Smith Says

Wish a happy birthday to brother T-Bob

My beloved brother, wild child turned family man, is 61 today. This fact astonishes both of us.

How can it be, when just yesterday we were roaming Wrightsville Beach from the north end to the Coast Guard station? Certain words and phrases still evoke the smell of salt water and sun-bleached days: Lumina Avenue. The Palm Room. Wit’s End. “When the grass is gone, the goat moves on.” Johnnie Mercer’s. Newell’s. Apple Annie’s. Crystal Pier. Robert’s Grocery.

That’s the best thing about siblings: They know what we know. They remember what we remember, mostly. (T-Bob swears he doesn’t recall giving me iodine and water and claiming it was Tang, but why would I make that up?)

T-Bob was a happy, outgoing child… who broke every rule our parents laid down. With three quiet, docile children, they didn’t know what to do with this outlier. He stole candy and drank forbidden sodas. He sassed his teachers. He sneaked out to go swimming at 1 a.m.

One day Dad told Mom, “The good news is, the kid is super smart.”

She replied, “That’s what scares me. He’s smarter than we are.”

T-Bob was also a go-getter. He started mowing lawns at 10. He kept a notebook with clients’ names, addresses, dates of service and money owed. He got a paper route at 12, rising at 5 a.m. to walk to the drop-off point, claim his bundled papers and deliver them in time to rush home, bolt breakfast and get to school.

During his senior year, he dabbled in the devil’s lettuce and broke curfew every weekend. When Mom and Dad went ballistic, he shrugged… and moved out. He didn’t make a scene, he just quietly left.

He rented a townhouse with three older friends, and in the next year he held down two jobs, worked on the yearbook staff, took his soccer team to All-State and earned a college scholarship. (The wacky tobaccy phase ended when he realized it made him lazy. He’s never drunk alcohol. Last summer when I offered him a beer he said, “You know, I never saw the point.” So I drank his, too.)

T-Bob has been an arborist, a shipping clerk, a code writer, a boat captain, a flight attendant, a beer truck driver and a licensed massage therapist. He quit the beer truck after a full keg rolled off and fell six feet, landing directly on his right foot. He screamed and fell over. When a co-worker rushed up, T-Bob pointed to his mangled foot and howled, “I thought ‘mashed flat’ was just an expression!”

Nowadays he works 70 hours a week in insurance, coaches his kids’ soccer teams and often cooks, since his wife believes meat should be served black and smoking. Honestly, he makes me tired. My daily diary looks like this: “Started column. Painted nails. Ate lunch. Thought about housework.”

T-Bob also makes me laugh hysterically. On my 40th birthday he called and said, verbatim, “Happy birthday. I sent you a card. You’re really not gonna have kids, huh?”

“I’ve said that since I was 12,” I replied.

“Well, you also said you were going to be a vet and that never happened, did it?”

I’ve told you a lot about T-Bob, but here’s the bottom line: He’s compassionate, fair, generous and—he will deny this—deeply sentimental. When I stumbled across some small personal items Dad once owned, I shipped them to T-Bob. He opened the package and called me in tears.

“I’m chopping onions,” he wept. Liar.

I love you, brother. Thanks for the memories.

Julie R. Smith, who knows T-Bob hates onions, can be reached at