Friday, December 27, 2013

One of two .....

As I posted earlier, upon my arrival I was informed that I was now "one of four" kids and, therefore, not entitled to anything other than what everyone else had.  However, the reality was that there weren't four kids living at home at that point.  My uncle's daughter had left for college that Fall, and once she was no longer a permanent resident, my uncle and his wife opted to send their Down Syndrome son to an institution in a city two hours away.  Their daughter had been his primary care-giver, much more so than his parents, and he was too much trouble(?), too difficult(?), too time-consuming(?) for them to handle without her.  They never told me the real reason, and I never asked.  He lived at the institution full-time, coming home only every other weekend, until he moved to an adult group home several years later.
Therefore, the only other child living at home was my younger brother.  Recall that he was both my biological brother (adopted at the age of three months) and, soon, my adoptive brother as well.

My younger brother was a very "difficult" child and frequently in trouble for various reasons.  Because we weren't living in the same house during our early years, I don't know exactly what he had done previously, but I know that he habitually lied and stole things and that he also had violent tendencies.  (Yes, I know, this all sounds a lot like me.)
We did not attend the same school -- although we were only one year apart in age, I'd skipped first grade (thanks to instruction from my grandmother teacher, I already knew the entire curriculum before school started), so was two years ahead in school.  Sixth graders were, that year, housed at the Junior High School with the 7th - 9th graders, while K-5 students were in smaller, community-based elementary schools.
We didn't share many interests, but we were both musically talented.  My instrument of choice was the accordion, though I played clarinet (and later, tenor saxophone) in the school band.  My grandfather's "parting gift" to me (given, I like to think, because he felt guilty for abandoning me) was a new accordion and a request to his son and daughter-in-law that I be allowed to continue my music lessons.  My brother played the piano and had been taking lessons for a year or so.
Not surprisingly, my uncle and his wife greatly favored my brother over me, even when he was in trouble.  When they weren't sure who was responsible for something (a broken window, something stolen) we were both blamed and both punished.  Because he kept bursting into my bedroom when I was getting dressed, his parents finally agreed to put a deadbolt lock on my door.  They stipulated that, because they wouldn't be able to check it, I was responsible for keeping my room clean and my bed made.  I promised I would but, then as now, I'm not a very good housekeeper and soon was neglecting my chores. 
One day, I arrived home from school and found that I couldn't insert my key into the lock -- someone had tried to open it using a different key and it had broken off.  My uncle had to remove the door from the hinges to get in (why the heck didn't they have an extra key?) and, once the door was down, he saw my unmade bed and messy room and declared that I had broken the rules and could no longer lock the door.  My modesty and privacy were not important -- a clean room and well-made bed were.  My brother denied any responsibility for the damaged lock, even though it was obviously his handiwork, and while it's possible he was punished, I don't remember anything of consequence happening.
For a few months, my brother and I shared a paper route and delivered the town's weekly publication to a handful of our neighbors.  My uncle's wife said that if we saved ALL the money we earned for some specified length of time, she'd match it.  Faithfully, we deposited our coins in a jar she kept in a kitchen cabinet and neither one of us touched it.  Then one day, we headed out to an event of some kind (church fair, possibly?) and my brother ran back into the house saying he needed to get something.  I knew he was going to take our money and yelled after him not to touch it.  When he came back out, he swore he hadn't but, of course, when we got home, some of it was gone.  At that point, my uncle's wife said that she wasn't going to match the money anymore because "someone" had gotten into it.  (And, yes, when we eventually got to spend the money, we each got exactly half of what was in the jar -- even though my brother had already taken a portion of the total.)
One quick side note about the paper route -- our property faced a dead-end street (now known as a "cul-de-sac") which had approximately 20 homes on it.  My brother was directed to find paper route customers there, while my uncle's wife told me to walk through the woods behind our house until I came out on another road, much farther away.  That's where I was to find MY customers.  (I know, I know -- this truly sounds like an exaggeration of Dickensian proportions, but I promise you it's true.)  The weekly paper was distributed on Thursdays, and we picked up our allotment after school.  In the winter months, the sun had set by the time we got home, and it was New England COLD.  I had to trudge through the trees, in the dark, to make my deliveries, and my part of the route always took much longer to complete than my brother's did.
Lest anyone think that I'm proclaiming myself an angel in contrast to my brother's devilish nature, fear not.  The trouble I caused was, usually, different from the havoc wreaked by my brother, and it was somewhat less frequent -- but I was far from a perfect child and was often the recipient of discipline meted out by my uncle (occasionally) and his wife (frequently).
Being just one of two children living at home meant that I was subject to increased scrutiny from my uncle and his wife.  The one positive note was that I wasn't the sole target of her anger, as my brother didn't completely escape her wrath.  But I definitely got more than my "fair share".