Saturday, 11 May 2013

Who is my brother? Sibling rivalry ain't that simple!


I am reading “Brothers” by George Howe Colt (Scribner 2012).

Colt (who lives in Western Massachusetts) is also the author of “The Big House”, and of “November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide”.

He grew up in Dedham, MA, then Darien CT, then back in Dedham with his parents and with his three brothers, Harry, Ned and Mark.

Colt weaves an affectionate and honest tale of life in a family of four sons (and no daughters) with wondrous, sad, and lovely stories of famous brothers.

There were the Booths, especially Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth. Both were famed Shakespearean actors in the 19th Century.  John Wilkes Booth is remembered not for his acting skills, but because he was the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.

Thus John Wilkes Booth’s name is remembered more than his brother’s.

How about the Kellogg brothers?  They were Dr. John Kellogg, health food fanatic and founder of a sanatorium in Battle Creek MI, and his younger brother Will (W.K.) Kellogg.  Will worked for his older brother, who treated him abominably.  Yet (with a sibling rivalry beyond all rivalries) W.K. Kellogg went on to be the inventors and purveyor of the famous “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes” whilst Dr. John Kellogg's sanatorium is all but forgotten.

 Thus W.K. Kellogg's  name is remembered more than his brother’s.

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Most poignantly and sadly is the story of the artist Vincent Van Gogh and his younger brother Theo.

Vincent, brilliant but unstable could not have survived without the love, care and financial support of Theo.

But Theo could not have survived apart from his need to take care of his older brother.

In the event Vincent died after shooting himself in the abdomen.

Six months later Theo died in an asylum:  (Jan 25th 1891).

It seems that the younger (Theo), who was the primary care-giver for his older brother could not  live without him.

As George Howe Colt puts it:  in the words of psychotherapist Jean Safer", who grew up with an emotionally troubled older brother, the sibling of the child with special needs is not supposed to have any needs”

“Thus” George Colt goes on to assert, “Theo van Gogh sacrificed his money, time, health, and identity to tend to Vincent.”

More soon about the Marx Brothers and the Thoreau  brothers, and with a very affectionate tip of the hat  to George, Harry, Ned and Mark Colt.

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