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My brother Eri with my then 3-year-old son Noah roaming free (cropped), November 23, 2006. (Angelia N. Levy).

Knowing the nuances of the solar calendar allows me a unique perspective on the rhythms of life. That this leap year is laid out in exactly the same way as the one from ’84, twenty-eight years ago, means that any event that occurred in ’84 happened on the same day and date that I live in this year. And twenty-eight years ago today, on this Tuesday morning, my youngest brother Eri Washington was born (see my post “The Meaning of Eri’s 25th” from May ’09 for much more).

My youngest sibling’s birth occurred on the fringes of the worst period of all of our lives. But of course the newest member of this poor facsimile of a functioning family didn’t notice any of this in his first moments and days. Despite our fall into welfare in April ’83 (see my “Good Times, Good Times…Not!” post from August ’09), and Eri being the fourth of my younger siblings born in a five-year-span, my youngest brother thrived.

In many ways, Eri had it better than any of us in those first days and months of life. With the great Balkis Makeda having taken up residence in the master bedroom and watching to make sure that my mother didn’t contaminate our food with her “issues of blood,” I became the cook of the house from May 25 through the middle of July (see my “Top Cook” post from May ’09). That freed up my mother to spend more time with Eri and my late sister Sarai than she had with my other younger siblings, or with me and Darren for that matter.

Eri had been born weighing in at something like six pounds and fourteen ounces, making him the smallest baby out of the six of us. But he grew the fastest of any of us in those first weeks. Eri had more than doubled his weight by the second half of July ’84. It wasn’t because of my cooking, though, at least not directly. My mother having more free time to take care of the youngest two, especially Eri, meant that he was as healthy as any breastfed middle class kid in the suburbs, even though he was only choking down Enfamil.

Twenty eight years later, and Eri’s still here, struggling and working. That Sarai isn’t here with us is a testimony to how strong and healthy Eri was from conception to birth to his first days and weeks at 616, in the midst of grinding, unyielding poverty.

I’ve long since ceased to give him and my other brothers serious advice about how to go about their lives. They didn’t listen much to me when I lived at 616 — at least about the value of an advanced education. Nor did they listen during my years in college and grad school in Pittsburgh. Eri certainly didn’t listen much to me between the ages of eight and seventeen. The fact, though, that some things about a basic education and a need to work hard and smart in order to give yourself chances at success, apparently did sink in.

Eri, you’re still my little brother, all six-foot-four, 240 or so pounds of you. So Happy Birthday on this day, your actual birth day twenty-eight years ago. I love you very much!