Monday, July 27, 2009

Memory Monday: My Brother the Babysitter

My big brother, Don Roberts

My older brother, Donald Howard Roberts, was eight years older than I. (He was actually my half-brother – his father was my mother’s first husband, Howard “Dock” Roberts – but he always seemed to be a regular old brother to me.) He was considered old enough to babysit for me on those rare occasions when my parents could afford to go out for an evening or afternoon.

House rules changed when my brother Don was in charge. Ordinarily he took that imperious older brother attitude with me – often riling me up to the boiling point where I was ready to let my fists start flying, and then he would do that most aggravating thing – stick his palm against my forehead and keep me at arm’s length, a swinging and futilely flailing 5-year-old windmill of anger and frustration.

Babysitting nights were different. Even though he was “in charge,” Don must have taken the responsibility of having to entertain a five-year-old pretty seriously. On the menu were special games and entertainments that we didn’t indulge in when our parents were around (mostly for good reason) and all the foods we liked to eat that we could find in the house. Don would make “tunnel houses” for me using sheets and sofa and patio furniture cushions. I thought they were the coolest things ever. One of our favorite games was to put talcum powder in our socks, put them on, and then get off to a running start and “skate” down the polished wooden floor of the hallway. Hey, we cleaned the floor and made it smell good, too!

Feeding me earlier in the day was no problem and required no creativity: Cheerios for breakfast and tomato soup or beef vegetable soup for lunch. Dinner was another matter. Mom might have left a prepared meal, but Don and I regarded this as a special, not-to-be-lost opportunity, not to mention a sacred duty. We were not going to eat a regular dinner. Ice cream and cookies were a favorite. If my mother had planned ahead of time and left no dessert foods in the kitchen, we would just find something else that could never be mistaken for regular dinner food: crackers, peanut butter, popcorn, bananas with chocolate syrup, or cinnamon toast would do.

Don would even let me watch “my” shows on TV, though I think this was just a ploy to keep me entertained so that he could talk to one of his many girlfriends on the phone. We would also let our German Shepherd Trina in to the house to stay with us, something she was ordinarily not allowed to do.

These good times made up a little bit for all the otherwise obnoxious big-brother things Don did. That and the fact that he once pummeled Louie Marquioli, a much bigger neighbor kid, for calling me a name.


  1. Since I was the oldest in our family, I wonder if one of my younger sibs will write a touching memory blog like you have done for your older brother. Are you and your brother close now?

  2. Oh, Linda, the answer is a sad one. We did not grow apart as adults, but it was always easier for him to contact me (my phone number never changed) than for me to contact him (his phone number was always changing). I began to worry after too many years had passed and I hadn't heard from him, but it was only when I started genealogy that I found the tools to look for him. So in 2005 I checked through some records and found what looked like a California death record for him, and soon after that I found an obituary for him - he had died in 1999, only 53 years old. I have done research on his Roberts family and have been in contact with several of his Roberts cousins.

  3. Oh my gosh, that is sad, Greta. I'm glad you have fun memories of him.

  4. Greta, I'm so sorry to hear about your brother. But at the same time, that is a wonderful memory to have that you shared in the posting!

  5. Thank you,T.K. and Leah, for your kind comments. I do miss Don, but I do love to remember how much fun and how protective he could be. Someday I will have to tell the story of how I got together with his Roberts cousins and was able to give one of these cousins a number of photos of her brothers that she did not have.

  6. Sorry to hear about Don and you losing touch. I was the eldest of 4 (within 5 years) and was a rotten babysitter compared to Don. There was no entertainment laid on and no extra treats unless it involved "keeping quiet" about what I was up to. Oh, the embarrassment of being the eldest and therefore the supposedly Most Responsible!