There really is no way to explain the bond between brothers and sisters, except to say that it is a natural occurrence,  much like the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s. Instead, let’s just turn the page and let me tell you a story that is close to my heart, and, parts of which I have told, time and again, over these many years….

      It all started, as a nondescript and lazy summer day. The tepid night air had been quickly brushed aside by the burning August sun, as Matty slid headfirst off the cotton sheets, and, onto the pillows that had fallen in a pile on the bedroom floor. He rested in the soft coolness, his slender body contorted and posed at a crazy angle– feet and legs still partially on the bed, his head and torso, cascading down to the oak floor… The boy yawned, and stretching his arms, lay spread eagled on the floor, savoring the coolness. He closed his eyes, and, drifted off to sleep again. It was a luxury he was unaccustomed to… By now, his usual routine would have him in a scorching hot  corn field, filling giant burlap bags full of sweet, New England corn, but, for the next week, he was on vacation, and, loving every lazy minute of it!!

       It was, perhaps, just a moment or two, before his slumber was interrupted by the quizzical voice of his younger brother. “Matty… what happened?? Do you know that you’re on the floor?”

    

 The blond 11 year old boy kept his eyes closed and groaned… “OOOOhhh!!! “
       “Are you OK, Matty?” the concerned brother queried.
    

“OOOOhhh, I think I broke my neck….OOOhhh….”
       “Really??  Does it hurt?? Is there a bone sticking out? What should I do??”
       “Help me fix my neck, Gerry… Come down here and help me turn my head, so that it doesn’t fall off my neck!!”  Matty snickered, trying his best not to erupt with laughter…
        The 8 year old brother pushed his bedclothes aside and swung his legs over the side of his bed. “Should I get some bandages, Matty?”
        “Yeah, LOTS and LOTS of bandages, and… candy, too… OOOhhh…”
        “Candy? I don’t….”
        “Yeah!! Candy, you little dufus!! Candy, so I can enjoy myself while you ask mom for a pile of bandages to fix my broken neck!!”  With that, he couldn’t contain himself anymore, and, he reached over and pulled his brother’s leg, until he lost his balance, and fell on top of him. The 2 boys laughed and wrestled until the call came from the family kitchen…
        “What are you boys going to want for breakfast??  How about bacon and eggs?? Or, I can make some blueberry pancakes… we haven’t had those in a while…”
         When mom was in a good mood, breakfast was a fun time in the little, red Cape!!
         The boys raced to the kitchen, pushing and shoving,  trying to be the first in line, as if it was critical to the menu selection… It wasn’t… Mom was used to cooking for 7 kids, and, was even more flexible during this particular week, for in this house, within the span of 4 days, there would be 3 birthday celebrations– One for Gerry, one for Matty, and, one for sister Lucy, who was one year younger than Matty.

         It was a chaotic time of year….

        And, it was hot!!   As the kids finished their pancakes and eggs, the morning heat was already building, and, it was apparent where the best place to combat that heat would be!!  Like every other kid in the small town, Matty and his siblings would be lining up on the grassy area outside the public pool, well before it’s scheduled opening at noon… On these kinds of days, the atmosphere would be charged– kids from age 7- 16 would be gathered in large groups, excitedly jousting for better positions in the long line. Boys to the right, girls to the left…

        And so it was that Matty found himself, tugging at his younger brother’s arm, to make sure he didn’t lose his place in line, while the boy carried on a lively conversation with a few of his friends that had come late to the party and, were bringing up the rear, in a group that had to number close to 200…  An older lifeguard kept order, his orange swim trunks glowing amongst the more muted colors around him, and, his shrill whistle that hung from a long cord around his neck, demanding obedience, even tho it was often mocked by the older kids that were nearly his age.

       The fervor reached a crescendo as the large clock on the cinderblock wall finally registered high noon. The gray steel doors opened with a bang, and, 2 more lifeguards set about, containing the giant herd of kids, and then, the loudspeaker came to life, with the day’s announcements, and, the reminders and warnings that were the pre- entry ritual every day- No running anywhere, inside the pool…. Every swimmer MUST shower before entry to the pool area- swimsuits would be checked– if dry, the swimmer would not be allowed to enter…No food or beverages of any kind would be allowed in the pool area, except in the adult caregiver area near the wading pool… No swimmer wearing a diaper (this always got a few good guffaws from the kids…) would be allowed in the main pool… And, on and on, the announcements droned, while the ‘boos’ grew in intensity, until the final announcement that triggered a loud cheer, and, the line started, at last, to move.

      What seemed like an eternity, was really more like minutes, before the 2 brothers reached the changing room, where metal clanged against metal, as wire baskets were filled with extra clothing and personal items like watches and chains that were not allowed in the pool area. The baskets were then stowed in a line of metal cubbies that ran the length of one wall- the wall that separated the changing room from the toilet cubicles and urinals that abutted the shower area, which was now packed with bodies of every conceivable size and shape. Most were tanned or sunburnt by this time in the season… all were excited young boys either naked or half naked, frantically showering so that they could pass ‘inspection’ at the door that led from the lockerroom to the pool.

       Matty and Gerry stowed their t shirts and sneakers in a shared basket, and raced to the showers to get ‘wet’– pretty much the tactic of every young kid– just wet enough to pass inspection, no soap required!!  There were some boys tho, older ones, who seemed to enjoy the showers, and stood completely naked, slowly soaping their tanned bodies and, almost posing for the younger kids, proud of the gifts that adolescence had brought. As the 2 brothers squeezed into the 6 shower room, they were confronted with one such young man… 14 years old, perhaps, but, with the maturity of a man, in Matty’s mind. He glanced at the soapy boy, and shivered at the beauty of the lad. As he did,he felt the stirrings in his groin, and, decided that he should avert his eyes even tho they were drawn inexorably to the strapping teenager. Gerry had no such aversion. He gawked at the boy, taking in the most private areas, and, elbowed Matty for attention. Matty looked at the 8 year old and, asked, “What’s the matter?”
     “Matty, do you see that??  Look at the hair he has down there”, the boy snickered. Luckily, the chaos of the showerroom drowned out the comment, and, Matty gave his brother a stern look, and put his fingers to his lips in an effort to quiet him.Then, he grabbed him by the arm, and, led him out of the showers, past the young Adonis, who seemed to be smiling, apparently having heard the comment!!
      The blond big brother was embarrassed, and, as they reached the changing room, he bent down, and whispered to his younger brother, “Haven’t you ever seen an older boy before?? That’s what happens when you get bigger… you know, you get hair down there!!”
      Gerry seemed to find that hysterical, because he started to giggle uncontrollably. “What, like a mustache?”
      “Mustache?? Well, if that was a mustache, what was he doing then, eating a hot dog??”  With that, both boys roared with laughter, and, grabbed their towels. The pool beckoned, and, within seconds, they had both cleared the last obstacle; the last check, since the lifeguard had abandoned his post, leaving the folding metal chair empty, braced against the open hallway door.

        It was a grand day!! The sky was unblemished and the sun was hot, heating the concrete apron around the pool till it sizzled… The only thing that made it walkable by the hundreds of tender feet, was the constant splashing of water that came from the churning pool, that was alive with the antics of the young generation of the sleepy little town.There was no rest for the pool lifeguards, 4 of whom were perched atop the high chairs that were bolted to the pool deck at each corner. Roaming between the chairs were lifeguard patrols, assuring the enforcement, more or less, of the safety rules and tending to the many disputes and minor injuries that came from such tumult. On the end of the cinderblock building was the central nervous system of the whole effort– the head lifeguard office. It was a place of comfort for the injured, and torment for the wicked… There was a phone in that office that was used occasionally to contact the parents of an unruly or incorrigible child– not something that any kid wanted to experience, because if it came to that,  it was possible that the head lifeguard, a man by the name of Mr. Kruegar, would be involved, and, every kid knew better than to tangle with that guy!!  He was a real terror– his hair was styled like that of a lot of phys. ed. teachers; a crew cut, and, he was humorless, and had a slight German accent. He had also been known to dish out a spanking or two, altho it was behind that closed door; the recipient returning to the action, rubbing his butt, trying not to be seen crying. Matty didn’t care for the man. He was actually scared of him. But, Matty was a cautious boy, wise beyond his years, and, ever vigilant for the trouble that seemed to wait, just around the corner.

       The same could not be said about his younger brother- Gerry was a bit impulsive and loud about it!! Matty often wondered how he always seemed to be drawn into the fray of his brother’s life, defending him against a seemingly endless line of tormenters. It was almost as if he stirred the worst in some of the older boys, and, then managed to outrun them long enough for Matty to intervene, which he did, his size generally enough of a deterrent to the nastier bullies, but, there were others, that eventually developed more aggressive tactics.  Explaining that would take us away from this story, tho, and, that fateful day in August, 1966…

       So, the boys joined the fracas that was a day at the pool, in the little town of farms and factory workers…

      At first, as was his duty, the blond 11 year old, kept an eye on his brother and younger sister, until they were united with their playmates and involved in controllable activities.  The boy stood, dripping wet, on the pool deck, and glanced from group to group, making sure that both were safe, and, at least for the moment, unpursued by one angry kid or another. It all seemed under control, so, Matty took the opportunity to re-engage with a couple of his own friends, who were impatiently waiting for him in the line to the diving boards. Each of those boys were trying to perfect a ‘graceful’ maneuver that was the entertainment for the nearest lifeguard– a vicious belly flop that, when done properly, sent a huge curtain of water shooting out from under the spread- eagled diver… Matty enjoyed the spectacle, but, had little interest in the competition, since his thin body was not built for such a stunt. This dive was better performed by a boy of wider proportions, shall we say. But, Matty enjoyed the show and, was called upon, by his friends, to be an impartial judge as each boy vaulted higher and higher off the low diving board, trying his best to outdo the other!!  In between, the blond boy would use his turn to work on a dive that an older boy had taught him– a dive called the ‘jackknife’.

       And so it went, as the red bellied boys raced from dive to dive, with Matty diving in between, the audience erupting with OOO’s and AWW’s as each boy crashed into the sparkling water and, the afternoon sun arced high into the sky…

       It was at a moment of high frivolity that Matty thought to check on the whereabouts of his sister and brother. He glanced to the 3 foot deep section of the pool, and, spotted his sister engaged in a  whispered conversation with her best friend, Denise… ‘Oh boy’, Matty thought, ‘I wonder what THEY’RE up to??’  Still, they were safe, at least for the moment, so the boy turned his attention to the area of the pool where Gerry had been last seen. It was not an easy task, to find his brother in the churning chaos that was the ‘combat zone’. There, large groups of boys engaged in underwater tag, and, mock wargames, with constantly changing rules and scenarios that each boy argued relentlessly, as scores were calculated and teams were declared victorious. Matty scanned the area to no avail. Concerned that something was amiss, the thin boy excused himself from the belly flop wars and wound his way around the pool, searching for his 8 year old brother, his anxiety growing by the second, until he was almost running, and searching the deeper waters of the pool for a motionless body, his worst and growing fear. It was at that very moment that a commotion erupted from the far end of the pool. Flocks of kids were in his line of sight, but, Matty distinctly heard the yelp of a child with a voice very much like that of his brother. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the chlorination building, a structure that housed the mysterious machinery that controlled the pool’s bacteria levels and, somehow, filtered and returned the water through a network of pipes and filters that were off limits to every child, and, the fascination of every mechanically inclined boy in town. Mounted on the very back wall of the building, out of sight of the pool patrons, was a large switch, with a red, flashing light above… When the switch was engaged the light came on and signaled that some process had begun. No boy understood what that switch did, but, the big sign above it  warned everyone to steer clear, in big red letters that spelled ‘DANGER’. It was enough to get every boy interested!! Most were sufficiently afraid of the consequences of getting caught, if they messed with that switch, but, then there were the impulsive ones that were used to their older brothers saving their bacon all the time…

        The yelp that Matty heard became a wail, followed by the angry voice of an adult man, and, as the children of the pool heard the commotion, the din of activity quieted. Matty was running now, weaving his way between the gawking groups of kids. As he neared the small building, the wail became more of a scream, and that is when the boy’s heart leaped. Around the corner came Mr. Kruegar, dragging his little brother by his skinny arm, twisting it, until the boy cried in pain, and stopping only long enough to smack the 8 year old with tremendous force on his backside, to the terror of the children in the area and to the horror of the big brother into who’s care the young boy had been entrusted. Matty ran to the aid of his brother, and, grabbed the brawny arm of the large man, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Leave my brother alone!!”  For his effort, he got a heavy swat on the side of his head that spun him backwards, into the chain linked fence, which scraped at his bare skin, leaving a long cut on his shoulder and back. The man froze momentarily, as Matty got to his feet and resumed his defense, resorting finally to kicking at the enraged man as a group of young lifeguards arrived, white- faced, and terrified themselves;  wide-eyed and unsure what to do. It was then, that the voices behind the fence, got louder– They became the voices of reason. Two mothers who had observed the event and, were now shouting for the out of control man to release the brothers. The director finally conceded, and let the boys go long enough for Matty to pull his little brother to the side and make his escape, hurriedly leading the crying boy back along the poolhouse, and, stopping just long enough to retrieve Lucy and instruct her to meet them outside, where they would be safe.

       His heart pounding, the blond boy grabbed the wire basket from the lockerroom shelves and took the t shirts, socks and sneakers and wrapped them all in a towel and led his whimpering brother out of the building, looking back in case the big man was in pursuit.  Lucy was already outside, white-faced and trembling. Once outside, the small group headed across the adjoining field, and into the nearby woods, finally stopping in an area that Matty knew well.
      “What happened??” Lucy queried.
      “Kruegar went nuts!!” Matty responded. “He had Gerry by the arm!! I thought he was going to break it, or something!!  He just kept hitting him and calling him …. well, calling him a bad word…”
      “What word?”
       “Never mind…”
       “He called me a little bastard!!” the 8 year old interjected suddenly.
       “Hey!!  I don’t want to hear that kind of word ever come from your mouth again!! What did you do, anyways that got him so mad?”
        Gerry looked down at a tuft of tall grass and kicked at it with his bare foot… “Nuthin’, I was just playin’ around the back of the shack with Mark, and, he couldn’t catch him, but, he caught me…”
        “Huh?? Catch you… Catch you doing what??  Were you messing with that switch again??”

        “Naww!! I was just playin’ with Mark…”
        Matty grabbed the boy and turned him so that he was facing him directly…”Look me in the eyes and tell me that you didn’t touch that switch!!”
        Gerry looked down at his feet, then, up at his big brother, and, then, without saying anything, looked down again…
        “Oh man!! So, he caught you messing around with that switch!! I told you and Mark just today, to stay away from that area!! You know you’re not supposed to be back there!!  Now what?? We’re probably banned from the pool because of you!! What are we going to tell mom?? She’s going to be so mad, she’ll make Kruegar seem like Santa Claus!!”
        “Santa Claus??  He doesn’t have a beard like…”
        “Oh, SHUT UP , would you?? That’s not the point!!”
         Gerry started to whimper again… “Matty, don’t tell mom, pleeease !!”
         “Geezz!!  You really are nothing but trouble, sometimes…”
         “I can’t help it!! Why did they put that neat red light there?? Everyone kept daring me to turn the switch, and, make it go on!!”
          Matty looked at the wilting little boy with the red eyes, and considered the question… It was true that every boy in his class had the same dare in place. “Look, Gerry,  just because your friends dare you to do stuff like that, you can’t just do it… I mean, look what happened!! I don’t know… I mean, Mr. Kruegar shouldn’t have dragged you around like that, but, he did warn everyone last week to stop messing with that switch after the last time someone turned it on.”
          “Well, he didn’t almost rip that kid’s arm off!!”
          “Yeah, well, he never found out who he was, either, or, he might have!! How is your arm, anyhow?? It looks like it’s still attached to your shoulder. I don’t think it’s gonna fall off, or anything, like my head was about to, this morning…”
           Both boys erupted with laughter, at that remark… “What’s so funny?” Lucy asked, quizzically…
          “Oh, nothing”, Matty replied.  “Let’s get out of here!!  I’m thirsty, and, hungry… Why don’t we head over to the police station, and get a Coke and a candy bar. I have some change… enough for a couple of candy bars, and, a Coke. We can share…”
          “Well, we might as well”, Lucy replied. “If we try to go back to the pool today, he’ll probably have a shotgun waiting for us!!”
          “Shotgun?? He has a shotgun??”  Gerry asked, nervously…
          “Naww!! She’s just kidding!!” With that, he gave Lucy a stern look and shook his head so that only she could see… It had been a bad enough day, without adding to the fear in their little brother… He had put his foot in the bear trap, and, it had sprung… Maybe it had been a good lesson. Maybe.
    
           So, the two boys donned their shirts and socks and put their sneakers on, and the brothers and their sister, set off down the quiet back streets of the sleepy town and headed for the town’s center and the brick building that housed the town hall and police station, and the 2 machines that had now become the day’s attraction… There was nothing like an ice cold Coke and a big chocolate bar, on a steamy hot summer day…

continued in part 2….

 

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