High Boy

Weren’t but only five of us youngin’s then. The big boys, Lincoln and Lawrence, they was first, and nearly twins at 10 months between ’em. Next was the big girls, Livie and Luce, ‘couple years on. They at least have one whole year betwixt them, and trust me, they like it thataway. No love lost between them two, always bickerin’ and bitin’. Girls can be frightenin’. And confoundin’.

I’ll save that story except to say it ain’t gotten better over time.

Still, with Mama and Daddy, it was an even up household, two by two, Noah’s ark-like. Not countin’ Grandpap. We didn’t never count Grandpap on account he was like the king top dog of us all. He got special consideration, and first pickin’s of the fried chicken come dinner time. It wasn’t like he didn’t count. ‘Twas more like he counted in his own special column, full on total, no debits or takeaways. A gray-whiskered savings account, written in ink, no withdrawals, just accruals.

‘Course, then I come along. Upsettin’ the applecart, as it were.

In fairness, how was I to know I’d be the odd man out? But them others, barely old enough to count themselves they was circlin’ me from the moment ol’ Doc Smoot smacked my be-hind and I let out a bloody wail. Them others, Luce only a year, looked at me sideways and up and down, not knowin’ what to make of this bran’ pankin’ new baby boy.

Without meanin’ to, and I fear I may be too kind, they chose up sides. Them on the one, itty bitty baby me on the other.

And Mama? She loved me best. That was and still continues to be my salvation. And often my downfall.

Namin’ me Liam against Daddy’s wishes to label me “Lester,” Mama bestowed on me her first gift, callin’ me after her beloved and now deceased bless his everlastin’ soul pap, Theodore Liam McVay. That made me purtin’ near untouchable, seein’ as I represented his hallowed and revered memory.

Mama said I had his clear blue eyes and regal and royal forehead.

Never have sorted that out to my satisfaction.

Now, “untouchable” did not mean I wudn’t never poked or punched or pinched or spit upon or sat upon. It also didn’t mean I didn’t get the blame and the stink eye and the heel of the loaf of the bread. What it did mean was none of this happened when Mama was within’ spittin’ distance. Day one and forward, she was my most valuable ally and my most dangerous detriment. I learned early to do my most orneriest mischief with Mama nearby, savin’ me the retaliation I was often due. Or at least posponin’ it. Threats often did turn into painful reality, but weighin’ the cost of a right proper comeupance versus the joy of Mama’s eye a’watchin’ over me whilst I did the Devil’s work, I’ll admit to errin’ on the side of hellfire and brimstone.

Truth be told, I have never been a real Mama’s boy. She’d tan my hide like the rest of ’em if I told me a lie or throwed me a rock at them pesky chickens or took me a cookie before it was offered proper. I bore responsibility for my misbehavin’ like the others. It was the squishy misty lovin’ glances Mama’d throw my way when I wudn’t s’posed to be lookin’. She’d be seein’ her pap in me. Them glances was for me alone, and for that, I was grateful.

It took me some time, and some growin’, and some bruises, but before the next batch of brothers and sisters started makin’ themselves known some five years later, I’d took to leadin’ the pack from the rear, gaining if not the respect, then maybe the regard of them older kids. Lincoln and Lawrence mostly just ignored me, and that was fine by me seein’ as their punches and pulls left the meanest marks. And Livie, she was fine but spent most of her time dancin’ her dolls ’round the designs in the quilt on Mama’s bed. Luce, though, she and me become partners in all sorts of adventures. We’d chase lightnin’ bugs, we’d chase the cats, we’d chase the chickens (savin’ me a whoopin’ from throwin’ rocks at the same), we’d chase each other. We thought similar, me and Luce, and finally, finally, I had me someone I could count on what wasn’t checkin’ behind my ears for things growin’ back there. We was two peas in a pod, Luce and me.

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