Little brothers don’t know much. For me this is an indisputable fact based on first-hand knowledge because I had to raise two of them.

Oh, I got a little help from mom and dad, but for the most part it was up to me to teach them pretty much everything that could be considered important. Things like how to win mud battles in our backyard pond, how to fluff up peas in a bushel basket (to make a half-bushel look like a full one), how to ensure that you didn’t have to cut grass by sabotaging the push mower in one easy step, and how to blow some awesome bubbles in the bathtub.

To be completely fair, I should also note that little brothers are useful, which can, from time to time, relieve some of the burden of child-rearing. For example, on those days when we had been banished to the butterbean patch I could easily convince them to put their butterbeans into my basket. This always came in handy because unlike peas, which could be fluffed up, butterbeans always lay flat no matter how one tries to arrange them. Those of you from the country are well aware that picking a bushel of butterbeans is an all-day affair – unless you bully little brothers to contribute their harvest.

The little guys also consistently proved their usefulness by being easy targets for aggravation. I could always depend on them to react in a very precise way. If I called one of them a sissy (where mama couldn’t hear) I knew he’d chase me. I would then scamper away and lead him into a trap. That set-up meant steering the little dude past the kitchen window and into mama’s hearing zone. I knew from past experience that during the dash around the house he would be crying and using words he’d learned on the first grade playground – ones that were taboo in the Richardson household. You wouldn’t believe some of the words they were using at primary schools in 1963 – but you might well imagine that he’d then receive the old peach limb switch treatment. Now that’s some real high-quality entertainment.

I continued to train them over the years with a number of techniques designed to toughen them up. I told them they were adopted as orphans from Russia, rubbed dirty socks and underwear in their faces, splatted fresh mud pies in their eyes, forced them to chew tobacco while playing baseball and put manure in their boots. Through it all they took their training like good little soldiers with only the occasional “I’m gonna tell mama” as their only flaw.

It’s funny though. Even though I got a lot of enjoyment from picking on them with my harmless little fun and games, I would swiftly step in if someone else tried to bother or bully them. I was the only one allowed to do it.

In many ways having to raise those two runts is kind of ironic. As time went on, one them turned out to be the coolest cat in school and a star athlete and the other one had curly black hair, dark skin and movie star looks whom the girls swooned for. I on the other hand was a skinny, gangly, shy and backward child. Not the physical or emotional model you’d think of as a molder of young men yet I was tasked with whipping them into shape to take on manhood. Kind of peculiar when you think about it.

I’ve never really figured out why they would follow my lead with a physique that resembled a starving giraffe and the personality of a gerbil. Maybe they just didn’t know any better. I can tell you this – despite my lanky frame I could eat an oversized slice of cake faster than our bird dog Skipper who could virtually make one disappear as if by magic. Perhaps my brothers were amazed and astounded by my ability to eat large quantities of food and yet keep a youthful figure. Maybe skinny folks just make good leaders. Not sure.

Nonetheless I must have done a creditable job. Those little twerps have turned out just fine. So much so that I would now call them “foxhole guys,” a term I use for people who can always be counted on no matter the predicament or circumstances. We are a tight, close knit family and I’m pretty sure that’s how things are supposed to work.

As things have worked out, these two fella’s are my best friends in the world – even if they were adopted orphans from Russia.

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