Hero worship is an idea that now seems limited to important people who do extraordinary things, like Michelle Obama, Gov. Cuomo or Justice Sonya Sotomayor. I am now almost 60 and I have almost forgotten that hero worship when you are young is different: bigger, attainable, a tangible thing.

I am 11 years younger than my brother Ham, and he was my hero. He was my favorite person to spend time with, and I thought that everything he did and touched and the people whom he called friends were the coolest, most exciting things in my small, young world. Ham had long brown hair that he tucked behind his ears, and a crinkly-eyed smile. He always had a kind word for his youngest sister.

On weekends when he was home, I would follow him around, up to the third floor where he lived in the absolutely most fantastic bedroom in the house. He had a raised window seat in his room that you had to climb up on, and the best part was that the window looked out at the house of his best friend, Billy Clark. Billy was also on my list of heroes. He would occasionally appear at dinnertime and take the beans off my plate and pop them into his mouth. Billy was funny and a free spirit. He was not self-conscious like many young people and was happy to talk to anyone about anything. Ham told me that he and Billy had set up a tin can telephone system from their bedroom windows when they were younger.

In Ham’s room he had toy soldiers that were set up on a shelf. He had the series of “Oz” books written by L. Frank Baum. I loved to read those books and they confirmed that Ham’s room was enchanted. He had an unusual closet, though I can’t recall what was unusual about it. Ham liked to tell me about how he loved Muhammad Ali, and I remember he painted his brown work shoes in white, black and red to go to an Ali fight. He would recite “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” frequently. Of course, I also worshiped Muhammad Ali, but I still can’t bring myself to watch boxing.

In 1974 AMC built a new line of compact car called the Gremlin X Levi’s. From ’74 to ’78 this now-collector’s item was built with Levi Strauss upholstery, complete with the small orange Levi’s tag in the seam. Ham bought a used Gremlin X Levi’s and had it on Martha’s Vineyard, where he lived and worked over summers and after graduation. I remember the car vividly. It was a blue-gray, almost periwinkle color, with a white stripe. It had standard transmission (“three on the trees,” Ham explained to me) and a weathered Al’s Pals sticker on the back bumper. With a stroke of luck this car became mine when Ham accepted his first real adult job and needed more reliable transportation. My acquisition of the Gremlin was one of the best things that happened to me in my early college years. I learned to drive stick, but I can’t remember who taught me. I would like to think it was Ham – he would have been patient. I had inherited something of Ham’s that was way too cool to imagine. The car was fun to drive, uncomfortable to sit in and full of personality.

I had the car over the summer after freshman year at my chambermaid job at the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport. My best friend Tracy and I lived in the staff dorm. She was a waitress and worked longer hours and harder than I did. We used to drive all over the Port, Kennebunk and Arundel in the Gremlin. The car was charmed, as was the summer, and I was finally in the driver’s seat.

As for heroes and what happens to them as we grow older … Age changes things. Ham and I live far apart from each other now, but our  children are roughly the same ages and have that cherished “cousin connection.” I guess we are now on a more equal footing. I love and admire Ham, but I prefer to think of the time when my tolerant, accepting, long-haired, sandal-wearing older brother gave me his AMC Gremlin with the Levi Strauss interior, allowing me to take my first step at being in the driver’s seat.

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