There are times when having a brother with twenty more years of age, experience, and wisdom, can adversely effect your credibility. This is especially true at nine years old. I found this to be the case one Christmas day many years ago when my brother Tom came home for the holidays.
It appeared to be the start of a special Christmas, for my brother was coming to visit. I was even more excited than usual for a nine-year-old boy at this time of year. I wondered what new presents would be under the tree? In the past, Tom always got me such neat stuff. I could hardly wait to start shaking the gifts and guessing.
As usual, I was up before dawn, tearing into my gifts with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers. My folks, along with my brother, had now joined me in the gift-opening ceremony. Saving the best for last was out of the question; it was the gift from my brother that I tore into first.
My dreams had come true. My prayers were answered. There it was, bigger and shinier than anything in the display case of any Western Auto store in the world. It was a B B gun. Finally, I had entered the ranks of the big kids. The prestige of such a gift! I anticipated the glory of shooting my first bird. This was truly a present for a twelve years old, maybe even a teenager. While reveling in my grandeur, I hadn’t noticed that my Mother was watching with obvious disapproval. Apparently she had other plans for the B B gun.
“You can’t shoot that thing in the yard!” she barked. “You’ll have to go to the riverbed.” With those words, I was instructed to leave the B B gun under the tree with the less attractive presents. “You can open your other gifts now. Tom will watch you while we go visit Auntie Mabel, and don’t forget, leave the B B gun alone,” Mom ordered.
No sooner than they were out the door my brother grabbed the gun and headed towards the back yard. “Where’re you going?” I asked. “To test your gun out before Mom and Dad get back” was his reply. I thought this was a grand idea.
Our back yard was full of potential targets. My brother’s first choice was two cases of empty mason jars my Mom used for canning fruit. Somehow this didn’t seem like the right thing to do, but surely Tom would know right from wrong. He stacked up all twenty-four jars and shot them into a deadly pile of broken glass and jar lids. I had wanted a turn with the gun, but he said, “I have to sight it in first.”
With the jars demolished, Tom decided to find a few new targets. First was the neighbors’ weather vane: an aluminum rooster high atop their barn. As each shot connected with its intended target, paint chipped off the rooster. “This looks like fun. Can I have a turn yet?” I asked. His reply was an adamant “No!”
After this target was exhausted, he moved on to the neighbor’s porch lights. What a good shot he was, as the various outside lights of all three surrounding houses burst one by one. I was anxious for my turn, but now Tom was taking aim at the windows of a nearby work shed. I couldn’t believe my eyes, as he shot out four window panes with consecutive rapid-fire shots. “When will it be my turn?” I cried, about to wet my pants with anticipation. “You can’t shoot the gun in the yard,” he snapped. “You’ll have to go to the riverbed.” With that shocking statement Tom marched into the house and tossed the gun back under the Christmas tree.
Of course I was furious for not getting to shoot my own gun, especially with such good targets. It was too late, though, for by now my parents had returned home. Nothing was said about the target practice that went on in their absence, but I was sure they would find out soon. I was also sure my brother would be long gone before all the damages were tallied.
That last assumption is what led to my downfall in the ranks of urban big game hunters. The following morning my brother and I went to the riverbed to plunk at some old beer cans and pre-riddled milk cartons. Most of the targets we found had been used more than once by our predecessors, and although not as glamorous as the city targets of glass, were just fine for a nine-year-old on his first safari.
We left the riverbed, and when we arrived home, we found my parents, along with the surrounding neighbors, lying in wait for us. Their faces were as long as the walkway leading to the porch where they huddled in cross-armed formation. I knew the cat was out of the bag. Boy, was my brother ever going to get it!
While trying to hold back a humongous laugh at my brother’s stupidity, I began to tell these folks how foolish Tom had been in his choice of targets. Before I could get a word out, my father snarled, “Give me that damn gun. You’re grounded, buster!” What ensued was a cacophony of pointing fingers, frenzied arm waving, and shrill screams, as the neighbors recounted their various damages to my brother.
As the dust cleared, my brother said in a matter-of-fact kind of way, “So that’s what the little fart was doing while I was on the phone yesterday.” Having an idea of what was about to happen, I clenched my prized B B gun close to my heart. Something told me this would be our last embrace. “I guess this is my fault,” Tom said solemnly. My spirits rose high. There really was a God. Tom’s going to tell the truth. All Tom said was “He’s much too young for a B B gun. I never should have bought him one. I’ll take it back home with me tomorrow.”
I started to lay out my defense, but my Pop said, “Not a word, buster. Get to your room and stay there.” From my room I could hear my brother telling the lynch mob how surprised he was at my choice of targets. I was finished. I could only grieve my loss and cry. Hard.
At suppertime I was summoned from my room by my Pop. I expected the worst, and it had happened. They all believed Tom, who said he had no idea I had shot all those things in just five minutes. I screamed “He’s lying!’ I gave them my word. I pleaded. I even swore on the most sacred of things (my B B gun) that Tom was the culprit. I was only nine, and Tom almost thirty, and with that age difference the verdict was rendered: guilty.
Almost twelve years went by before Tom finally told my parents what had actually happened. For that entire twelve years, my parents did not believe me when each Christmas , I would tell the story of my brother and the B B gun. I got over the loss of the gun, but to this day I have not gotten over that twelve year loss of credibility, given to me by my brother that special Christmas day.