Samantha Johnston: Don’t worry, little niece, someday you’ll appreciate having a “little” brother
Last month, I babysat my niece, Elmslie, while her baby brother was being born. When I asked her what she thought of having a brother, she said, without hesitation, “grosh,” which is almost-2-year-old speak for “gross.” I laughed. I understood. I felt that way about my baby brother once, too. I also told her that she had better learn to love him, because one day she’d find out that there’s nothing in this world better than a brother.
Of all the things I have in this life, the one I would not trade for all of the Sheer Bliss pizza and Champagne in the world is the relationship I have with my brother, Kelly.
He’s younger than me by two-and-a-half years, though when people ask who’s older he always says, “My sister. She’s MUCH older.” He’s wiser and tougher and kinder, too.
My dad, who really was my biggest fan, died just before I turned 30. He left a gaping hole in my life where a champion and a shoulder to cry on and a fellow practical prankster and a belly laughing storyteller and a mentor should have been. I could not have known that my little brother would step into dad’s size 12 shoes and wear them like it was his job.
Kel is my biggest fan and my all-the-time champion. He’s also the first one to tell me when I’ve gotten a little too big for my britches. My dad said there was nothing I couldn’t do if I put my mind to it. My brother mostly agreed, except for when I wanted to be a horse jockey and he felt like my 5’9” and 160-pound frame was probably going to make my prospects slim to none and, as he put it, “slim was on vacation.”
Never once in my 45 years has he said anything short of “you are enough. You are always enough.” And through breakups with boyfriends and losing good dogs to job promotions and exciting adventures, he has always encouraged me to be my best self. His respect for women and his lifetime of building me and the other women around him up is probably why I can still confidently wear my bright pink Ann Taylor overcoat despite the fact that when I proudly wore it for the first time, he said, “Barbara Bush called. She wants her frock back.”
He’s the brother who knows what I’m laughing at without me ever saying a word. When life is hard, he says “I’m sorry, Sam,” and I know he means it. When life is good, he says “I’m so happy for you,” and I know it comes from the very bottom of his heart. He’s who I call on a Tuesday at 5 a.m. to discuss something I read in the Hustle or how it was ever possible that people smoked on airplanes or whether dogs really know that a kiss on the snout means we love them and how many drinks in a night REALLY qualifies as binge drinking.
He’s the brother who drove 259 miles one way to pawn some of his favorite possessions in college so he could save me when I thought my dad might murder me if he found out that I’d spent most of my rent money on margaritas at the Rio in Fort Collins. My dad found out anyway because parents aren’t nearly as dumb as we think they are.
I wondered what life might be like when my brother got married and had kids. How our relationship would change. And yet, when he became a husband, he worked hard to make sure that I developed a relationship with his wife and that we became the friends we are today. When his daughter was born, he promised me that the relationship I have with her is a top priority for him. And now that his son has arrived, he never forgets to FaceTime or send photos of family adventures. We’re closer now than ever before.
When my brother and I were young, we fought like cats and dogs. I will always remember my mom saying, “You two better learn to love each other, because one day you’ll be all each other has.” I remember thinking what a miserable reality that day would be.
Mom was right (of course). Kelly’s not all I have, but I wouldn’t be me without him.
Samantha Johnston is the publisher of The Aspen Times and guesses she’s OK with having a “little” brother.
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