older brothers and sisters, in their late teens and early twenties. None of us could really afford the chocolate shakes. I’d stare at the picture as I counted dimes. One day, my brother was there, watching us in line. He must have seen me counting, figuring, looking disappointed, because he got up off the curb and said, “What do you want? My treat.”
I was afraid to say the shake, but he guessed it and said, that’s fine, and he pulled what looked like a fortune to me from his pocket. I’m sure it wasn’t, but slicing a dollar bill from what looked like tens and twenties had my eyes open wide. He worked. He was older. From that day on, if he was ever around when the ice cream man came, he’d jog over and buy me a shake.
That wasn’t his only magic. He let me play in his bedroom when he was out. He had swords and daggers hanging on his walls, medieval wall hangings, a spiked flail hanging over his pillow. And he had a wall of model cars. I didn’t take anything down, I just touched things gently, and then lay on his bed and made up stories. I liked cars and dolls equally as a kid; I liked swords and easy-bake-ovens. He encouraged my imagination in what others might have dissuaded.
And he was an artist, is an artist. He’d let me watch him draw. I’d sit at the kitchen table and watch the array of pencils bring out shadow and light to form trees and mountains and cabins and our own small house in a little street.
He’s taken to going on vacations with my family now. And I tell him he has to bring his paints and canvases. It takes him nearly the entire week to get up inspiration, and then he sighs and unwraps the canvas and sets out the paint jars and palette. I wonder if he’s doing it just because I’m waiting. We bring home at least two small canvases, little things he says aren’t worth anything.
I love them. I have two of his large paintings hanging in my house, along with the little things. I still have the sketches he drew me when I was kid, even the fire engines he helped me draw for a school project. He’ll be retiring soon, and I told him he has to come out more often, have dinner with us. He and Gary are very good friends. Maybe we’ll go out for ice cream, and maybe I’ll order the biggest dish!
Older brothers can be magic to a younger sister. I wonder sometimes how much he’s responsible for my opinions of men and my underlying belief they’re good guys.