My mother, Chickie Ling, Jerome, Arizona, around 1920

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Little Man

This past Mother’s Day, I decided to re-read some letters my mother wrote to my father during the summer of 1952. Daddy was recalled to active duty by the Army during the Korean War and we were living at Fort Benning, Georgia. At some point, he had been sent to California for a few months and Mama was having to defend the home front all by herself, caring for my brother Sandy, who must have been about five, and two-year-old me. The letters are affirmations of my mother’s devotion to my father and her dedication to post-WWII family life. Here’s an excerpt from one of them:

I made an unauthorized $10 expenditure today. However, it will come out of my usual $30 per week household expense account. I bought the children a wading pool.

Apparently, the summer was hot and the post pool didn't offer enough relief, so Mama had taken matters in her own capable hands. What I can't help but ponder is that the kind of frugality mentioned in the letter would be unfathomable today, as would be even considering having the husband “authorize” the purchase of a wading pool from twenty five hundred miles away (especially without the ability to text).

The letters are, indeed, sweet and evocative of the time; however; in re-reading them, I was struck by the theme that runs through them all, a theme as disconcerting with this latest reading as with former perusals.

And that theme is The Little Man and what a gem he was, the little man being my brother, Sandy. Now, you're probably thinking I'm making too much of the sibling rivalry thing here, but I'm not. Read below for evidence of my assertion:

On Sandy’s teeth pulling:

He had two teeth pulled this afternoon without a whimper. I was so proud of him and everyone made over him which pleased him no end..... Back to Sandy and the way he took this today. I really believe he is beginning to grow up and lose some of those vague fears he has always had.

Okay, maybe he was a suck-up little scaredy cat with delusional tendencies but she was still so proud of him.

Then there’s this about what a perfect little student he was at the age of five:

Did I tell you about Sandy’s report card? The comments were to the effect that Sandy is a quiet, mannerly child who is cooperative and well adjusted.

And athletic and brilliant, although a bit odd and perhaps a voyeur:

Wish you could see Sandy in the water. He’s a funny child. He learns more by watching than any other way. He was watching the life guards fooling around in the water and I looked up and there he was doing the breast stroke and not badly either. Last week he watched some boys for a while and then walked over to the edge of the pool and dived in – no preliminaries, no announcements or anything. I guess he figured it out in his head and then went and did it. Some child!

And did I mention good with money?

Sandy made a purchase today. He’s saved his allowance for 4 weeks plus his silver dollar for an inflated raft. He’s thrilled to death. By the way, he has 2 loose teeth – front bottom. One is awfully loose but he’s trying to save them till you get home so you can help him get them out. Of course, the whole idea is based on the return that the fairy is supposed to give him. I believe he'd swap every tooth in his head for suitable financial remuneration. He’s a money conscious little fellow – do you suppose he’ll be a tycoon?

It’s not that she never mentioned me, but notice how quickly she changed the subject.

We were in the water only about a short time and Marcia got mighty red. I was afraid last night that she would have blisters – but seems to be okay today. You should see Sandy. I took him out in water over his head and taught him to tread water. He did very well and would swim 3 or 4 feet out there.

Okay, the only mention of me was that I was too stupid to get out of the sun, but, at least I wasn't much trouble. See below for another example of my stupidity, but also a rather exceptional tolerance for pain.

That night she pulled the fire extinguisher over on her bare foot and I just knew I’d have to take her up for an x-ray – but apparently after the initial fright there was no damage except for white stuff being sprayed everywhere.

It was only after my mother's death that my brother owned up to being the one who dropped the fire extinguisher on my foot, the injured foot that caused me to be crippled and "different" for my entire life, having the fourth toe on my left foot be shorter than my pinkie toe.

I did, however, excel in one important way.

Wish you had seen Marcia eat tonight. She ate 2 and ½ pieces of chicken, 2 helpings of rice and gravy, English peas, cantaloupe, milk and then went over to the Olson’s and ate a piece of cake, 3 pieces of cheese, 3 carrot sticks, came back here and ate 2 graham crackers, small glass of milk and 3 mints. She probably won’t need to eat again for a week.

A great ending to this sad story would undoubtedly include additional evidence of my abuse and anecdotes about what an entitled ass my brother grew up to be. However, I must tell you that Mama was a wonderful mother to both my brother and me, and The Little Man grew into a big man and a good man, turning out to be all the things Mama predicted he would be when he was just five. I'm not sure one would call him a tycoon, but he did well in all the ways that are important, and he's my brother and I love him.

As for my tiny toe injury, I now believe Sandy told me it was his fault to make me feel better about being such an idiot when I was two. However, what would really make me feel better would be
2 and ½ pieces of chicken, 2 helpings of rice and gravy, English peas, cantaloupe, milk, a piece of cake, 3 pieces of cheese, 3 carrot sticks, 2 graham crackers, small glass of milk, and 3 mints.

Well, maybe not the English peas.

The Little Man and me. It's a wonder I could stand what with my injury.

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