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The Eldest

Ken was the oldest out of the four of us. He was 7 years older than me, 5 ½ years older than my brother, and 2 years older than my sister. I recently saw a video of him when he was 2 or 3 years old. It was a short home movie that my uncle had made and my cousin found. He was kind enough to put it on a DVD for me. It was amazing to watch this footage that I had never seen before. It was Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and he was playing with a couple of big trucks – pushing them back and forth, and exploring how the different moving parts worked. And by the looks of his surroundings, he was showered with gifts. I could tell it was the result of proud grandparents who were used to giving their first grandchild lots of presents.

I imagine he liked being the center of attention (most Leo’s are.) I suspect that when my sister was born 2 years later, he welcomed a playmate. The two of them were close. Well, from my perspective, Leslie looked up to him and seemed to be closest with him. I don’t know how close he actually felt to her.

He had 7 years of life before I showed up, and a few more before I could really take in what he meant to me. I remember him saying quite often that he thought I was a baby and that I cried too much. He was the one who discovered that if you turned the radio on, I would stop crying. I loved music so much, I didn’t want to miss a note or a word sung. One afternoon when I was upset and crying, I heard him yell, “Quick, turn on the radio. That always shuts her up.” I thought to myself, “Not this time. That’s not going to work. You can’t just MAKE me stop crying.” But it did. It worked every time.

By the time I was 5, he was 12, which legally made him old enough to babysit. Why my parents ever thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know. He would act really nice, but inevitably it would have a terrible motive in the end. One time he asked if I wanted to play a card game with him called 52-pick up. I didn’t trust him, so I asked him what it was. He said I can’t tell you until you say you want to play. It was back and forth and he wouldn’t let up until I finally said I would play. Then he threw all the cards up in the air, and said, “There! Now pick them all up!” He’d laugh like it was the greatest thing in the world. I had to pick them up, because if I didn’t, he would make me pick them up using physical force.

He tormented my brother the most. On Saturdays my mom would go grocery shopping, and if I got lucky, she would let me come along. I learned that one of those Saturdays, he took the mattresses off his and my brother’s bunk beds, tied up my brother, put him on the springs of the bunk bed and piled the mattresses on top of him. We were gone for about 3 hours – and he was like that for a long time. I have a feeling most of his crimes weren’t as violent when I was around. I think because he knew I would tell on him. I loved my younger brother so much. He was really sweet, and would never physically hurt anything or anyone. I was fed up one day, when Ken was sitting on John, holding his hands down and tickling him until it hurt. I could see he was being tortured. “Leave him alone!” I yelled. “Oh yea? What are you going to about it?” He came for me and said, “Hit me? Are you going to hit me? Go ahead – try!” He got me so riled up and angry that I went for him. He used to point to his chin, and say, “Right here. Go ahead. Hit me right here.” As I swung for him with all my might, he placed his hand on my forehead, with his arm stretched out. He toward over me, and my little arms couldn’t even reach him. I swung madly in the air, while he laughed and laughed. I felt helpless and angry.

My heroic efforts of trying to stick up for my brother made things worse for me. He realized that I was available to pick on too. After that, he pinned me to the ground once in a while and tickled me until I was in pain. It was horrible. I learned to not laugh while being tickled. And I also learned to keep my mouth shut. If I could stay unnoticed, I had a better day.

If any one of us were lying on our side with our elbow propping up our head watching the TV, he would eventually sneak up and smack our arm down, frightening us out of our TV coma and slamming our heads to the ground. He tripped us, pushed us, and called us names (mine was toothless – since I was with out my 2 front teeth for over 2 years.)

I think John and Leslie had some better moments with him, because they would actually do things with him once in awhile despite his bullying. They would play games, which I would be excluded from because they would say I was too young. He did impress me when he was around 11 or 12 years old and he set up a couple of outdoor Christmas spot lights in the living room and hooked them up to his guitar pedal board. He played his guitar and the spotlights shined to the rhythm of his playing. I was enthralled! How did he do that? He had started getting interested in electricity and how it all worked, and set up a board with different switches, wires and lights, and made it all come alive. I could tell he was smart, but didn’t seem to care about anything except himself. My mom had no control over him. My mom’s best friend shared stories with me when I visited her when I was in my late 20s. She said we had a white carpet in our living room. One day when she was visiting, Ken came in from being outside in the mud, with his boots and walked into the living room, sat on the couch, and put his muddy boots on the coffee table, all the while Mom was telling him, “Don’t you dare wear those boots in the house!” He put his arms behind his head, kicked his feet up, and said, “What are you going to do about it?” She responded, “Just wait until your father comes home.”

By the time he was 12, our dinners consisted of four kids at the table, mom by the kitchen sink cleaning (or eating while standing) and Dad staying late at work. He and my sister would make fun of me trying to pour my milk from the heavy glass picture. My hands would shake from the weight, but I was determined to pour it myself. Then he would start food fights, and the peas and mashed potatoes would fly across the table. I hated it. Everything was out of control. Not only did I feel sad about my situation, but I also felt a very heavy heart over what my mom was going through. I felt her pain and knew she tried her best to be nice to everyone. She just didn’t know how to set any boundaries.

Christmas Eve and Easter were the only days of the year that the whole family went to church. Mom usually took John and I at least a couple of Sundays a month, but couldn’t get the others to come. I think this was the last Christmas Eve we were all together, and we were about to leave. My mom noticed that Ken hadn’t combed his hair yet. She told him again – “Go comb your hair and brush your teeth.”

“No” he replied.

She repeated the command with more anger. “Go comb your hair and brush your teeth! C’mon! You’re going to make us late!”

“No!” he said defiantly.

At this moment, my Dad walked in the room. I remember standing in the living room – I already had my coat on.

“You heard your mother, go comb your hair and brush your teeth.”

“No.” This time he said it a little more quietly, but you could almost hear the gasp in the room as every single one of us realized he was being defiant to Dad. He had never done that before. We had no idea what was going to happen, but we knew it wouldn’t be good.

“Did you say NO?!!” Dad yelled.

“I’m not going to do it,” he said confidently.

At that point, my Dad picked up a brass candle stick, swung around and smashed it over his head. All chaos broke out. Ken fell to his knees with blood pouring over his hands from the gash in his head. Leslie screamed. Mom screamed. Dad realized the damage was done. Mom rounded up Leslie, John and I and told us to get in the car. Leslie refused to move. She wasn’t going to leave her big brother behind

“We’re going to stay here,” my Dad said. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him. We’re going to work this out.”

It felt like it was a really bad idea to leave those two alone with each other, but I think my mom knew it would be better if we got out of there. The tension was intense as the four of us rode in the car to church. I don’t even remember any part of the service, except that it didn’t feel like Christmas anymore.

Our tradition was that we went to church, and somehow Santa magically came while we were there, and we opened our presents on Christmas Eve. Then Christmas day we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. When we got home from church after that traumatic night, Dad and Ken seemed ok. Dad had patched Ken’s wound and he said they talked things out and everything was fine. Not only that, but they got to see Santa’s reindeer. Dad said they heard Santa land on the roof and they saw the tracks in the snow. I knew he was lying. And I could tell by the look on Ken’s face that he was very somber from the whole experience.

It was in the last year that my parents were married when I had the most fearful episode with Ken. I’ll share that experience with you in my next blog.

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