Playing with Legos is what helped two brothers build their strong bond

By Matt Hollingsworth

From ages six to ten, my life was built on Legos. I had all the sets: Hogwarts stood next to the Millennium Falcon, and brave space warriors battled alongside Gandalf.

My older brother Brian first introduced me to Legos when he was 17. Our parents had caught him sneaking his girlfriend into our house and punished him with two hours of babysitting me. And since he didn’t know what to do with me, he pulled out the bin of Legos he’d played with as a child.

Brian and I spent the next half hour building our Lego “forts.” Eventually, I got bored of that, so he started telling a story with the Legos. Soon, our forts had erupted into bloody civil war, at least until the leader of Brian’s fort was revealed to be an alien collaborator. The bases united against a common enemy and after a long fight full of inappropriate violence, our brave heroes found themselves prisoners of the aliens. It was do or die, and just when all looked bleakest….

“Matt, Brian—dinner time!” My eyes drooped. I didn’t want to stop.

My brother looked at me, and I could see the wheels turning in his head. The life of a teenager is busy, far too busy for his six-year-old brother, I was sure. Nevertheless: “Don’t worry, buddy. We can continue tomorrow.”

I smiled. “You promise?”

“Of course.”

He kept his word. The next day, our adventure culminated in an epic battle against all odds. Good defeated evil and the heroes were victorious. Brian and I returned the Legos to his closet, but it was too late. I was hooked.

I played with Brian’s Legos nearly every day, and eventually the plastic bin was transferred to my room. I soon outgrew the confines of my brother’s collection, however, and began getting my own Legos. Every opportunity I had to con my parents out of $100 for a pound of interlocking plastic pieces, I took full advantage of. Soon, Lego sets filled my room, occupying shelf after shelf.

I was in paradise.

And Brian was by my side. We’d play together for hours. I learned storytelling by playing with him. There seemed to be three ingredients: an evil villain, a brave hero, and lots of violence and death. My earliest stories were built with this formula in mind. I would dictate them to my parents who inscribed them onto construction paper, occasionally scowling and asking who was teaching me this awful stuff.

I became active in my games with Brian, too, shaping the plot instead of just playing along. I introduced our dreaded foe, Osogtip who stacked the heads of his victims atop his own. But even he was no match for Bob, a creature so evil and vile that anytime his name was spoken, somebody random, somewhere in the world would die.

Brian and I kept our fallen comrades in the “dead people pile” to the side. When our game was over, I’d banish them to the Underworld (Hogwarts and some other Harry Potter sets).

My Lego games with my older brother defined our relationship. That is until one fateful day. The day Brian left for college.

The day was marked with tears, extended hugs, and a car ride that seemed to last forever. I don’t think the reality had fully sunk in as I watched Brian disappear into the airport terminal, but I felt it when I returned home to a room overflowing with toys and asked myself: “Who’s going to play with me now?”

I missed my older brother. I missed Osogtip, and the dead people pile, and our adventures in Action City as my ever-expanding collection of Lego sets had come to be called.

There were moments of relief, however. Brian would return for the weekend occasionally, only now he had his girlfriend, Charlotte, with him. As soon as he arrived, I’d run up to him and ask with the utmost politeness if he didn’t mind playing Legos with me.

I believe my father referred to this as “pestering.”

He always promised to play with me, and usually he’d deliver, but it never felt like we had enough time together. Before I knew it, he’d be back at college, [and I’d be left with a $1,000 collection of plastic]. I tried playing with my parents, but they weren’t storytellers like Brian was. I could never get my friends interested either, and soon Action City began falling into disarray.

As I grew older, sets migrated back into the closet. While I still maintained a few favorites, Action City had fallen from its former glory.

I saw my brother less and less. As I entered the double digits, I began wondering if our time together had just been babysitting. I still looked forward to his visits, but they were less frequent now, and I enjoyed my time with my new friends, Grayson and Daelyn, more. And soon, they introduced me to my next great passion—video games—which eventually lined the shelves where my Legos had once been.

Meanwhile, just out of college, Brian married his girlfriend, and they moved to Washington D.C. I didn’t see him much after that until I was in high school when he and his wife bought a house in our hometown, and for the first time in years, I could see him for longer than just a weekend. We began spending more and more time together (with video games instead of Legos), only now he didn’t need to be grounded. Now, it no longer felt like babysitting. Soon, we weren’t just brothers but friends.

Eventually we couldn’t resist putting our old skills to the test. We brought out our old Lego bin and one of our sets—Fort Legorego. At first, I was nervous about taking it apart, the fort having sat in my room (admittedly unplayed with) for so long, but after the initial deconstruction, we built it back even better, expanding it to triple the size, adding a watchtower and a garrison. A lake sprang where before there had been only desert. The oven in which the fort’s enemies were baked alive was enlarged. I hadn’t wanted to take it apart, but now we’d put it back together even stronger than before.

I’d been afraid when my brother had gone to college, afraid we’d lose our connection, and for a while, it almost seemed like we had. But we’re brothers. We’ll always be brothers. I’d tried to cling on to the past, to keep our relationship the same as it had been. But now I understood that change doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. 

Almost three years ago, Brian had his first child, Connor, and he is teaching him to play Legos. One time, Brian was bragging about how much fun Connor was, and as a demonstration, he got out our old Lego bin. He handed Connor two Lego figures and said, “Okay, Connor: Battle!”

The young boy gleefully bashed the Legos together, smiling.

“Remind you of anything?” Brian asked.

It did.

The three of us sat down and toured Action City once again.

Matt Hollingsworth is a freelance editor and English tutor in Knoxville, TN. He still spends time with his brother very often, whether helping with his kids or playing board games on family game night. On his blog, Matt talks about writing and science fiction: 

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