When it comes to Christmas songs, my heart beats to the rhythm of The Little Drummer Boy. I turn the volume up when it starts to play. I realize this puts me at odds with many adults who have this title on their list of least-liked holiday classics. My adoration has its roots in one specific Christmas-time memory that involved a few of my favorite things. Well, two. A book and a big brother.
I was six years old, and for Christmas I had received a copy of Ezra Jack Keats’ picture book based on the song, with amazing can’t-stop-gazing illustrations. I could read it myself, albeit slowly. But I still preferred being read to, because that way I got attention and a book. With five older siblings, my odds were pretty good of roping someone in. On this particular day, it was the brother who is ten years my senior. So sixteen at the time.
The age difference between us was optimal for the development of hero worship. He was the sibling most often in charge of me, at least in those days, probably because the older kids were already wrapped up in getting their adult lives going. He was a pretty great babysitter — a patient and kind listener, who always made me feel safe. I thought he hung the moon.
He not only read the words in the book, he helped me think about the meanings and themes, asking occasionally if I understood or had any questions. My brother explained the ox and lamb keeping time and other mysteries of the text. But more important, he helped me understand the underlying message, that even a young child (like myself!) has something to offer. No matter if you are small, or poor in money, you can still be of service and use whatever abilities you possess to bring joy to others. Looking back, I see it’s what he was doing for me by offering his time and his understanding to help me enjoy the book and song even more.
I’m now in my fifties and he is in his sixties. We live in different states, but he remains an amazing big brother. I still think he hung the moon.