Parents and grandparents, you know, are authority figures, so they're kind of not your friends until you're grown up, if ever. And most brothers and sisters, if they're much older or younger than you, aren't your friends at once, for either they are bossing you around, or you're bossing them around. It's not what Aristotle would call a relationship of equals.
However, if you are only a year and a half (or less) older or younger than one of your siblings, chances are you might have become a real friend with them before anyone else. And I think this is indeed the case between me and my first friend ever, my brother Nulli Secundus.
I don't think I can remember a time before there was a Nulli Secundus. When I greatly amused myself by sitting on the well-sprung sofa and bouncing my head off the backrest, there Nulli was beside me, also bouncing away, to the great detriment of the sofa. When I stomped around the kitchen table in Cambridge, UK, in my halcyon near-infancy, blowing a whistle, there was Nulli banging a drum. ("WILL YOU KIDS QUIT IT!?" yelled our 30-something post-doc father.)
There is, sadly, evidence on film that I stole my brother's toys, and now that I think of it, I probably bullied him, but he was so good-natured, he didn't seem to notice or care until he was, you know, fourteen or so. And, even though he was so much better than me at music and math and computers and such other valuable and useful stuff, it never occurred to me, even once, to push him down the stairs or flush him down the toilet.
Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the memory of that little platinum blond boy with the contemporary reality of the hulking refrigerator-shaped man with the house, wife and kids in Estrie. The little boy was a trusting friend of all the world, and the big guy, although friendly, has learned enough about human nature to become deeply suspicious. (Frankly, I sort of hate the world for that, but at least I remember his happy days of innocent trust in the goodness of everyone and everything.) However, two things unite the boy and the man: the big smile and the piano. One of the great delights of my childhood, despite my own lack of talent, was waking up to the sound of my brother playing the "standard upright" on Saturday mornings--especially Smurf music, he loved Smurf music. Now one of the highlights of every visit home is listing to my brother wallop out Chopin on his grand.
One of the good things about being a year and a bit older than my brother is that I get the scary birthdays first. I'm like the penguin who somehow is the first to get nudged into the water while the other penguins watch to see if something eats him. Well, I had a very good time when I was the age my brother is now, so I can assure him it's all good, and I hope he has a very happy birthday.