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My Brothers, Ken, Arnold, and oldest, Joe

I am the youngest of four children, there are four years between me and my brother Ken, and I am the only girl. I am a fortunate, unfortunate girl, it all depends on which day of my childhood you might find me.

The story has it that my brother Ken might not have been too delighted at the birth of the usurper who came along and stole his spot as the youngest, the baby of the family. I was told he liked to sneak in when I was sleeping and wake me in a somewhat unfriendly manner. Ironically when we got older, I felt closer to him than the rest, and we are still close even though we haven’t seen each other in years. I guess I weathered the firestorm of childhood, and he learned a baby sis wasn’t so bad.

As we were growing up Joe, the oldest was our boss when mom and dad weren’t around. He took his job quite seriously, too. Some might say bossy but as I’ve matured, I realize the pressure of being the eldest, especially a son, was not only in our family but most families of that time. He was expected to set the example, be responsible, and step up when needed. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t cut loose and instigate a few shenanigans now and then. Once when mom and dad had to go to town, leaving Joe in charge, he decided to make sugar candy. It was simple, just heat the sugar in a pan until it melts and browns, sometimes adding nuts if they were available. Then let it cool, and we’d have pure sugar treats. The key was to cook it just right, always stirring or it would burn. A few batches ended up in the trash. Now when the folks got home and mom discovered all her precious sugar gone, there would be hell to pay. That’s when our other family members showed up, you know them by their proper names, Not me, I didn’t do it, and I don’t know. But did the punishment stop the candy experimenting? Nope. It went on until he graduated high school. When we were moving from the house in Gillette and I was going into the 8th grade, mom found ruined sugar candy tucked in the back of some of his dresser drawers.

Joe took good care of us in some dangerous times especially the first day of the worst blizzard Wyoming had seen in years, 1948. The snow began falling shortly after we arrived at school. Those big, beautiful flakes started drifting earthward looking so beautiful at first, but soon they filled the skies and began accumulating on the ground. Our teacher let us out at noon, asking Joe to make sure one of the girls who had no siblings got home okay. He was an eighth-grader, so of course, he was asked to take care of the younger ones. When we got the other girl to her house, which had taken us out of our way, her folks tried to talk Joe into staying. But he said mom and dad would be worried, so we headed out again. I remember the winds whipping at our clothes and the snow so thick and furious I couldn’t see where we were going. But Joe made sure he had a tight grip on my hand and instructed Ken to take the other hand, then Arnold was to hold tight to Ken. Part of the time he carried me on his shoulders. As darkness began to settle in and the snow began to soak through our clothes, he and Arnold took off their shirts and put them on me to keep me warm and dry. How he found his way, I have no idea because to me everything looked the same. Then, about the time I didn’t think I could go any further, he decided we should sing. What the heck? Sing? In the middle of a blizzard when all I wanted to do was lay down and rest. But he insisted that we sing at the top of our voices and sing we did. Suddenly he stopped and shushed us. I knew he’d lost his mind then. Yet as we stood there with wind and snow beating us, I heard what he heard, from afar, barking. He didn’t need to tell us to make noise. We were whooping and hollering, trying to run toward that beautiful sound. Then came that bouncing light as the barking got closer and I heard dad’s voice calling for us. He had found us and we were almost home. What I remember next was being bundled up by the fire, in warm clothes, sipping hot cocoa. Safe. And safe is how I always felt with Joe.

Arnie and Ken would also keep me safe, but they’d also enjoy harassing me. Oh, the stories I could tell on those two. Never trust a brother who sees a rabbit run into a hollow log and tells you to go down to the other end and watch for the rabbit to make sure it doesn’t get out. Especially when said brother has a bow and arrow that’s he’s learning how to shoot. Thankfully they were blunt arrows and thankfully it hit my eyebrow and not my eye. This story wouldn’t have been so funny in the re-telling had it hit an inch or so lower.

I don’t know who, between those two thought up all the shenanigans they pulled, but I do know they kept mom on her toes. The one hard lesson they learned was never to stand behind a frightened skunk. Oh, my goodness they stunk. It was in the spring of 1949 and thankfully there was plenty of snow to melt. But nothing, not even quarts of mom’s tomato juice could take that stink away. I never knew mom to waste any clothes until then, but she burned everything they were wearing when they took on a skunk.

We all had our chores to do. For the boys chopping wood was a big one. Without the wood, there’d be no way to keep us warm or cook the food, even ironing clothes required wood for the fire. I can still hear the clack as mom would snap the handle down on the heated flat iron that had been waiting on the stove. Arnie grumbled the most about that chore, and once he thought he’d found a way out of it. He’d gotten off his horse to open a gate and the horse stepped on Arnold’s foot. He pulled his foot out and part of his big toenail with it. Then he hobbled home and mom got him all cleaned up and doctored. There was no trip to the doctor, just lots of iodine and clean wraps. After dad left the room, Arnie looked at Ken and said, “well at least I won’t have to chop wood.” Oh, oh, big mistake! Dad heard and went and found an old pair of shoes which he then cut the top out of. I don’t think Arnie missed one day of wood chopping.

As I look back on my life, I realize how blessed I am to have had four older brothers. No matter how much they might tease me, grumble because they had to watch me, or even try to ignore me at times, I always knew that if anyone or anything tried to hurt me, they’d have to go through my big brothers first.

I also realize as I write these blogs, my happiest memories come from the time we were free-range children, and the outdoors was our kingdom. We knew what wild animals could cause us harm. As we grew up, many times, we failed to realize that mankind would hurt us more than any of the animal encounters we had.

I am fortunate to still have two of my brothers. Sadly, we lost Arnie a couple years ago. And that boy who hated chopping wood? He grew up to live in the wilds of Alaska and learned to love chopping it by the cord to keep him warm in winter and to cook his dinner. He lived many years without the creature comforts we all believe are required for happiness and loved every minute of it. Well, except maybe that time the frostbite got his most private parts as he took care of business in the outdoor privy.

Arnold in his ‘living’ chair. Enjoying his kingdom.

Author: Gayle Parish

As far back as I can remember I've always loved books. I love the feel, the smell, and the way words are put together to pull me into a story. I've dreamed for years of writing a story of my own, and here at last I've done it. I hope you'll join me as I share with you some memories, hopes, dreams, exploration of a life well-lived.

6 thoughts on “Brothers”

  1. I Love your stories ! I can imagine (see) as I read, you all walking in the blizzard and hearing your dog. And I can imagine Dad (Joe) would be a awesome big (oldest brother) keeping everyone in-line and safe and having some fun at the same time 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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