bro kitchen sink

Written By:  Scott @ County Seat Living

My brother and I became unlikely property developers several years ago. We found ourselves revitalizing a half block of small buildings on the west end of the Old Market in Omaha. Jeff and I were riding the wave of property flipping by converting three “crack houses-esque” apartment buildings into affordable urban housing. The work was hard and intense and it tested every brotherly bond we shared. Occasionally, when asking each other for assistance on some impossible solo task like hanging drywall, we would lighten the mood by saying, “Let me help. You ain’t heavy”.

As we sarcastically referenced “The Hollies” 1970 version of the song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, it was our way of inserting humor into a stressful situation. In a time of crazy hard work and endless disagreements, it was our brotherly version of waving a white flag.

We always laughed when we exchanged our “You ain’t heavy” peace offering.

Last week on Facebook, I noticed a lot of people were posting photos in recognition of “Siblings Day”. I must admit, I was unaware of this holiday. Not that I don’t appreciate Jeff, I just didn’t know a holiday had surfaced that I needed to commemorate our relationship. Is this Facebook’s way of inventing a “Hallmark Holiday” like “Grandparent’s Day” or “Secretary’s Day” or did I miss the memo and people have been celebrating their siblings for years?

The photos people posted were priceless; a gaggle of dapper kids standing by their parents in a sepia photo from a 1950’s Easter holiday, the token photo of an older kid holding their newly born sibling with little enthusiasm, the awkward line up of brothers and sisters in front of the Christmas tree when puberty is in full swing. It made me feel like my “friends” on Facebook were real once again. In what has become a constant stream of posting highlights of baked potatoes soup recipes, inspirational quotes and cute puppy videos, it was nice to see people making an effort to share things that are personal. Wasn’t that what Facebook was about?

I thought about posting a photo of Jeff and myself for this seemingly new holiday and then I realized the consequences. My brother has adopted the generic blue silhouette profile picture that allows people to become a member yet give very few details about themselves. He is a very private person. So instead…I thought I would blog about him! It’s such a very “little brother” thing to do, right?

I preface this entire post with the disclaimer that my brother Jeff will hate what I write. He keeps his thoughts and feelings deep and his demeanor suave. And even though his stories are amazing, it’s not his style to share. He’s a really cool guy.

Jeff and I rolled into this world circa 1974 and 1976; respectively. Our parents were young and started a family shortly after their wedding. Actually, Jeff was born on their 1st anniversary. When I came around, Jeff made it clear I was hogging precious “Mom” time…

bros with mom2

In the first year of my life, Jeff managed to feed me an entire ashtray full of cigarette butts through the rails of my crib and kicked me down the stairs when our Grandpa Bud came out to the farm for a visit. Apparently, I took some getting used to.

But he came around to the idea of a younger brother…

bro rocking chairs

bro baby in chair2

bro baby

It must have been around this time that I started bonding with Jeff. As a result, he became my most important influence. I looked to him to try and figure out how to get along in this crazy world. We were raised on a farm just south of Funk, Nebraska so perhaps the lack of other kids present fueled that dependency. Regardless, I did everything in my power to manage to be by his side at all times.

If he worn a cowboy hat, I did as well…

bro cowboys

If he was pretending to be a Nebraska football player, I was tackling him…

bro tackle

If he was a short stop, I would be a catcher…

bro baseball

(Keep in mind that even at age 4, I had zero interest in sports but I pretended to like it so I could be like my big brother.)

At Halloween, I was the Oscar to his Batman…

bro grouch

The Smurf to his ET…

bro ET

The Scary Clown to his “CHP” Officer…

bro chps2

Note our Mom’s writing on the back of the photo:

bro back of pic



Jeff Chips

Scott Clown”

It sounds like a 1970’s haiku.

Because our twenty-something parents had little control of us on the farm, Jeff and I managed to create a brotherly bond that grew out of unlikely circumstances. For example, when Jeff was celebrating his birthday in 1980 I expected nothing less than to help him blow out the last candle on his birthday cake…

bro wish cake

He was not pleased…

bro wish

And why would he be? I stole his wish. I bet most older siblings are used to missing out on a wish or two at the hands of a related rug rat.

Later that year I had my birthday, outfitted with Superman Under-Roos (I always LOVED when we matched!) and a sub-par Mickey Mouse birthday cake from the Hinky Dinky bakery…

bro mouse cake

I got a box of Crayola Crayons…

bro crayons

And Jeff threw a baseball glove at my face just in time for Mom to capture the moment…

bro glove2

Even though Jeff was halfhearted about having a little brother around, he managed to pull it together for an occasional photo op. Like the faux fall scene that highlighted his denim vest and my beige ensemble…

bro fall backdrop

Or the “Western Wear” shoot at K Mart…

bro western

(Note: Our Mom took these “cowboy” outfits off the rack at K Mart for the picture and then put them back after we were done. That’s how she rolled.)

As we started to enter that awkward period of adolescence, our personalities started coming through. Jeff was identifying with “Alex P. Keaton” from TV’s “Family Ties” and from this photo and my matching pant suit I seemed to be channeling Bea Arthur from “The Golden Girls”…

bro blaine kitchen

Despite our sever differences, we still rallied for important events. We were both pumped when our fort was completed in our back yard…

bro fort2

And together we celebrated our First Communion from All Saints Catholic Church…

bro confirmation

When our family relocated to Solana Beach, CA in the late 1980’s, Jeff and I survived the move by becoming closer; even though neither one of us would have admitted it at the time. Southern California was wildly different from rural Nebraska and Jeff and I tackled the changes together. We decorated the Christmas tree in board shorts…

bro xmas

And celebrated the holidays at the Hotel del Coronado…

bro hotel del

(Note: Jeff is still dressed like “Alex P. Keaton” and I am still channeling a “Golden Girl” with my turtle neck and blousy sweatshirt.)

Later that year, Jeff and I started to show the tell tale signs of puberty. Simply sharing a sectional sofa became the equivalent of a hot zone…

bro teenage sofa

Oddly enough, it was during these non-communicative years that I became really close to Jeff. As we watched TV together, I still took a cue from him; if he laughed, I laughed. If he was silent, I knew the moment was sacred. If he turned the channel I knew the content wasn’t meant for my eyes.

That’s the thing about an older sibling: you never seem to stop following their lead.

Jeff is my brother; my rock. He’s the person that defines me because we are connected by something in the universe no one else shares besides us. What would I do without him?

As we have grown older, our individual personalities have taken shape. Even though our lives seem completely different, they are bound by a similarity of family values, a dry sense of humor, a love of good food and an appreciation for the Golden Rule (Thanks Mom!). I recently looked up the actual lyrics to the song Jeff and I use in a lighthearted manner. The melody seems cliché in 2013 but the words hold true.

“The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”

The older I get, the more meaning I find in that song.

But as Jeff would agree; it’s still funny. Especially when you need someone to hold a sheet of drywall so you can screw it in…

Happy Siblings Day!

Scott Rager

Robert Scott Rager is a Nebraska native who returned home to start a boutique business called "County Seat Living". His personal goal for "County Seat" is to translate the lifestyle design he was creating in Los Angeles for the past twelve years and apply it to the sensibility of the Great Plains. Whether he's writing about decorating, homemade ice cream, floral creations, event planning or product design, he wants the personality and style of Nebraska to shine bright.