The "Big Kids": Brothers at Arms Length

This is the second in a series of posts that offer a caricature of the seven combatants that grew up on Peary Street. These brief sketches also point to the third guideline of symmentropy, the way people respond to what we say is rarely what we expect.

Third rule of nonlinear storytelling

Storytelling rarely produces the outcome we expect.

Practically Perfect
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April 1949

Number two of seven wears the mantle of mother's “golden boy”. He was the example that we were all supposed to follow, I know, I heard it every day. Today, after hearing stories that have been locked away for a long time, I know that at least 3 of us have mild dyslexia. When we were younger, all we heard was that we did not do things like our brother did, but none of us knew that we were physically unable to be like him. My parents sent the two oldest to learn speed reading as an assist to getting the grades for college applications and I tried my best to follow the program using their course materials. My brother found no difficulty in mastering this skill to getting an enormous amount of material read in record time. For my sister and I, with undiagnosed mild dyslexia, there was no chance that we could see the words coherently at that speed.

It seems that my brother could do anything he set his mind on, except being warm and cuddly. In a rare excursion from the silence my parent's normally kept, they shared the story that my father was annoyed that my brother was cold and distant. My mother moved in early to protect my brother from this character flaw and potential parental conflict. She had a lot of work to do because he continues to be a distant and humorless person. His caricature is built on the status of being the oldest male in a house that treasured its strict attention to gender roles. While my brother will never win anyone's “Mr. Congeniality” award, his demeanor hides his sensitivities and openness as act of self-preservation. Where most families glue themselves together with group activities, he chose to act on his own. Like his big sister, he looked forward to leaving Peary Street with its crowds and hubbub because he just did not want all that mutual responsibility.

Our older sister sat on the cusp of two generations, while he is an early baby boomer. He felt the social revolutions of the sixties starting and did his own investigations. He helped me get tickets, and we double dated to the first Beatles concert in the US. He introduced me to the music of Tom Rush long before any of my counter-culture mavens. He had his moments of experimentation with pot before he graduated from college. After graduation, he spent a month driving across the country and experiencing what ever came his way, a very sixties thing to do. When he returned, he had not shaved or cut his hair in the time he was gone giving everyone in the house a very different look at stern and foreboding. His next step, enlisting in the Army so that he would get better treatment than the draftees heading to Vietnam. This seems to have worked as he managed to get into an intelligence unit that spent its time in underground bunkers instead of exposed to the mortar shells. Through all of this, he seems to have had only two people that he confided in, our mother and the woman he has been married to since leaving the Army.

My brother could have become a part of the Boomer generation in spirit if he had chosen to take on the burdens of others. He did not. Remember William Calley defending his actions at My Lai by claiming he was just following orders to get a sense of the divide between the early and late boomers. While early boomers could still follow orders, late boomers were compelled to take on the concerns of others. I do not believe that my is capable of thinking that way. He was exposed to caring and nurturing on Peary Street and but could not bridge the pretense of caring without stories. He chose a life not only without stories, but without involvement as a protection against caring too much and getting nothing in return. He saw that boomers concern with their fellow men provided little return, so he turned his back on people and his time. His caricature in the family is the only one that is accurate. He is a New York corporate attorney that does his work without concern for culture or social value, it's just his job.

So far, these stories have revealed Peary Street from the eyes of the third of seven. As you read what follows, remember that I am making an effort to see through the eyes of my siblings. Accuracy in the description suffers from an overall effort to provide an overview of six other perspectives. I can only ask that the source be considered for just a moment.

The Big Kids
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November 1949

He is the last of the “big kids”. Our father always made that distinction when talking about us. There were the first three and then everybody else fell into the little kids group. Because he was the youngest of the big kids, he had the least authority and respect but was still in that elite upper group. He never really fit in with the group or any other and seemed far more interested in being off on his own reading, listening to music or the radio when he was home, which was not that often. Every chance he got, he was out the door to be someplace that was not Peary Street. One summer the family planned a long driving vacation through the western part of the country and he did not go along. Everyone believed that our parents were happy to have him stay home.

He took everything apart just to see how it worked. Sometimes he got it back together and working, sometimes not. Nothing was safe from him. He would just head down to the work bench and get a screw driver and a pair of pliers just to see what was inside the box. Or he would be making something. It started with things he could play with when he was little, like a fort for his cowboys and Indians, but he never stopped. For a few years, he would show up at Christmas with gifts that he had carved or constructed from wood. When the wood floors of Peary Street started showing 20 years of wear and tear, he sanded them down and buffed in numerous coats of linseed oil, turpentine and stain. The house smelled for a month and he argued with our mother the entire time about how to best accomplish the work. Even when they worked together, they just did not get along at all.

As near as we could tell, he hated everything about Peary Street. He told our father something similar to that often, at very high volumes. He finally stopped arguing and just ignored the rules of the house, making his own rules. He always had some nice philosophical reason, but when decisions were made, he made them on his own without explanation. None of us ever really asked what he was doing or thinking, all the younger ones were just intimidated by the whole situation. When he left the area in the late 80's, he did not spend a lot of time saying goodbye or inviting us to visit him on his travels. For the next 25 years, all we heard were the sporadic headlines of what he was doing. For a while he ran a construction company, then he went back to school to earn a Ph.D., he was teaching at a University in Texas, he kept his hair in a long pony tail most of the way down his back and he had taken up breaking wild horses. Most of us did not see him or talk to him in all of those years. He was the angry brother who made his own rules and his own life.

Umbrella.png

Mother had only one real story that she ever told about him but this one summed up everything he was when he lived on Peary Street. The sun shone through a clear sky without any possibility of rain when he found an umbrella, apparently his first encounter with this technology or maybe his first encounter with it when no one was looking. First, he tried to simulate rain with the garden house but was unsatisfied the hose really produced a rain-like experience. So, he marched upstairs to the bath and turned on the shower to test umbrella's ability to protect against the elements. Mother was startled to find water running down the stairs and followed it to its source, our brother, mostly dry giving that umbrella a workout and the water flowing off the umbrella to the floor, out into the hall and down the stairs. Curiosity drowned the cat.

It would have been ridiculous to suggest to my parents that their reticence to share personal stories would destroy the nice structure they visualized for their family. The big kids and the little kids further divided by very clear gender roles and the anger caused by the arbitrary rules. Without storytelling to provide human touches, the big kids felt no reward from participation. Our parents felt they had made it clear and were surprised that we did not "get it". When we stereotype someone and expect them to respond according to the stereotype, we are surprised, even though we should not be. Both of the older brothers rejected the role their parents envisioned and left Peary Street behind. Any surprise existed because there were not enough stories to really predict the action of an individual, or the actions of a pigeon in a small, dark hole.

Next, the little kids.

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