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’m going to let the ladies in on a little secret. Dudes don’t act the same way around you as they do around other dudes, especially if those other dudes are their brothers. Brothers are brutal. I know because I have two of them. As the one in the middle, I got to learn from the older and wreak havoc on the younger.
Looking back, I kinda feel sorry for my older brother because he had to figure everything out for himself. There was no one to show him that it was big fun to pick the seed head off a grass burr plant and sling it at little brother’s shirtless back on a hot summer’s day. He didn’t know that he was supposed to inflict bodily harm upon little brother after burrs hit bare skin and “I’m going to tell mom” were the first words formed after a scream. When he finally figured that out, it only took one beating to impart the message that “telling mom” was a bad idea.
My brother was around 10 years old when he finally got some tutoring on how to treat his little brother. I was 6 when our 13-year-old cousin came over to “play” one day. The three of us went out in the yard to throw a football around. “Let’s play a game,” cousin said. He handed me the football and said, “OK, you’re on offense, and we’re on defense.” I about peed my pants as I said, “hut” for the 50th time before finally saying “hike” and getting creamed by the two older boys. That’s how you learn.
That’s how I learned, anyway. And unfortunately for MY little brother, I felt like it was some kind of sacred rite of passage that I needed to bestow upon him as well. I’m not proud of a lot of the things I bestowed, or inflicted, upon little bro, but he is way out of line when he accuses me of holding him by his feet and placing his head in water of the toilet bowl as I flushed. This is commonly known in brotherly lore as a “swirlie,” but believe you me—I made sure his hair never actually touched the water.
My mom never knew what to believe, but she did the best she could. All moms do. I’d like to take a moment to reassure all the moms out there that your admonitions of “be careful—you could shoot an eye out” towards your sons as they headed outside with Red Ryder BB guns, did not fall on deaf ears. We were well aware of the danger posed by air compressed flying metal orbs to our eyesight, so strict rules of engagement on shot placement were established to avoid eye injury. Shooting each other above the waist was a big no-no.
But just because one abided by the rules didn’t mean that consequences were eliminated. For no apparent reason, other than the opportunity presented itself, big brother took a BB to the knee from the end of my trusty Red Ryder. I thought it was hilarious until he caught me. My laughter stopped as soon as the beating started.
My older brother’s ability to overpower me upset me a great deal. I was always looking for ways to “even the score.” He hated pickles, so much so that if I poked a hole in one and tried to squirt him with it, he’d run away and lock himself in the bathroom. When a pickle wouldn’t work, I’d utilize whatever was within reach. I took after him with a short piece of chain once, but mom stopped me before anyone got hurt.
Then there was the time big bro teased me one too many times as I stood within arm’s reach of a good-sized throwing stick. I saw fear in his eyes as I picked it up. He made a smart decision— he ran. I can still see it in my mind’s eye: my brother running …. the stick releasing from my hand … the slow motion, end-over-end turning of the stick… the stick ultimately finding purchase between his shoulder blades. My brother hit the ground as if he’d been shot, and boy was he pissed when he got up. It was my turn to make a smart decision—I ran.
Although my brothers and I fought, and teased, and treated each other like crap, it was always understood that it was “OK for me but not for thee.” Whether it was a basketball game, BB gun fight, chess, tiddlywinks, or whatever, we were cool with pushing each other’s buttons, testing each other’s limits and sometimes beating each other up. However, we were, and have always been, staunchly protective of each other and most assuredly NOT cool with anyone else treating any of us badly. I don’t know if it’s that way for every mother’s son, but that’s the way it is for me.