My brother Amonie was the middle child, but he was actually the baby for many years before my sister was born. Amonie was the kind of little boy who lived the five senses. He smelled everything he got his hands on, ate snails, listened wide-eyed instead of talked, and bit Mom's friend Janet on the boob when he was four. He was shy but mischievous with big eyes and thick dark hair – women loved him.
Janet was visiting us in Tuolumne after we moved from Sonora. She had been one of our roommates in Palo Alto, and she hadn't seen Amonie in at least a year. He was sitting on her lap on our saggy green couch.
“Amonie, you're so cute,” Janet crooned.
Amonie was straddling her lap, making big eyes when he lowered his head in a moment of embarrassment, and Janet let out a surprised yelp.
“He bit me; he bit my boob,” Janet said, suddenly holding him away from her.
At times I felt like Amonie's big sister, and other times he was my playmate. We were only twenty-two months apart; I wasn’t even two when Amonie was born. Both with long dark hair, most people thought we were twins. I was short for my age, and he having a tall white father, was not short which meant we were nearly the same size for several years. We both looked like our mom in different ways, but Amonie could pass for white when I could not, maybe because my skin was darker, my long dark hair was usually in braids, or because my eyes were more almond shaped. His last name was also Thorne and mine was Gonzales. I hated it when people said that we were half brother and sister. I was his sister. I'd run to his aid when I happened to see him crying on the school playground, and I attempted to protect him from our mother's tirades during which she'd yield wooden spoons or sections of his plastic race track, her wild curly hair a mess on her head, cuss words spewing from her mouth. She did not spare the rod.
We were never sure what would set Mom off, and I was relieved one Christmas season when she found his antics cute rather than infuriating. Still around four years old and still a baby, Amonie was very excited for Christmas and a white Christmas in Tuolumne was a real possibility. The skimpy, leaning, Charlie Brown Christmas tree that Mom found and cut down somewhere not too far from the house didn't dampen his spirits, and no one had threatened to put coal in his stocking. On December twenty-third, also excited about Christmas, I told Amonie that the next day was Christmas eve. There had already been a couple of gifts under the tree, and Mom had wrapped two more the night before, surprising us with them, getting us more and more excited as Christmas day drew near.
“Amonie, tomorrow is Christmas eve,” I told him as he stumbled out of bed on the morning of the twenty-third. Mom was getting the fire in the wood stove going, putting a large piece of cedar on the kindling that had gotten burning good and strong. The lights on the little tree in the corner were lit. Mom had plugged them back in when she got out of bed, different colors twinkling from the branches: blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Only one more day until Christmas.
The next morning, Christmas Eve morning, mom and I got up again at the same time, both probably woken by the same noises. There in the living room Amonie was sitting on the floor in front of the tree with every single gift unwrapped and sitting around him. There were wads of wrapping paper and bows strewn about.
“Amonie, it's not Christmas, not today,” I said, horrified that he couldn't wait, that someone would do such a thing.
“You told him yesterday that today was Christmas eve,” Mom said, laughing and snatching some of the gifts from the floor quickly, hiding them under her faded red robe.
Mom re-wrapped the gifts with what paper she had left. Some of the gifts had gaps where we could peek in and see what we might be getting, if we hadn’t seen already. Within a year or so, Amonie could read and learned the difference between Christmas and Christmas Eve, so we didn't have to worry about him opening all the gifts a day early, even gifts that were not his. Though he did eat all the chocolate kisses used to decorate a friend's tree, crumpling the silver, green, and red wrappers, to reshape them into a kiss shape as best he could before hanging them back where he had found them.