WASILLA, Alaska, Oct. 18, 2008 -- Chuck Heath, Jr., is proud of his little sister and a bit protective, too.
In an interview in the middle of an October snowstorm at his parents' home in Wasilla, the older brother of Gov. Sarah Palin opened up about what life has been like for the family since his sister joined the Republican White House ticket.
"I catch myself all the time just doing a double-take and pinching my skin and thinking, 'is this really my little sister in this kind of a spotlight?' And I'm excited about it. I'm excited for her and for the family and and for the country," Heath said.
He learned that Palin had been chosen by McCain the same way most of America did.
"I was in bed. We got a phone call at the house at about 5:15 Friday morning. My wife was up early getting ready for work and she patted me on the back and said 'hey um we just got a phone call and they said that Sarah is possibly going to be named as John McCain's running mate' and I rolled over and looked at her. I said 'just leave me alone and let me sleep for awhile longer.'"
Fifteen minutes later he jolted awake when he saw his sister being introduced by McCain in Ohio as his vice presidential pick.
It was a rare secret in a close-knit family.
Chuck was two when the Heaths first moved to Alaska. Sarah was an infant. They lived in a cabin.
"It was in a small town of Scagway, which probably had four or five hundred people and I remember as a kid just loving the community. We were right there on the ocean so we fished every day after school and had our own crab traps and dad hunted in the area too, so he was happy."
The move from Idaho was supposed to last only a year. But the family stayed in Scagway for five years before moving to the Anchorage area and then settling in Wasilla.
For those five years, they lived off the land, with no road access to the outside world.
"The hunting for our food and that's something that our family's done. We still do today. I honestly didn't have my first beef steak until I was a senior I high school," Heath said.
The four Heath siblings shared a bedroom, which forged a deep bond that lasts to this day.
"I think some of that camaraderie was formed by sharing the same bedroom with three sisters," Heath said. "I mean we lived in a real small house at one time and the four of us living in one room, partitioning it off with tape on the floor like some siblings do. And trying to have our own independence in that little space, but it also made us very protective of each other."
That protectiveness persists today.
When Heath sees negative press he said he feels the urge to "stand up for Sarah and and defend her like any big brother would want to do for their little sister."
"We know her personality and we know her heart," he said.
As a child, Heath said, Palin was "independent and stubborn and tough, very tough."
Sarah Palin was not the kind of kid who grew up talking about running for the White House, Heath said. But once she reached the governor's mansion, the family thought it might only be a matter of time before she tried the national political scene.
"We've talked you know within the family about national inspirations and what-not but it just happened a lot sooner than we thought," he said.
He is convinced she is absolutely ready to be vice president.
"I have no doubt that that she'll do a great job. She's tougher than people think. She's much smarter than people think," Heath said.
Heath has taken a leave of absence from his teaching job in Anchorage to help out on the campaign. He does selected interviews, makes appearances and spends time dealing with mountains of letters the family is receiving.
"Sarah's received literally thousands of letters of support and congratulations and the family had spent a lot of time going through these cases of letters. And my mom has this crazy idea that she is going to respond to every single one which which would literally take years," he said.
They haven't had time to open every letter yet. But some letters stand out.
A couple of weeks ago, Heath opened a note from an 11-year-old girl in Deerfield Park, Fla.
Rachel Peterson wanted Gov. Palin to know that even though she wasn't old enough to vote, she considered the governor a role model. Peterson's mother died six years ago.
Heath was so moved by the letter that he called the girl's father, who at first didn't believe he was receiving a call from the governor's brother.
"When he realized that I did have the letter in my hand and I was serious about it he started tearing up and telling me the story of losing mom and how they were the three musketeers looking out for each other. And then I started tearing up."
Peterson told Heath that Palin was due in Boca Raton, Fla., that night, just miles away from the Peterson's home. Chuck sent a text message to his sister and within minutes the campaign had arranged to have Rachel and her family attend the Florida rally and meet the governor.
Rachel told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel she was nervous but she shook the governor's hand and said, "I want to say good luck."
Chuck said the whole incident made him appreciate how one moment in a campaign can change someone else's life.
"It shows you the power of that position too and how many people have so much riding on this election," he said.