My brothers were born two days apart. Four years and two days. I’m writing this on the day between their birthdays, a space, relative to my brothers, I’ve found myself in often over the years.
Lest you get the wrong idea, let me explain.
We grew up on a farm. Not the real beef or dairy kind from which people make a living, but a farm nonetheless with acres and acres of land that, over the years, have found themselves home to dozens of cows, a half-dozen horses (including a pony named Boogie who, no kidding, hated me) and hay. Hundreds and hundreds of bales of hay that were the result of sweltering summer days spent rubbing bindertwined-imprinted hands and gulping gallons of icy sweet lemonade.
A farm, I suppose, is an environment that’s ripe for raising a girl with a tomboy edge — although my parents would deny it, I’m pretty sure I learned to ride a dirt bike before my banana-seated Huffy; the reason I’m pretty sure is because running nose first (open-throttled nonetheless) into a wooden fence isn’t the kind of thing you wipe from your childhood memory — but my brothers are who I have to thank, or perhaps blame, the most.
Our front yard was, and still is, about the length of a football field — perfect considering football is what we used it for most of all. Because there were only three of us* I was the swing player, jumping teams after each touchdown or unsuccessful fourth, whichever came first. Our playbook consisted of three plays: A, B and C. The first two were running plays (A: I run; B: You run) and the third (C) was whatever passing route my brother Jamie mapped out on his palm.
It’s an inside joke we still exchange whenever we get the chance.
When we weren’t in the mood for football, it was home run derby, wiffle ball or PG ball (played with “practice golf” balls, a game I’m now wondering if we made up); games that more often than not ended with my brothers hovering over me whispering things like “Sshh, stop crying” and “Don’t tell Mom.” Inside it was WWF — tag teams, powerdrivers and bodyslams Jimmy Superfly Snuka style until my mom inevitably would call from the bottom of the stairs, “Are you guys jumping on my bed?” The response would come swiftly and in unison (“Nooooo!”) with just enough of an incredulous edge to make her think she was losing her mind. We’d fleetingly (not) contemplate the consequences, quickly fix the blue and white bedspread that had slumped to the floor and ring the bell to signal Round 2.
My brothers, I’m sure, could tell of endless more adventures that didn’t include their pithy little sister just as I could share more about each one of them that didn’t include the other. *And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our older sister Bobbi whose whereabouts during these moments I can’t seem to recall but whose significance in our lives is second to none. I could go on, as I’m thoroughly enjoying my trip down memory lane, but I’d like to make a point lest I lose you altogether.
I am under no illusion that reading this is (for you) as meaningful as experience as it has been (for me) to write. For I have been flooded with memories, in more quantity and detail than I could possibly write here, that have left me overwhelmed with gratitude, laughter and love.
What I am hoping is that, maybe, as you’ve been reading this story you’ve found yourself on a detour in your own, taking a moment to imagine a scene you haven’t thought about in years, perhaps letting it linger until details you thought were forever forgotten crystallize once again — the smell in the air, the shirt you were wearing, the size of the tree that’s now twice as tall, the way someone’s voice sounded in your ear, the thing they said that you’ll never forget, what it felt like to be the person you were in those spaces and places that, little by little, have made you who you are.
We don’t do it often enough, do we? Not me, anyway.
Last year my siblings and I celebrated Jamie’s 40th over soggy orange nachos and sloshy cups of beer at PNC Park. It was the first time we had been together sans kids and spouses since . . . I can’t remember when. Life is busy. Miles separate us. Ten children under the age of nine (between the four of us) leave us exhausted. But that night, as we talked and joked and laughed in a city that’s as foundational to being an Ashcroft as crawdads are to a creek, it became clear that even the most hectic seasons of life can’t steal the ragtag pieces that we’ve shared over the years.
Ragtag pieces that are a gift to remember, relish and retell.
So happy birthday to my brothers, Jamie and David, and to the parts of them that have left me beaten, bloody, bruised . . . and all the better. And to my non-birthday family — Bobbi, and my cousins Jess and Min — for adding to the bank of pieces that have left me equally as bruised, but significantly blessed.
And laughing all weekend long.