My very first memory is of a fall day much like this one. I tromped through the grass alongside a long, gray building, following my dad’s lead. I was too young to go inside, so we navigated the perimeter until we came to just the right place. When we finally found it, my dad took me into his arms and lifted me high into the air so I could see over the window sill. I turned my head, and through the glass, I met my brother for the first time.

I had no idea how my life would change after that day. This creature that I would push around in my doll carriage stole the smiles and hugs and laughs and attention that has previously been directed at me. As he grew older, his wry smile, impish eyes, and easy-going nature would capture the hearts of girls and boys alike, and the presence of his constant entourage left me feeling lonely and jealous. I once dressed him as a girl for Halloween to exact revenge for his popularity, and he ended up as the hit of the day.

This boy tested the limits while I followed the rules. He did everything that had been deemed out-of-bounds while I came home early and bemoaned my boring life. He climbed in and out our windows. He blasted heavy metal music through the neighborhood. He didn’t do his homework and often didn’t even go to class. He didn’t do his chores and left big messes. And no matter what he did, people loved him. I didn’t understand.

As time went by, I figured it out. I never had an AHA! moment; it just crept up on me. When I need something, he is always there. He continually builds me up; he refuses to see anything but the best of me. He disregards the ugly parts or rationalizes them away. He’ll break his back to help. He tries to take on my pain so that I don’t have to feel it. He cheers me on. He knows just which buttons to push. And he knows me better than anyone on this planet. With my brother, I don’t need words. Not only can he finish my sentences, but he can also start them for me.

I now know what others saw in him from the very beginning. Although I tried to ignore it for the first 20 years or so, I am no match for his charisma and his genuine affection. He has a gift for making people feel special, and he lavishes it on me. What a lucky woman I am to be able to call this man my brother.

When I met Dean 40 years ago through that hospital window, I had no idea how much he would change my life, but I am infinitely grateful that he did. Happy 40th birthday, Winky Bear. I love you more than you know.