Sunday, January 26, 2014


I was a middle child, a girl bracketed by two wild and boisterous boys. Is it any wonder I became a tomboy?

I sacrificed for being an interloper. My brothers, when they got BB guns for their birthday, played cowboys and Indian with me. My back got peppered with fiery red spots, like angry pimples, as I ran across the meadow and raced up the mountainside by our summer vacation home.

I received my first black eye from my older brother. He was the rule enforcer when our parents were gone, but they were his rules rather than the family rules, and I did not believe he would actually hit me for changing the television channel. To his credit, he was mortified--or maybe frightened of what our father would do to him when he got home--and immediately retrieved frozen hamburger to put on the swelling and declared I could watch any TV show I wished. The next day I told my classmates I'd run into a door, but my sixth grade teacher saw through the ruse and asked quietly, "Which brother socked you?" I responded with silence, for I'd already learned that sacred tenet of boys: never squeal.

I considered the sacrifices exchanged for the excitement of young male life worthwhile. I still remember our firecracker fights--the acrid smell, the exploding flashes that lit the night, the agonizing screams when a firecracker went off in someone's hand.

Of course life with the boys wasn't all physical violence. I learned to whistle through a blade of grass. I learned to build an Army fort with tree branches and quilts my grandmother made--my mother never forgave us for leaving them out all summer in the humidity until they rotted. I learned to build a pinewood soap box derby car with roller skates for wheels and race fearlessly downhill in front of the college, successfully maneuvering the hairpin curve near the finish line. I learned to cuss. Raw, raunchy, crude. But not within earshot of an adult.

I learned to follow my brothers along Town Creek, from the museum at Sam Houston Park to the gully beside our home. We hid in the culverts and watched dragonflies skim the water and tadpoles scurry like ants just beneath the surface. In the cool shade, we listened to cars and trucks driving by and delighted in our privacy.

At my request, my older brother taught me to smoke. I was fourteen and had just finished the eighth grade. It took me twenty-one years to kick the habit.

I eventually outgrew my tomboy-ness and left behind many of those habits. I can't whistle worth a damn anymore. There is a silver lining, though. I can write with some authority from the male point of view.