Memories of brother’s love

By Barbara Grider
Staff Writer
Posted 6/20/07

When I am drinking my coffee in the morning, I often read my hometown newspaper on the Internet. I suppose it’s an indication of my age that after a quick glance at the front page, I move to the obituaries.

Most of the time I read about the …

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Memories of brother’s love


When I am drinking my coffee in the morning, I often read my hometown newspaper on the Internet. I suppose it’s an indication of my age that after a quick glance at the front page, I move to the obituaries.

Most of the time I read about the death of a friend of my mother or one of my aunts. The other day, I saw an obituary with a name I didn’t recognize, but for some reason I stopped to read it and realized that I did know the woman who had died. We called her Jenny and she was a very special person.

The first time I met Jenny, she came “galloping” up on an imaginary horse, which she tethered to the porch railing with an imaginary bridle. She had strawberry blonde hair, a big smile and seemed much younger than I.

At that time, I was going into the third grade and had just moved from another state and another school. I didn’t know the neighborhood children yet, so I was happy to meet Jenny. Although nobody ever told me, I knew pretty quickly that Jenny was retarded.

Jenny’s older brother, Andy, a redhead who also had a great smile, watched out for his younger sister.

The neighborhood children were always welcome at Jenny and Andy’s house. We played cowboys and Indians in the backyard, where Andy constructed a very sophisticated tree house, which we used to play Tarzan. Since they had a big television set, we would all gather in the living room to watch the few children’s shows offered by our local station.

Our house sat on the line between two neighborhood schools and when school started, Andy went to one and Jenny and I went to another. My elementary school had a special education program, which is why Jenny went to my school. If we saw each other on the playground or in the halls, she always gave me that big smile and called my name. I was always touched by how happy she seemed to see me.

After I moved up to middle school and junior high school I didn’t see much of Jenny — until the summer I developed a huge “crush” on her brother. I was just one of many girls who wanted his attention because he was not only handsome, he was also a genuinely nice young man.

One of my teen friends had a grandmother who lived on our block and as was the custom at that time, we would casually stroll along the sidewalk, hoping to see Andy and start up a conversation with him.

Some summer afternoons, there would be a whole gang of boys and girls sitting on Andy’s front porch laughing and talking and flirting. It was on one of those afternoons that I was reminded of the depth of a 16-year-old boy’s love for his “special” sister.

Jenny came out to the porch, where we were just hanging out. She was holding a pair of white cotton panties in her hands. She was trying to figure out the front from the back and she came out to get Andy to help her.

He very calmly showed her the front from the back and she went back inside the house. I remember thinking that I would have died of shame on the spot if she had been my sister. I was embarrassed for Andy, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all.

Over the years, I heard reports from various neighbors about Jenny and how she was doing. I heard had she moved into a group home and she became self-sufficient enough to ride the bus to visit her family. I lost track of the family a long time ago, but I never forgot them.

The obituary for Jenny in the local paper was one of the nicest I’ve ever seen. All of her accomplishments were proudly listed. She graduated from high school with a certificate of special education, then lived in a group home, where she participated in many activities. She enjoyed exercise and participated in Special Olympics until a back injury and advancing Alzheimer’s disease necessitated a move to a nursing home in the state where Andy and his wife live.

Jenny grew up in a home where she was loved and cherished and I know in my heart that Andy continued to supply that love and care after their parents died. I could read it between the lines of that obituary.

I have never forgotten that Andy showed no embarrassment the day Jenny came onto the porch, among a group of silly teenagers, to ask his help with her underwear.

In a time and a place where retarded people were often hidden or sent to live in an institution, Jenny’s family kept her at home and treated her like a “normal” child.

I have a “special” grandson and he has an older sister who has always loved and cared for him. As an elementary school student, Claire would visit the special education classroom just to check on her brother.

When she was in high school, she would often take him shopping with her or out to eat or to the park. She even took him to the junior prom as her date. He went in the limo with her crowd of friends, dressed in a tuxedo she had rented for him.

When I watch Claire with Thomas, I know that she will always take care of her “special” brother, just as Andy took care of Jenny.

Jenny was the first “special” child I had ever known. She was my friend and playmate for a while and I’ll never forget how her face would light up when she saw me at school.

I’m grateful to have known Jenny and her family. By watching them, I learned valuable lessons about acceptance and unconditional love.

Barbara Grider is staff writer for The Independent. Contact her at