Sibling Rivalry (1960s)

 

Sibling Rivalry 

One would think from this accounting that my parents probably did not have much of a sex life. In fact for some families there may be a great deal of truth to the equation that the number of children(C) is equal to; but does not exceed the number of sexual encounters (s) between the parents: where (M) is mother and (F) is Father. Mathematically stated this is:

(C ≤ s x M*F)

While I do not know for sure, since I do have an older brother, who died in infancy, and both a younger brother and sister, for my parents at least, the minimum number of sexual encounters (s) must have been “four.”

My brother was born two and a half years after me on Saint Patrick’s Day. As you would guess, my father wanted to name him Patrick but my mother objected, truly believing that all of the Italian relatives might call him Pasquale, so he was named Lawrence Arthur. Arthur is named after my maternal grandfather, but to this day no one has any idea where Lawrence came from, as there are none in the entire family. Was it just that idiosyncratic Southern thing again, or could it be that the postman really did ring twice, making the minimum number of (s) for my parents to really equal  “three?”

At that time we were still living in grandma’s house and because the space was far too small for a family of four, this became another critical factor, along with the friction between my mother and the in-laws that prompted a relocation.

I do not recall too much about the preamble warning my parents employed to get me emotionally prepared for my brother’s birth, but I do know that he was jaundiced when he was born, which raised some concern about his odds for survival. Years later we all thought that the toxicity of the jaundice must have been responsible for some minor brain damage that accounted for his wild personality. More likely, it was just the Evetts gene.

Because my mother had a difficult delivery, she was told by her doctor not to have any more children. My sister, born six years after this, was an accidental consequence of my parents using the Vatican Roulette method of birth control; and because we were eight years apart, we never became very close to each other.

I only recall a few things about early interactions with my brother.

One, that he had a little toy lamb, which played the nursery tune, ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’ and that I was so jealous he owned it I would stick chewing gum on its head, which ruined the fleece.

The other is that I once saw a TV cartoon in which one of the characters poured pepper up another character’s nose to make him repeatedly sneeze. Because I thought it hysterically funny I tried the spice act out on my brother, but because of an overzealous overdose he nearly died. I was severely punished for both acts.

Years later, whereas I happened to excel in school, he really could have cared less about studies. Because I was probably being held up to him as an example, I am sure this made his academic apathy worse, and which also probably caused him to resent me. Being a case of first child syndrome wreaking its havoc, it must have been tiring to hear it over and over again:

  • Why can’t you be more like your brother?

We also had additional significant divergence in our personalities, which then made me conversely resent him even more than I did for him having shown up in the first place.

He was an extrovert. I was an introvert.

He socialized easily. I was a reclusive bookworm.

He was a tease. I became his unwillingly tortured straight man.

He was humorous. I was serious.

He was always getting into trouble and getting away with it. I was the one who would always get caught.

He was seductive and charming. I was a social stiff.

He was outgoing and easily made friends. I was shy, retiring and standoffish.

He was the politician. I was the scientist.

He was aggressive. I was passive.

He teased me mercilessly, especially about my “metal-mouth braces,” but I was so passive, I would never confront it; eventually solving the problem by never smiling. This unfortunate trait as an adult makes other people believe I am either not very happy or not very friendly, or both. My wife calls it my black aura; but it does tend to automatically keep strangers who sense it not even think about starting boring inane conversations. Since I never really cared much for physical confrontation I just wanted my mother to take control and make the teasing stop. Her indifferent response was:

  • When he teases you, tease him back.

One day when I finally had enough I belted him. The fight started in the backyard, rolled down the back yard hill and into the house, through the dining room to the living room, out the front door, then down the steps to the front yard, over the bank to the road in front of the house where it finally ended. My father accommodated us by opening both doors to let us freely pass through the house. He was so tired of hearing the constant bickering that on this particular day told us he really didn’t care if we just went ahead and killed each other.

My mother had a great deal of difficulty controlling my brother, as he was a happy go lucky profligate, and when we moved to our new house he seemed to gravitate to other boys with a similar predisposition to get into trouble. The chief instrument for punishment at that time was a wooden stirring spoon that doubled as a modern derivative of grandma’s baccala butt swatter. My brother would usually evade physical punishment by in lieu of running straight away like me, he got my mother instead to chase him into the dining room so he could run around the table in defensive circles. With this strategic foil she could never catch him, resulting in a Mexican standoff that would eventually break her down by making her laugh hysterically at the absurdity of it all.

A typical mischievous scenario occurred on the day that my brother and two of his friends, Joey and Arnold, found a two-ton pay-loader at an idle construction site on the side of the highway near our house. Joey announced: “I can start this thing” and told Larry and Arnold to get in the cab to drive it. Joey climbed into the engine somehow being able to hot-wire the starter, but as the engine turned over it shot Joey out of the cowling onto the side of the road.  He was lucky not to have lost an arm or a leg in the cranked up engine. Then with Larry and Arnold at the wheel the thing came to life and started to lumber down the highway on its own accord. But since they had no clue as to how to control the beast they simply stayed with it until it steered itself into a tree where they left it running and ran home. As might be expected someone saw them, ratted them out, leaving my parents to deal with the highway department and the local authorities. It was grand theft with malicious intent, but all of the charges were subsequently smoothed over by chitchat and promises of parental chastisement.

On another dark night, my under age brother got so inebriated with his friends that in the course of attempting to puke in the bathroom he knocked over a heavy glass container of mouthwash that crashed into the toilet, broke the bottom of the bowl and flooded the floor. That in and of itself was not bad enough; but as my mother had plans the next day, for a large dinner party the incident required an expensive emergency Sunday morning toilet replacement to be made on the spot by a very disgruntled plumber.

At one time my parents even spoke about forcing a change in my brother’s social environment by moving us all to another location. I was all in favor of it because it was considered to be a better upscale neighborhood and I liked a girl in my class who would be living next door. But that plan was deferred when things came to a head on the day the policeman showed up at the front door: Again.

He and another friend, Tommy, had been caught throwing rocks through the windows of the Locomotive Roundhouse at the train yard. That was the last straw, and after financial restitution was made to the New York Central Railroad, my parents decided to stay put. Instead of relocating themselves, they relocated my brother to the Greenbrier Military Academy in West Virginia. My cousin Byron, who lived in Virginia and suffered similar academic and disciplinary problems, had been sent there the year before and seemed to be doing reasonably well.

Aunt Polly, Byron’s mother highly recommended the place saying it had done a world of good and made a man out of her son. Little did my mother or her sister know, however, that some of the things those two boys would come to learn in that academic prison were just as bad, if not worse than anything they could have learned at home. But at least now as arms-length parents they did not have to become personally involved when “In loco parentis militarias” would soon prevail.

My parents had learned that when all else fails and when still in doubt, one can always appeal any unsolved problem to a higher authority.

This decision probably proved to be the correct one, as my brother’s friend Joey, who stayed behind in the public school system, graduated to become a mob soldier, eventually ending up with a life sentence on a murder-one conviction.

Brother Larry. Out of sight and out of mind. But not yet totally out of the picture.

 Bugler

 

Momma, momma can’t you see,

What the Army’s done to me.

They took away my gin and rum,

And now I rise before the sun.

And I don’t know

But I’ve been told

The streets of heaven are paved with gold.

And I don’t know but I hear tell

That when I die I’m goin’ to hell

Sound off 1,2

Sound off 3,4

Sound off 1,2,3,4

Sound off

(Army marching song)

Photo source © http://www.american history.si.edu/military history

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