Origin of the title came from a religious Parable. In 1884, James Wells, Moderator of the ‘United Free Church of Scotland’, in his book ‘The Parables of Jesus’ tells the story of a little girl carrying a big baby boy. Seeing her struggling, someone asked if she wasn't tired. With surprise, she replied: "No, he's not heavy; he's my brother."
Today’s song is dedicated to my youngest brother, Michael, who celebrates his 65th birthday today. Michael is the second youngest of seven siblings. Often, the younger siblings tend to be the most pampered in a large family, but in the case of our my brother Michael, his experience of growing up in the Forde household in the shadows of his three older brothers, two older sisters and one sister younger than himself was a different experience than I ever had as the firstborn of seven children.
For a start, by the time Michael was in his teens, my parent’s marriage had lost its initial romantic gloss that seems to last between the honeymoon period and the first five to ten years. I can still recall my parents walking me and my next two sisters across the fields on one of our Sunday afternoon walks to the park in Brighouse (a distance of three miles each way) and telling us to play a while as they lay down and ‘had a little rest’. Indeed, for a while between the ages of 6-9 years, I believed the long grass of nearby fields to be filled with magic, as almost every time our mother and father laid down in the long grass on our family Sunday afternoons out, nine months later, I would have another brother or sister to keep an eye on.
So, my childhood years were spent having parents who were deeply in love with each other; more content in their relationship than they would ever be during the second decade of their marriage when they would become parents to seven children in total.
Brother Michael, on the other hand, was unfortunately raised during leaner years, when money was still scarce, overtime of my hardworking father was necessary to feed and keep an ever-increasing family, and arguments between my parents grew more frequent whenever tiredness of body with working 24/7 started to strain their patience with each other. All lasting relationships operate on the willingness of both parties to leave things unsaid at certain times and let them pass without slight. But when fatigue enters both the mind and body of a hard-working man and wife, such slights are instantly seen, picked up and acted upon instead of ignored.
Neither parent was averse to having a good old shouting match with a few choice swear-words thrown in to liven it up. Even the throwing of an odd plate or other missiles across the room was not beyond them when they got angry enough with each other. They still loved each other, but I got the distinct impression that they didn’t always ‘like each other’. The occasions ‘when they didn’t like each other’ got more frequent towards my mid-teenage years.
At a time in his life when my 5 and 6-year-old brother Michael should have been receiving a surfeit of parental attention, like the amount that was lavished on me (their firstborn), instead, Michael became one just one more member of a noisier house and larger family of seven children, with food enough on the table to feed only four or five adequately.
Family walks had long since stopped and we were left to make our own fun and devise our own activities and travels with each other and other close friends on the estate. As brother Michael entered his First School in Heckmondwike, walks between mum and dad, along with them having a little ‘rest’ in the fields became distant memories of better and more carefree days which he would never experience. Dad would now walk down the fields alone and mum would use whatever few hours of spare time she got going to Bingo in Heckmondwike with an Irish friend of the family.
In their later years, after all the children had left home and married, my parent’s relationship underwent change again. They each grew more courteous and respectful to each other and seemed to be more conversational and caring for the other’s needs. It was as though they had started 'to grow back together' into the martial force of unity they once had been.
It was as though the birth and presence in their early married relationship of me and my sisters Mary and Eileen enabled the loving couple to complete their ‘happily married jigsaw’. Just as the everyday pressures and family size each grew with the birth of another brother or sister, it was as though our mum and dad had less time for the things they once shared as they struggled to provide for their family. It was as though they had witnessed the dismantling and break up of their ‘happily married jigsaw’ which was abandoned under the stairs, at the back of a small cupboard of ‘fond memories of when we were madly in love with each other’. My brother Michael would have lived most of his childhood years through this harsher period in our parent’s marriage.
Then, after all their seven children had left home, my parents, who were now in their sixties, found themselves alone with each other’s company in a pensioner’s flat in Liversedge. Having nobody else to talk to and relate with except each other, their marital relationship changed once more. This would be the final change and it would see my mum and dad grow back together. It was as though they had found their ‘happily married jigsaw’ in its box, hidden at the back of their marital cupboard and together, they started making up the completed picture again. With each piece they picked up and inspected before inserting back into its perfect place, they started to see what it was that had initially made them fall in love with each other. Day by day, as they rebuilt their ‘happily married jigsaw’ they remembered what they once liked about the other; all the good traits and characteristics of each other which initially attracted them both in the same direction. Eventually, the day finally arrived when they remembered what they once had and wanted it back as much as possible.
Once they had rebuilt their ‘happily married jigsaw’, marital peace and contentment with each other was restored and remained unbroken until my parents died.
During their final years living together, our mum and dad began to accept each other once more. They started to like each other, care about each other and love each other again, with that gentleness of understanding and forgiveness that flows more readily in the rivers of old age. The respect that mum and dad always paid each other in their early days of marriage gradually returned, and when mum died at the early age of 64 years, my dad appeared to grieve her absence in his life until he died five years later.
Meanwhile, brother Michael had married and fathered two sons (both fully grown and one married with children of his own). Michael and his wife, Denise, like most married couples, have had their personal struggles and trials to contend with and they now live with their son, Carl, whose tragic accident in a car crash many years ago left him unable to walk or have any feeling below his waistline.
Over the past twenty years, I have witnessed my brother Michael grow into as good a husband, father and individual as there is, and whom I am proud to call ‘brother’. Then, of course, I’d say that, wouldn’t I? ‘cos he’s my little brother’. Happy birthday, Michael from your Big brother Billy and Sheila x
Love and peace Bill xxx