Oh Brother

I was born a brother. I did not have a choice in the matter. That decision had already been made for me, two and a half years prior to my entrance into this world, when my parents had a daughter. My first memory as a younger brother (actually, my first memory in general) is of my sister and I wandering about the backyard of an empty house my parents were interested in buying. The spacious yard, at least in the mind of a 3 year-old, had two levels. The levels were separated by a small rocky embankment and a set of cement steps. The lower level contained a modest patio and a couple of large trees while the upper level boasted a few lilac bushes, a patch of daylilies, and a pear tree, but to me the main attraction was the large doghouse positioned smack-dab in the middle of the yard.

Fido’s home resembled a miniature house for humans, complete with white paint and dark shingles, and it made for a challenging yet achievable climb. The doghouse disappeared immediately after my parents purchased the home. I guess that makes perfect sense because my family did not own any four-legged friends at the time; however, I reckon the disappearance of the doghouse had more to do with the safety of my sister and I than anything else. We did manage though to enjoy the backyard for many years to come: climbing the towering maple trees and pogo-sticking on the patio. We learned how to ride our bicycles on the lower level, and my father religiously planted a garden each spring on the upper level.

At the age of four I became an older brother, and once again I had no say in the matter. With the addition of another sister I soon felt like an Oreo cookie; I was the exciting crème filling in between two dull chocolate wafers. In actuality, I really don’t have a recollection of too many things that occurred when there were just the three of us siblings living under my parents’ roof. I do recall when my brother was born, two years later, because our household then became evenly proportionate amongst girls and boys. What a relief…life seemed a bit more fair at that point. I found there to be an instant comradery with my little brother, and why wouldn’t there have been. We had the same “parts” for goodness’ sake.

I believe most women know what I’m talking about. There’s a reason why the book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus has sold more than 50 million copies. Ladies tend to recognize the significant differences, between the two sexes, more so than most of us clueless men. I presume Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, from the hit television series, Seinfeld, was speaking on behalf of women everywhere when she proclaimed, “I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things,” during the hilarious episode titled, “The Shrinkage.” It apparently makes sense why women seemingly stick together, through thick and thin, and why guys eventually felt compelled to counter with the saying, “Bros before Hos.” Anyway, being a younger brother was alright, but being an older brother was definitely better. I quickly learned how easy it was to manipulate my younger siblings. Isn’t that what big brothers are for?

My brother was especially susceptible to my less than noble suggestions. We both collected Topps baseball and football cards, but most of the time we lacked the funds to purchase any. I know what you’re probably thinking, but no I did not try coaxing my brother into stealing some. I wasn’t that bad of a brother. I simply recommended he take some money out of a white envelope tucked away in my mother’s drawer. The ordinary envelope had “belt money” written on the outside, and it contained approximately $4.50. The money was received as a refund when my mother returned a belt, for whatever reason, my brother had received as a present. I think she was waiting for the store to get a different size or a different style of belt.

I’m sure I rationalized that technically the cash was my brother’s, and his to do with it whatever he pleased, which I assumed he would want to share with his loving brother. He did! We dipped into the stash just a little bit at a time as to not arouse my mother’s suspicion. One summer we made several trips, just the two of us on our bicycles, to the Tastee Freeze to satisfy our Topps craving. One pack of baseball cards for my brother and one pack of baseball cards for me. What could be fairer than that? Eventually, only .50 remained in the “belt money” envelope, so our brotherly bonding time had to come to an end. I did figure that leaving something in the envelope was probably better than nothing, and hopefully maybe our mother wouldn’t notice. She did!

Over the years my brother and I had each accumulated an impressive baseball card collection which came in handy after I invented an indoor baseball game. I would transform our small bedroom into a Major League Baseball stadium: using four coins as the bases, a brownish pencil as the bat, and a Ping-Pong ball as the baseball. I also placed a long strip of masking tape, high up on the bedroom door, to act as the homerun fence (resembling that of the Green Monster at Boston’s Fenway Park). After preparing the field my brother and I took turns choosing our line-ups from the stacks of baseball cards in front of us. The home team would position their all-stars out on the field’s artificial turf (carpeting), and the visiting team would then send their leadoff hitter up to the plate. We did not sing the national anthem, but we were now ready to drop to our knees and throw out the first pitch.

The pitcher would toss the Ping-Pong ball towards the batter, and if he swung and missed or if it landed on the catcher it was a strike. If the batter hit the ball and it landed on one of the cards in the field of play it was an out. The outcome of all other hits were determined by slowly moving the runner and the fielders at the same speed. If the runner got to a base before the fielder (or his tossed ball) he was safe, but If not then he was out. Most of the baseball cards used in our games took quite a beating. We never used any of my cards, so whether or not I won the game on the homemade field…I still won. My brother’s ball cards sustained considerable damage (ala bent corners) while my collectibles remained in mint condition. Coincidence?

Another time I persuaded my little brother to do something, when he had to have known it was not normal, was during a cold December day in Iowa. I convinced him to join me in stripping down, to just our skivvies, before heading outdoors to become “human sleds.” This winter activity could only be performed under the strictest set of circumstances. The snowbank in our front yard, meticulously formed by my father’s snow shoveling expertise, had to be both firm and slick. It also had to be dark enough outside, so the neighbors couldn’t see us, and my parents had to be anywhere except at home. I, in my fashionable Dallas Cowboys underwear, and my brother, in his Superman Underoos, climbed atop the icy heap. We laid on our backsides and quickly slid down the snowbank into the softer snow awaiting us at the bottom of the mound.

Three trips up and down the slope was apparently our limit because we began losing feeling in our extremities. We were fearful of becoming amputees at that point, so we went back inside to warm up. I think I made us daredevils some hot chocolate. My parents eventually found out about their sons’ outdoor adventure, frolicking in the snow while only wearing their tidy whities, and they halted any future “human sledding” endeavors. Nosy neighbors! I suppose forgetting to turn off the porch light, before partaking in our escapade, wasn’t too bright on my part. I can only imagine what my siblings must think of me. Oh brother.


3 responses to “Oh Brother

  • Les Kohler

    While I always enjoy reading your blog, I never could find the focus of this one.

  • Marlena Ray

    Well….how do I put this??? I am always willing to say what I think and I will tell ya I just thought this blog was a little long…and a little slow…I look forward to reading your blog…however maybe I am just not in a real good mood..WHY? Today I signed up for Medicare to start 7-1…I will be 65 and that really seems old!!!! I am glad to be on this side…but am seeing that this life on earth is very short but to think of where I will spend eternity is totally awesome! I will be looking forward to your next blog and seeing you in Iowa…Love you M

  • Barry L. Blackstone

    Jim, Some of my fondest memories are things my sister and brother and I did together.

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