Musings + Essays

A Toast to My Brother.

By: Jen Shoop

I’ve written about my parents on this blog.  I’ve written about my husband, my sisters, my friends, my daughter on this blog.  I’ve written about women of substance.  I’ve written more than anyone could ever want to know about myself.  But I have never written about my beloved brother.

This is mainly because my brother is an exceedingly private person (and, yes, I am sorry to blow your cover today), with no digital footprint to show for it — no Facebook account, no Instagram account, nary a like or a comment on even our privately shared family photo albums.  Only this paltry faculty webpage listing his many academic accomplishments and writings with a cropped, candid photo of himself looking very much like, well, himself: listening thoughtfully, intently, his head tilted as if to welcome commentary and his eyes narrowed in analysis.  As you may gather from his bio (“Dr. Nurmi’s current manuscript examines the intersection of mineralogy, geologic time, and literary form” — geologic time??), he is a seriously smart and studied man, and his writing is exceptional.  (When I read his writing, I am flabbergasted at the lassitude and imprecision of my own: his is spring-loaded, taut, compact, each clause wont to spin me into wild new worlds of thought.)  And he has always been like this: prone to solitary, precise pursuit, whether meticulously organizing his Legos into a drawer system intended to house washers and nails and screws that my father procured him from Hechingers on Wisconsin Avenue, or playing his Civilization computer game in the wooden captain’s chair of his attic bedroom.  “You can sit behind me and watch,” he’d offer over his shoulder, and I’d eagerly drag a chair from the adjacent bedroom behind him and sit, cross-legged, extending occasional commentary, for hours.

Only, on second thought, maybe his photo only looks half like himself, because the other half is the hilarious, quick-to-laugh, slightly devious friend I’ve had since birth.  The one who threw my sister in the pool, fully clothed, when she was being uppity (she is currently reading that with a grimace on her face); the one who served as the entertainment for my fifth birthday party, donning a magician’s hat and cape and performing a sequence of half-baked tricks–the old disappearing-ball-under-three-speedily-moving-cups sort of deal; the one who planted whoopie cushions; the one who cracked his bullwhip at me during his Indiana Jones phase and then told my parents he had thought I was a robber; the one who prefers to drink Bud Heavies in the cold of the basement while watching deliberately B-grade movies into the wee hours of the morning; the one who secretly installed a keg in our basement for a birthday party of mine; the one who shared a bedroom with me during all of our summers growing up in Colorado, when we’d watch Cheers re-runs while falling asleep and he’d occasionally exile me to the couch because he would fart so much I would gag; the one who told me I had “raven black hair” just to taunt me, though I very clearly had light brown.

And, there’s this: him telling a fourth-grade bully to leave me alone on the asphalt play yard behind our parochial school.

And this: him bringing me to parties and gatherings with his much-cooler-than-I-was friends when I was a very awkward teenager.

And this: him telling me, urgently, to “walk with purpose” after observing me slinking out of the orthodontist’s office on Bethesda Avenue in sixth grade, all braces and ungainliness.

And this: him patting me on the back after I had thrown up while camping, quietly disassembling the tent he’d so carefully put together, wordlessly helping me down the mountain even though he’d much preferred to have stayed.

And this: him listening to me cry on the other end of the line when I was worried about a loved one’s impending hospitalization and offering a very generous: “If you are sad, be sad.  Just let it out.”

And, more recently, this: him leaving me a voicemail that I will never delete the day before mini was scheduled to be delivered by c-section, telling me: “I wanted to say how much I love you and am thinking about you.  I know everything’s gonna be great.”

I have been thinking a lot about this brother of mine recently, this man of substance, about how precious he is to me and about how much I want to give minimagpie a brother like him at some point–an aspiration that has informed a whole manner of contemplations, from the practical (save the maternity pillow!  gender neutral spoons!)–to the philosophical, in musing over how to raise two individuals to become lifelong friends and confidantes.

I apologize for encroaching on your privacy, Tom, but you are The Real Thing.


And, as we head into the weekend:

+Love the look and breeziness of this LWD ($88).

+Obsessing over these one-of-a-kind jungle motif gouache paintings from Etsy store Floriosa.

+Adorable thank you notes for a little boy.


+These denim slingbacks!!!

+I just made this delicious cake.  I know it’s a little out of season (really more of a fall situation), but I guess I’ve been ready for fall

+Get the look of this patchwork Ulla Johnson top for less with this cute dress ($78).

+Speaking of Ulla, Gap really nailed it with this affordable boho blouse!

+I really really want to try either this face mask or this one, both of which I’ve heard are magical…



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3 thoughts on “A Toast to My Brother.

  1. I have a lump in my throat & tears in my eyes after reading this. I have two brothers who I am very close to (as close as I am to my sister!) and reading your beautiful tribute to your brother has me wanting to call them and tell them how much I love them. Such a sweet post! This is why your blog is my favorite blog to read — so authentic and personal.

    (Not to mention your fantastic taste — that Ulla blouse is!)

  2. I totally teared up! I love this tribute. Based on all that you’ve written, I would totally take parenting lessons from your parents

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