July 6, 2012
To my shock, this picture of the actual wooden toy I beat my brother with exists! This is from 1959 "before the incident." The wooden toy was removed from home and taken to Dad's office at school, where it remained until the new school opened in 1971 and Dad had to move offices.
They didn’t tell me he was coming that soon.
There were no “sibling” classes. Ann Marie was supposed to be there on Ground Hog’s Day and damned if she didn’t show up three weeks early. And damned if she wasn’t a he.
I woke up and my grandparents were in my parent’s bed , and my grandmother said, “You have a baby brother.”
I was thirty months old. I couldn’t even say the word “brother” so I called him my baby “bother.” Often that has seemed appropriate.
Something was always going wrong with our dryer. The day Bother came home from the hospital, the dryer man was there when we pulled into the carport of the little yellow house. Dad was still driving the ’57 pink Chevy he bought the day I was born. I sat huddled next to him on the front seat while Mom and the baby sat in the back seat.
The moment we pulled up, Dad grabbed me by the hand and ran inside the house to see Mr. Vanderipe, the dryer repair man.
Wait, Dad forgot something.
Yes, it was a cold January day and his petite young wife just had her second child in two-and-a-half years, and needed help getting out of the car.
He never lived that one down.
But you have to admit that dryer thing was a pressing concern.
I was not happy with the way things were going. It had been weeks since I was able to sit on my mother’s lap and now a skinny, looking raccoon of a baby was there in my place.
When Bother was about a week old, life was just getting back to normal in the little yellow house. Dad had returned to work, teaching high school.
I decided to lock myself in Bother’s room and beat him over the head with a wooden pop-up toy. This did not play well in Peoria. My mother immediately called my father and he had to leave school and return home and take the door off the hinges. The baby screamed , and I sat in my little red chair with my arms crossed in defiance.
This was the beginning of a long siege with my mother that actually didn’t stop until I had my own child.
It also offered steady fodder for whenever my brother acts weird, I suggest that my beating him over the head when he was a week old may have affected his mental status.
We were fairly typical kids. We couldn’t stand each other. Though our personalities are alike, we had different interests. He was an outdoor person; I was an indoor person. He liked animals except cats; I only liked cats.
We saw “the USA in our Chevrolet” throughout our childhoods, and we often reminisce about those wonderful times.
My father, who almost always drove exclusively, was a road warrior who always wanted to get up early and get 500 miles under his belt. We drove all over the United States and had incredible times, from sea to shining sea and every day of every vacation, my brother and I fought over territory in the back seat.
“Mom, he’s on my side.”
“She’s on my side.”
“I’m gonna whop (“whop” being a Hoosier word meaning whack on the head as in “I whopped my baby brother over the head with a wooden pop-up toy.”) you two over the head if you don’t’ straighten up right now.”
Neither of us ever got whopped, because we always “straightened up right now.”
I also told most of the people in my junior high that he was retarded. Hey, I was in junior high. I didn’t know any better. People are still calling me on it. I haven’t lived in my hometown since 1980 and last October I was there while a community festival was going on. Someone came up to me and asked me if I remembered that I said that. Yeah, I do, and yeah, I feel guilty about it.
He isn’t without his faults. I was supposed to be “watching” him while our parents were on a trip , and he had an massive party with lots of aluminum remnants.
Today we are close friends. We both have only sons born three months apart, which gives us something in common. I don’t always agree with his politics, and we have different interests, but we have a lot of common ground.
Our mother died in February after a long illness. My brother is my father’s best friend, and could not have been more supportive to him during this time. He continues to amaze me with how much time he spends with dad and how thoughtful he is of him. When our mother was seriously ill, he was exceptionally good about communicating what was going on. (He lives about two miles from my dad, and I live 250 miles away.)
He also makes a Herculean effort to be a loving uncle and brother-in-law, and went way out of his way to attend our son’s college graduation out of state. Thanks to Southwest Airlines who bumped my dad (who was in a wheelchair), my brother and Dad went on the circuitous route of Indianapolis to Midway to Norfolk to Baltimore.
We still have our moments, particularly during political discussions. But I think I'll keep him.