IMG_5950In my family there was a rule- when giving a book as a gift, you had to write something in it. It didn’t have to be much-Merry Christmas, or Happy Birthday or something. I wasn’t sure my older brother Ed knew the rule. The likelihood that he would ever give anyone a book as a gift was pretty slight. He wasn’t into reading. He loved music though, and he would often get me music I would never have dreamed of buying.

On Christmas day 1979 my brother Ed gave me a book.

Ed and I  had been estranged for about three years. There was an incident with a cupcake. But it was a serious incident with a cupcake, hence the three year estrangement.

I turned twenty in October of that year. I was still living at Mum and Dad’s place, I’d just come back from Ireland. I was dreading Christmas, as I usually did. I might have enjoyed it more if I had buried the hatchet with Ed , instead of spending Christmas dinners not talking to him across the table-a stereotypical Irish stubborn streak.

The book broke the ice. I had been a rocket nerd growing up. I had a huge model of the Saturn 5 that I would use to illustrate the whole moon mission to visitors. I wrote away for a picture of Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin and nearly came out of my skin the day  I received the 8×10 glossies in an envelope with the NASA letterhead.

The choice of book was perfect. He knew I would love it. He probably hadn’t stepped into a bookstore in years. It was a remarkably thoughtful gift. I realized that he loved me, and I remembered that I loved him.

As per the rule, he had written something on the blank facing page . It was simple,  it said  ” Remember when you wanted to be an astronaut “.  At the time I thought of it as  ” Remember when you wanted to be an astronaut-well, here’s a book about some people who became astronauts”, and that was great.

A few years later, however, I was moving house. I was going through a rough patch in my career, not finding the inspiration I needed. I was packing books in boxes and opened the cover to the Right Stuff and there it was ” Remember when you wanted to be an astronaut”. I did a face slap. Of course, that was what Ed was trying to tell me- he meant, remember, because that was a time in your life when you were filled with energy and enthusiasm . If I remembered that feeling, it would inspire me.

He got a kick out of it when I told him about the reinterpretation.

A couple of days ago, I went to find the book, because there was some point of fact I wanted to check. My nine year old had a question about the space program he wanted answered. I opened the book and there was the inscription, “Remember when you wanted to be an astronaut”.  I realized that, now, the inscription meant-remember that feeling so that you can relate to your son better. Remember that he’s at the age you were then. My parents encouraged my love of rocketry,

IMG_5951and though it didn’t lead to a life of science, it served some purpose that fed my nine year old soul.

We lost Ed last year, and I haven’t been processing whatever it is you are supposed to process when a sibling dies. But I take comfort that he is still sending me messages from a single line he wrote in a book he gave me almost 40 years ago. I love that I have suddenly discovered just how wise he was.