Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Keepsakes

A friend asked me the other day, "What one little item that you don't really have a use for would you still not get rid of, even if you were having a huge sale to clear out your house of clutter?" I didn't even have to think twice about it -- the answer is the Superman you see here.

My big brother made him for me when I was very young, around 8 or 9. He was in dental school at the time, and they had access to ceramics. There was something weird with the machine that extruded the putty, and it only came out in thin strings, so he had to build up his sculpture from bunches of these strands stacked on top of each other.

I like the look of it, from the gigantic disco bellbottoms to the psychadelic spiral belt to the 70's-era standard-issue brown color. I like the look on his face, the small eyes and mouth, the rugged chin and cheekbones.

Yes, I like how it looks, but that's not why I've kept it for almost 30 years. I did some figuring, and it's been with me through 13 separate moves. That's 13 times packing and unpacking it. 13 U-Hauls or small cars jammed with stuff, including a bunch of moves back and forth to various college dorm rooms when you've barely got space to store your underwear, much less statuary. 13 chances to lose it, break it, forget it back at home, leave it shoved in the back of a suitcase somewhere.

Or looked at another way, I've had it for 28 years. I've had it longer than some of my teeth. It's been around long after my hair abandoned me. I've been through seven different vehicles since it's been around, countless pieces of clothing, a number of women, two states, and a bunch of jobs. And through all the changes it has remained, perched on a windowsill, always in sight wherever I might end up.

In fact, except for some comic books that my brothers had collected and passed down to me, it is probably the item I have owned the longest out of any of the things I have ever had.

Yes, I like how it looks, but that's not why I've kept it so long.

I keep it because my big brother made it for me.

When you're the youngest of seven, it's like your older siblings are part of a different family. Hell, they might as well be part of a different universe. My father was distant with me, when he wasn't yelling, and there weren't a lot of other kids in our neighborhood. Super-heroes and comic books were my real friends, my escape, my shelter. They were the one thing my father and siblings had in common, as my dad would bring home big stacks of comic books for us all to read together (Superman and Sergeant Rock for the boys, Betty & Veronica and Archie comics for the girls).

My brother Jimmy is the oldest boy in the family. By the time I was old enough to remember he was already out of the house, going to college, so I don't have a lot of memories of him growing up. Like my dad, he was sort of a present-but-absent figure. While he was in dental school he was married and had a son, and they were scrambling to make ends meet. He was studying, working, supporting the family, and in general had a lot going on in his life.

And yet he took the time to make something for his little brother that was tied in to the one bond we shared.

He took the time for me. ME. He cared. Right there in my hand was evidence that my big brother knew who I was, what I liked, and that I mattered to him.

Oh no, I'm not getting rid of this Superman.

My big brother made him for me.

4 comments:

Johnny said...

Jeff:

I was going to mess with your mind and say that Jimmy gave the Superman to me originally but I passed on it and he gave it to you rather than throw it out, but this would only be the kind of vicious and mean lie that an older brother would inflict, and I decided not to .... uh, sorry? Seriously, I really enjoyed it. All your writing is fresh and original; thanks for the gift.

JimmyMac said...

Great Post, Jeff.
Your Superman is a real treasure - valuable for all the right reasons.
Thanks for sharing the story.

Jeff Hebert said...

Thanks for the nice posts, guys, it means a lot to me.

Denise said...

I can remember seeing that Superman on the shelf and then wondering what happened to it. It always reminds me of how talented Jimmy is and how hard it was for him to make that and go to school, but as always, Jimmy has the biggest heart around. He is kind and generous and... wait a minute... where's MY statue?