by Terry Hargrove
I can’t believe I am so self-centered that I would post something all about me on Mother’s Day. Talk about a selfish baby boomer! It’s much better to talk about me in the context of my mom. She would understand, since I was, for a short while, the favorite. If you’re not your mom’s favorite, I’m sorry, because I was and it was great! But to better understand why my mom loved me best of all, you only need to contemplate her options.
My older brother Glenn, the first born son, arrived 14 months before I did. He was small, sullen, and he liked to break things. I was large, stupid, and the owner of most of the broken things just mentioned. We weighed the same from the time I was 2. For me, Darwin’s Theory was survival of the fattest. My older brother loathed me from birth, so the only way to protect myself was by eating a lot and eating often. The fact that he couldn’t easily intimidate me unbalanced him. As we grew older, I passed him in height and weight. Only in raw hostility was he the master, so when we broke into open conflict, he almost always won. The only way I could assert any authority at all was by stating, after every battle between us, that I let him win. This would, inevitably, bring on another thrashing. It was worth it.
My victories were few, therefore memorable. My greatest moment was in 1964. In our house, mom was the disciplinarian. Dad would disappear when things began to get interesting, but mom kept us mostly in check through an armory of phrases that were horribly intimidating. The one I remember best is:
“If you boys don’t behave, I’ll stomp you!”
It was an utterance of pure genius, and it still gives me the chills. First, it made us contemplate the mythical state of “have.” How does one achieve have? It is a yoga thing? Then, there was the second half of the phrase. Let’s face it, the idea of getting stomped, while not actually defined, implied a lot of pain. No matter what the cause, getting stomped was an effect to be feared and avoided.
So it was that one fine Saturday morning when it was too wet to play outside, I found a large cache of rubber bands. I picked up a handful and made my way to the living room where mom was ironing some clothes. For reasons we never altogether understood, mom ironed on a table, not an ironing board. I slipped around mom’s legs unseen, took a spot beneath the table, and observed my brother who sat across the room, watching cartoons. It was well known throughout the Hargrove home that the first born was a welter. When something hit him, his skin welted up in pink ridges. Armed with this knowledge and my arsenal of rubber bands, I leaned around mom’s legs, aimed a rubber band at his face, and let it fly. Thwip! It bounced off his cheek, leaving a bright pink fold just under his left eye. He jumped, spun, and glared at me. Glenn picked up the rubber band with a thought of shooting it back in my direction, but I was secure behind mom’s legs. He sat in impotent fury. I smiled and reloaded. Thwip!
I don’t remember how long this went on. There was much of Robert E. Lee in my brother, since he refused to give up the field when the enemy was right there. I think I hit him 15 times. He grew angrier, his face red with welted rage, his eyes dark and furious. But there was nothing he could do. Mom was my protector, and a more effective battlement couldn’t be found or constructed. I was having the time of my life. Then, the unthinkable happened: mom left the room. My protection just walked away. For a moment, my brother and I each pondered the significance of this development.
Then, Glenn was charging across the floor on his hands and knees like an animal, muttering curses pregnant with vile possibilities. It was his personal Pickett’s Charge, a doomed assault. He had emotion, but I had the good ground. I began a furious barrage with the remaining rubber bands.
“You… OW I’m gonna… OW and you’ll get OW…
Thwip! Thwip! Thwip! Thwip! Thwip!
That was when mom returned, burdened with a double arm-load of wrinkled clothes. She couldn’t see the dramatic engagement taking place just in front of her. And so, without meaning to, she stepped on my brother. Then, in an effort to regain her balance, stepped on him again. Clothes began to fall like Atlanta’s ashes, and she stepped on him a third time.
My field of vision was restricted to what I could see directly in front of me. From my perspective, Glenn was getting stomped! His arms and legs were flailing, he was screaming, mom was going to fall eventually. And the shirts. The terrible shirts!
Mom eventually caught her balance. She reached into the pile of clothes and pulled Glenn out by his ear. She was yelling at him and checking his extremities at the same time. Finally, assured she hadn’t killed him, she went into the kitchen and returned with a sandwich and some cookies for him. She placed him on the couch, then returned to her ironing. I still hadn’t been seen. Glenn, sniffling in pain and rage, took a bite of the sandwich and leered at me through his tears, secure in the knowledge that mom loved him after all. I responded the only appropriate way.
Through all the years of my youth, I was never stomped, a fact I often bring up during family reunions. Alas, I was not to remain the favorite child. My younger brother David was born the next year, and he inherited that title, as well as Glenn’s reputation for breaking things. My youngest sister, Misty, took it from him when she was born in 1973.
We all want the happy ending, and we had ours. Eventually. Glenn lives in Florida now. We talk once a year, so we’re closer than ever. For months after he was stomped, Glenn’s favorite offensive move was trying to hurl me under mom’s feet. I responded in Darwinian fashion by eating more and more. Eventually, he gave up and joined the Army. Two months prior to his discharge, I joined the Navy, and we’ve been barely missing each other ever since.
Every year, Glenn and I send mom flowers for Mothers Day. Misty, the favorite, gives her a hand-made card, just like she did in kindergarten, even though she’s 37 now. Mom loves that card. But I still remember that short season when I was the favorite. And every Christmas, I mail my older brother a single rubber band, just so he never forgets.