Loincloths, Bulging Muscles and Bathroom Tiles

26 Jan

“Did you just copy your older brother as a child?”

The question hangs between us for a second before I acknowledge it.

“For the most part,” I say slowly. “I wanted to be just like him but I also wanted to be very different.”

(Isn’t that the case so often? Vying for two opposites, wanting both simultaneously.)

I knew he was male and I was female. I knew he was taller and older and quite a bit nicer. His name meant gift from God and mine meant given to God (nice symmetry). I knew that sometimes he lost things like Star Wars figures (my brother has a bad history with laundry/washing machines) and Lego pieces and I was a little know-it-all.

Also, he talked to strangers. I didn’t. In fact, he talked to people. I didn’t. In all honesty, it can be best summed up in that he talked. Full stop. I didn’t.

And if he liked a super hero, I liked the villain. It was my way of standing out and being different. (Also, I sometimes just liked the villains. And also, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves’ half brother was just really really good looking.)

But where we were most different, as I remember it, is our imagination abilities. I always liked boundaries, he did not.

If you listen to our childhood tape recordings, you can spot the difference: Liz describing a Little House on the Prairie book, maybe creating her own version of the story, but keeping it very realistic. (One story basically involves me saying “they churned the butter” and describing the pantry in true but boring detail.) Matt combining his love of Star Wars and his hero worship for Abraham Lincoln and for his Dad the preacher into a declaration that “just like Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, I will do the same/preach to the aliens!” That would never ever ever have occurred to me. And not only because “preaching to aliens” involves 1) talking and 2) strangers.

If you watched us drawing, you could spot the difference: Matt with sheets of white paper covered with drawings of barbarians and space creatures and comic books, designing his own pop-up books and throwing any elements from mythology, the Bible, history and science fiction into the mix. I did not use blank paper. Partly because I can’t draw. I only used graph paper and colored pencils (markers were untidy an bled) and it was important that my work be tidy, stay within the tiny graph squares, and for the most part symmetrical. I drew mazes and designs. While my brother concentrated on loin cloths, bulging muscles and weaponry, I drew mosaic bathroom tile designs.

(Which explains a lot.)

My childhood was made better by his imagination. My favorite toy was paper figures he drew for us. Every new book my parents read to us expanded our paper person collection. I would have been content with one full set. But my brother’s imagination inspired us to combine characters from The Hobbit with Arthur and the sword and the stone, Excalibur, the loathsome lady, dragons, princesses, kings of England, Vikings (my favorite after Excalibur), Narnia, and any other story that fascinated us. The paper person collection led us to create scenarios that would never have existed in real life. (When my sisters were old enough, he added princesses and queens in pink and purple and yellow to meet their exacting specifications.)

In some ways, I didn’t copy my brother. But in lots of ways, I did. I like to think he and my parents helped pull me out of my “realistic, logical, box of reality” into a world that embraces fantasy and poetry and imagination just enough that I could appreciate its merits even if I still, and always will, prefer graph paper to blank white sheets.

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2 Responses to “Loincloths, Bulging Muscles and Bathroom Tiles”

  1. Matt January 28, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Liz, not only is this very well-written and entertaining, but it is very kind. I’m glad that in some small way my zaniness helped make your childhood a little more fun! Thanks for sharing!

  2. dennisdouglaspe February 20, 2013 at 9:11 am #

    Serious lover of your blog, a considerable number of your blog posts have really helped me out. Looking towards updates!

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