Letter to a Big Brother

Alan and I_2


Thank you for everything.  Let me start at the beginning.  When I was just a wee thing (well, maybe I’m still a wee thing), at a barely verbal age, you taught me, your puppet, this trick and we took the act on the road, performing it for any visitor.

Alan: What’s 2 + 2? 

Fredde: 4.  

Alan: What’s 4+4? 

Fredde: 8. 

Alan: 8+8?

Fredde: 16.

Alan: 16+16? 

Fredde:  32. 

Alan: 32+32? 

Fredde:  64. 

And magically Alan, you made me appear to be a genius.  Which was a far stretch — because genius, I would never be.  You were my very smart older brother and I was your academically-challenged little sister.  You carried the heavy burden very early in life of having to take care of me.  And, look at the job you did!

me and my big bro!!

me and my big bro!!

Here were just some of your responsibilities.  Helping me with homework.  Taking me to the park.  Watching out for me on the school playground.  I’m not even sure if our parents asked you to do this, or if you just felt it came with the job, the big brother job, but I want to tell you that you were very good at it, and you deserved a raise or a bonus or something.  You were not tender with me, like holding my hand or anything; you went about your business, but looked my way.  Sometimes, if we fought about something you were the opposite of tender, punching me in the stomach so hard that it knocked the wind out of me.  And then, there was your brutal honesty.

You:  “Fredde, did you know there are burglars?”

Me: “What are burglars Alan?” 

You: “People that break into your house at night?” 

Me: “You’re lying, Alan!!!!” 

But I knew you weren’t lying and that news shook my world– to think someone could just break in!  At around the same time, you insisted I could not crawl into your bed at night because I was scared.  And, Alan, I was terrified.  I would never in my life sleep without fear.  So, I moved into mom’s bed, dad’s bed, anyone that would have me.  Later in life I would coerce friends to sleep over every single night; I liked a human shield, even if it wasn’t you.

One of the greatest gifts you gave me, though I don’t know if you realize it, was the freedom to fail.  You were our parent’s perfect child.  You got A’s, never did anything wrong.  You, Alan, were the Duke version of Alex Keaton, the character from “Family Ties,” who goes against his left wing, hippie-like family to become the straight-arrow.  For you, it was going against the norm.  We were too wacky, boho, out-there — and you dug in your heels to be quite the opposite.  Thank you.  It afforded me the luxury to fuck up.  I tried some drugs, ditched school and truly, I wasn’t even that wild, but compared to me, you were perfect.  You went to college, then law school, then in secret got a master’s degree in business.  And Alan, I know our parents were proud, but so was/am I of all of your achievements.  When you met the love of your life, Kris, you made a wonderful husband and father.  So, there you are still achieving those high marks.  I admire it and I have always looked up to you.

Alan Duke and his little sister, ME!!

Alan Duke and his little sister, ME!!

The area that can drive me up a wall is your rigidity, which, I guess, goes along with other personality traits I have mentioned, perfection.  I will never forget our biggest fight.  Here is what spawned it.  I asked you if you had a connection for someone to get on the set of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”  I told you a childhood friend of Michael’s would be coming into town and all his daughter wanted, was to visit the set of the popular TV show.  I told you I called our mutual friend, a producer of the show and he had not returned the call.  If he is now reading this blog, he will find out he was once in the middle of our biggest row.  You said to me, “Call him back one more time, if he doesn’t return the call, my lawyer is Aaron Spelling’s lawyer and I think I can get her on the set.”  I refused to call someone back who hasn’t returned my call and that is when you blew up at me and let off some steam that had clearly been building.  And we did not speak for at least a year.  But guess what you did do even though you were so mad at me?  You made the arrangement for that young girl to not only visit the set of 90210, but to be an extra that day, and her role will last a lifetime in reruns.   I love what it says about your strong character that you would go to bat for me even though you were so angry.   Thank you for being a mensch — and for understanding that we Dukes like to get it done for our peeps and for our own.   You can really come through and we both learned that from our parents, who were the greatest role models in loyalty.  I have your back Alan, and I know you have mine.  We are the original pay-it-forward people.

We share all the light and dark secrets of our childhood.  And we share a sudden surge in popularity in the late 60’s, in high school, because of a Japanese bubble gum that dad had someone bring back (probably smuggled) in mass quantities.  This gum, only found in Japan — Mejii — would make bubbles as big as your head, if not bigger.  We doled it out daily to our friends at school and the lines started to form around us.

Alan attempting to blow one of the big-ass-bubbles

Alan attempting to blow one of the big-ass-bubbles

Sometimes, when you are about to have a reunion, you will call me and tell me that everyone in your class wants to know if I’m coming to your reunion.  And you are telling me this because you are proud of me and nothing touches me more.   You tell me often that wherever you go, people ask about your “popular sister.”  And then you buy me my own ticket to your event so I can be included.  Again, a mensch  — and mensch = class act.

Happy Birthday, Owin, aka, Alan  (my name for you when we were little)

Love,  Patrink,  aka, Fredde  (your name for me)

Buy this cupcake to help find a cure for Parkinson's

Buy this cupcake to help find a cure for Parkinson’s

In honor of my brother’s birthday, but really for Michael J. Fox’s charity,  please visit the nearest Magnolia

Bakery to you and purchase one of his Parkinson’s foundation cupcakes and money is donated to help find a cure.

And then, order all the other assortment of cupcakes at one of my favorite places, Magnolia Bakery.  In Los Angeles there is one on Third and Orlando in West Hollywood.  In New York there is one on the upper west side and one in the west village.  I also recommend the magic bar which is coconut and chocolate perfection.  And, anyway, our mother (Alan and mine) used to make a dessert that was very close to this bar.

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15 Responses to “Letter to a Big Brother”

  1. Very touching Freddie.

  2. Billy Vera says:

    That’s so sweet Fredde. So loving and beautiful.

    I had a recurring role on 90210. I wonder if that little girl was on one of my episodes.

    I’m so glad you and Alan are my friends.

  3. Doreen Ringer Ross says:

    “you went about your business, but looked my way.”……love this line…..makes me wish I had a big brother….but also makes me extra grateful to have you for a friend…..someone who notices and appreciates that kind of subtlety…someone who may be math challenged but is a genius in the realm of emotional intellegence….someone I love….and someone who no longer writes in run on sentences that last forever. xoxoxoxo

  4. Alan says:

    WOW Fredde. What an unbelievable birthday present. In the words of Duke “You moved me.” I truly, honestly can’t believe your memory. If there is one overriding truth, it is that I have always watched out for you. We may have had our differences over the years. But I do know that at the end of the day, you have my back. I and have yours.

    Thank you my crazy, wild, out there, beautiful, rebel of a little sister. I’m going to punch you in the stomach now… and I am looking forward to sharing a glass of wine with you and Michael this evening.


  5. robin says:

    omg, loved this story but love even more, alan’s response to it.

  6. Laurence says:

    What a beautiful, short memoir of a little sister to a big brother! Very touching and heartwarming!

  7. Laurence says:

    PS: I will seek out the Magnolia Bakery in New York next week and buy a Parkinson’s Foundation cupcake!

  8. Ellen Bloom says:

    Awww….so sweet! Since I was in the grade BETWEEN the two of you, I totally remember both of you being popular at school and especially at the Roxbury Rec Ctr. Happy B-Day, Alan!

  9. Laura Plotkin says:

    Happy B-day to your big bro! I have a good one too–he always looked out for me and he is still one of my best friends in the world–and my favorite dancing partner! (When my parents took dancing lessons in the 50’s, they would teach us the rhumba, mambo, samba, swing, etc. they had learned the night before and the two of us would dance around the den together)! And, we can still make each other laugh like no one else can, remembering crazy stuff from our childhood. Thanks for this sweet memory.

  10. Pauli says:

    Is there a female version of the word mensch? Shemensch maybe.
    For it would certainly apply to you Fredde. Great tribute to your brother who instilled both fear and pride in you – like all big brothers. Mine did the exact same thing about the burglars, but he called them robbers and added that they wouldn’t hesitate to stab you in bed if you had your eyes open.

    Thanks for sharing all your rose hued views of family & friends which reflect your own beautiful spirit!

  11. Laurence Cohen says:

    As a charter member of the Roxbury Rec Center, I can assure you the Dukes ruled the roost! Fredde’s loving tribute to Alan is well written and well deserved. Love in the Duke family started from the top down. Maurice and Evelyn would be very proud!

  12. Kim says:

    I absolutely love this piece and all that you remember Fredde. Alan has always been so kind and yes, mensch-y. There is no better word to describe Alan, even from this schickza girl. I have loved you both for so many years, and most of all, love you loving each other. Lovely, moving and courageous to say the things we hold in our hearts for one another! I am lucky to call you both friends!

  13. Karen says:


  14. Hoov says:

    Well done wakko ; well done! Aloha hoov

  15. DBoos says:

    WOW!! Don’t know how I missed this one, but have to chim in even at this late date. In my oldest memories of you and Alan, it always moved me so much that he always, ALWAYS protected you. I felt this so deeply because I, on the other hand, had a big brother that did just the opposite. I use to watch Alan with you throughout our lives growing up, and wished that he was MY brother. Mench is the perfect word for him. I remember this year that you talk about when you and Alan didn’t speak, and you and I got into our own fight over the fact that I was playing devi’s advocate trying to make you understand what a gift it was for you to have such a wonderful brother that was always there for you, and to not be so stubborn as to stay angry at him for something so trivial. Even though you were upset with me for a bit, it made me so happy to hear that you two were back on track and all was well with the “Duke” sibilings. I’ve always sort of lived the wonderful brother/sister relationship vicariously through you and Alan. After all these years, I still wish that my own brother could have been more like him. What a great testament to a very special BIG brother. Love this piece and love you both xoxoxo

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