Cousins 6: Byron
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails, and puppy dog tails.
Sugar and spice, and all things nice.
That’s what little girls are made of.
My cousin Byron Cooper V…… carried my mother’s maiden name as his middle name, a fact I was always jealous about, in part because of my mother constantly brainwashing us into believing that her side of the family was superior in some way. I do not have a clue as to where the name Byron came from, and neither did he.
He was about one year younger than I was but was bigger, taller, and blonde with features resembling a cross between Nick Nolte and John Elway. For most of his childhood he wore his hair in a military crew cut style, which has already been alluded to as acceptable coif in Virginia where he was born and raised, but not at all acceptable in New York where I lived.
I really liked him, always looking forward to visits back and forth, which usually took place in the summer, the single exception being mother’s penchant to persistent, pernicious nagging over the first few days into the visit.
- Why don’t you get your hair cut like Byron? He looks so handsome. Why don’t you and your brother do your hair like his?
Sure. While you’re at it at then why don’t you just stick a knife through your social life and then go off to join a leper colony.
My brother, Byron, and me, always got along famously despite the fact that his social milieu and culture was very different from ours. None of this is to imply in any way that he was a model citizen. Byron’s only problem was that he was spoiled by my Uncle Oak’s generosity having been given too many things, too soon; most of which he never had to work for. Byron was also doing a few things that eventually paved the way for his pioneering entrance into military school, such as flunking courses in school, hanging out with girls, drinking booze and hot-rod car drag racing.
But when we were younger, we had great times together.
One of Byron’s more memorable antics occurred when we came home from a romp in the woods, after walking through a field of tall Rye grass, we then found ourselves covered with hundreds of little ticks. Aunt Polly called them “seed ticks” but they probably were what are now commonly known as deer ticks. Byron decided on his own that he would kill any residual insects by dousing himself in Carbona Cleaning Fluid whose chemical base is carbon tetra-chloride, which besides applying liberally to his arms and legs; he also applied in equal generosity to the skin on his groin and testicles. After this adventure in self-medication, he was one chemical peeled little hombre, lucky not to have burned all the skin off his nuts, but equally fortunate in not having created a new asshole for himself in the process.
The preadolescent three of us had created a fantasy world of alter ego characters.
My brother was MacIntime Scotland, a curmudgeonly old coot who liked to play the bagpipes. I was Detective Logdog, a bespectacled intellect of the Sherlock Holmes or Professor Peabody ilk, while Byron was The Poot Catcher, a person basically assigned as a manservant to do the bidding of Mr. Scotland. I could also occasionally play one additional character, known as The Next Door Neighbor, and who essentially functioned as an intermediary straight man or even as an arbitrator when the three other characters were out of control. If a fight broke out, the Next Door Neighbor would have to show up and fix it.
These characters evolved from a game we used to play when all three of us slept in the front bedroom of our summer cottage. When we were forced to go to bed it was rare that we were able to fall promptly to sleep making it inevitable that one boy or the other would try to impress the rest with a loud burp or fart. At the sound of any loud fart, MacIntime would jump up and say:
- Peeuie stink. Who did that? Who is ruining my sleep?
To which everyone would say:
- Not me.
At this point Detective Log Dog would sniff the air and point in someone’s direction saying, “He did it.” He would then proceed to order the Poot Catcher to snatch the fart out of the atmosphere by waving around something akin to an imaginary butterfly net and once safely secured, and then give the offender a fine. That was unless the Log Dog didn’t ever call any farts on himself while sneakily shifting the blame to another culprit, in which case he was subjected to a pillow pounding,
The Poot Catcher would bounce up and down on the bed swishing his imaginary net back and forth, which if nothing else helped to disperse the offensive odor around the room until the next eruptions came forth.
Then before we went to sleep our finale would be a great rendition of an originally composed MacIntime Scotland song, with two boys singing the verses as the other one droned in the background making acappella bagpipe sounds. If, however a fight broke out about whose turn it was to do the background droning, the next Door Neighbor would have to intervene, as he occasionally had to do when we all fought over who got the first “glug glub” bubble sounds that came out of the top of new full glass milk bottles, or who got the unseeded top half of the English muffin at breakfast time. Life was very complicated indeed.
It was amazing how long we could entertain ourselves at this silly little poot catching contest while our mothers would periodically shout from the other room:
- You boys stop giggling, shouting and jumping on those beds in there and go to sleep.
The only mistake we ever made was to let Byron’s sister Shirley in on the game, thinking she might enjoy the fun as much as we did. She kept complaining that she was being left out of the laughter, because she had to sleep in a separate room so one day we invited her into our den to join our charades.
Unfortunately it turned out to be a harsh lesson in gender differences, gender preferences for fun, and gender etiquette when Shirley became so offended by the scenario that she ratted us out to our mothers behind our backs, without us knowing about it.
- Momma, do you know what those boys really do in that room all night. All they do is smell each other’s farts and then laugh and giggle about it. It’s disgusting.
One night out of the blue when we were into our high revelry, our mothers called us out of the front room without further warning and ordered two of us to get on our knees, to bend over on the couch, then told the third boy to go sniff the other two boy’s butt holes.
- Shirley told us that all you boys do in there at night is smell each other’s farts, so now we want to see how you actually do it.
Shirley just sat on the couch, arms crossed with a smug smirky little smile pasted on her face; waiting to watch the spectacle.
We repaid her by sticking her with the nickname “Cootie Bug,” left her alone to pursue her dolls and doilies and hardly ever spoke to her again unless it was an absolute necessity.Although in some ways Shirley was considerably ahead of herself in trying to teach us a lesson about a man’s manners in mixed company, to which some adult men I know as yet do not subscribe, it all seemed to prove that once again the Southern side of the clan was automatically on a genetic basis divided equally between profligate sons and prudish daughters.
We were ordered to stop the notorious “vulgar” game but the nicknames we had created for ourselves stuck with us for as long a time as also did our mistrustful future avoidance of Cousin Shirley.
Byron, Larry and Me; with Shirley holding my sister 8/56