By Chastity Harris
Do you remember your first friend? Chances are you're thinking about the buck-toothed kid you grew up next door to, or the little girl in braids you met in kindergarten.
Take a look closer to home and maybe you'll find an even earlier friendship.
Your brothers and sisters are your first friends, enemies and hopefully the only people you ever try to maim or kill. My brother was all of those things to me. I often think fondly of childhood memories or cringe at the near misses we escaped.
I'm especially sentimental every August, around his birthday, and in late February. This February will mark the five-year anniversary of his death. All that week I'll remember the adventures we had as children. After all, no one really knows your childhood experiences like a sibling, someone who survived the craziness with you.
Our nearest neighbors could only be spotted through binoculars. So, despite a six-year age gap, we were forced playmates. Living on a farm gave us a super-sized playground with fields, forests and barns to explore.
We could often be seen racing across the hills on his dirt bike. When I was very small I would ride cross-legged on the gas tank holding on to the handle bars, the picture of safety. I couldn't begin to count the number of bumps, bruises and burns we obtained from motorcycle crashes.
Who knew that it could be so risky for two people on a dirt bike to do X-games-style jumps? The force of hitting a petrified cow patty at 50 miles an hour can send a motorcycle and its riders flying through the air in a fashion that would make Evil Knievel shudder. One moment you're on the bike and the next you're limping and bloody, pushing a busted bike back home.
Just like with other childhood friends, I didn't always play nicely with my brother. I remember chases, karate kicks and screaming matches.
My very best memory of my brother contains no blood or bruising. Even though we were not affectionate siblings, I know he loved me. Not because of all the things we did together as children. Nor the trust he put in me when dealing with his health and addiction issues in the last few years of his life.
I knew of his love because of a peanut butter sandwich.
When I was around nine and he was 15, my parents were going out for the evening and just the two of us were staying home, making sandwiches for our dinner.
I had already toasted the bread when I realized we were out of ham and cheese. Now my Mom, being a mom, insisted that I not waste perfectly good bread. Which I understand now; at the time I thought she was a lunatic, it was just bread.
The only sandwich materials we had were pimiento cheese and peanut butter, not even any jelly. A battle ensued between mother and daughter, which ended with me having a peanut butter sandwich on now-cold hard toast.
I sat sniffling across the picnic table picking at my nasty sandwich. Suddenly, my brother leaped up and grabbed the monstrosity.
"Haha, I've got your sandwich!" He ran across our backyard, carrying it high above his head while laughing.
I can still picture his red and white Hawaiian shirt flapping behind him like a banner. I gave chase just to see what he was going to do. When he reached the fence at the far side of the yard he sent that peanut butter sandwich sailing into the field, scattering wild-eyed cows. Shrieking with delight, I perched on the black board fence in my bare feet. He had saved me.
We never said anything else about it, not that evening or in the next 21 years before his death.
As the years go by, many of us lose touch with our families. Differences and arguments can drive siblings apart as can miles across the globe.
Shared blood shouldn't be the only thing that brings you back together. Remember your very first friend. The one who's been there since the very beginning, and knows all the wacky things you did as a kid. They probably talked you into half of those weird and wacky things. You didn't just grow-up in the same house, you grew into a friendship.
So who loved you enough to throw your peanut butter sandwich?
Chastity Harris is a Shenandoah County native. With the help of her husband of 13 years, she juggles three kids, a full-time job, and a yard full of chickens. Email her with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.