Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snard's My Name, Getting a Learnin's My Game (Wish It Weren't)

Once when I was an adolescent, I sat on the couch watching TV and being poked. Mercilessly. By my big brother.

He was using his finger like the force of the Jedi to poke me every few seconds in my side. Being non-confrontational, I just squirmed and kept up a steady chorus of, "Stop, Nate. Just Stop. Stop it! Please stop. Don't Poke me! Stop it NATE!"

After several minutes of this chorus, my mom, who was making dinner at the time, finally decided to do something about the ruckus coming from the other room.

She yelled out in frustration, "Hillary! Be quiet! Gracious sake's, I can't even concentrate in here!"

A slow triumphant grin overspread my brother's face. Snard: 0 big brother: 1

I'm the snard, of course. That was my brother's special invented name for me while we were growing up. I once kept a little notebook to copy down words I didn't know from books I was reading. I'd look up the words and write the definition in the notebook. Natie snatched it from me once and wrote S-n-a-r-d: little sister named Hillary who's in constant need of a learnin.

Nate's propensity for poking people in order to "learn" them was the reason why on all family car trips I was forced to sit between him and Annie. Annie couldn't stand to be touched, and Nate had an urge to poke and harass his fellow passengers. The end result? Annie continually told me over hundreds of miles to, "Move your elbow, Hillary! Are you tapping your foot? Stop touching me!" Then she'd shove me Nate's way, and he'd poke me several times with a diabolical grin on his face. At which point I'd hunker toward Annie's side of the car again, and she'd begin her litany of complaints about the disposition of my limbs before pushing me back to the official "Learner" for a lesson. Frankly, I'm just glad I survived to tell the tale, though I have no doubt that at every rest stop, I emerged from the car wide-eyed and quivering like a jackrabbit ready to flee a predator - two predators actually.

Don't get me wrong. Despite the learnins, Nate and I were buddies. Heck, somebody had to be the little brother he was so wrongfully denied, the gullible one willing to play deer and hunter with dangerous weapons homemade from sticks and rubber bands.

And I tried hard to be that little brother for the big brother I loved like a super hero, but there were definite signs that I was but a girl (or snard) at heart. For instance, on warm summer days Nate and I would line up our army men with careful precision in the rich dirt of the garden. Our troops properly deployed, we attempted to devastate each other's armies with large dirt clods we flung across the several feet separating us. I made the girly mistake of taking aim at the tiny green soldiers at ground level; Nate had the more effective strategy of flinging the dirt clods with little pebbles in them toward the opposing general (that would be me). With every "ouch....hey!" elicited from me by such brutal tactics, I am confident Natie was simply trying to teach me a valuable lesson for later in life. Honestly, though, twenty-some-odd years later, I still can't figure out what that lesson was.

Then there was that little mix-up with me about my GI Joe named Lightfoot. I loved him because he was yellow, my favorite color, and because I thought he was named after the Canadian folk singer, Gordon Lightfoot, whose music my dad loved and practically reared us on. It never occurred to me to think he was called Lightfoot as in "fleet-footed", so I took to calling him Gordon. I loved that GI Joe like no other. He was the only one that was officially mine, anyway - the one I played with in all those straw and twig forts Nate and I built beneath the walnut trees. But a tragic problem developed with his "fleet-footed" legs. They kept falling off at the knee. My dad attempted to glue them back on several times, but it never lasted. I finally decided we needed to have a funeral for Gordon, and so we did and buried him near the garden. I have no doubt Nate was mumbling, "snard!", under his breath the whole entire time.

Nate and I eventually gave up those pastimes as well as our creek side wars with micro machines to move on to more exciting games. When we got older we liked to pretend fence, though the risk of serious injury with our pretend fencing was akin to that involved with the real deal - without the protective armor. We tried having sword fights with wimpy plastic coke bottles, but the "POP! POP!" noise every time we made contact was very irritating and the tiny little lips of the bottles made for very poor gripping. So we raided Mom and Dad's closet where there were literally dozens of white, metal curtain rods. I have no clue why they were there; there certainly weren't that many windows in our home. I can only think that if a black market for curtain rods existed, Mom was involved somehow - possibly the ring leader. Of course she forbade us on several occasions to sword fight with her curtain rods. I'm sad to say we were delinquent and didn't listen. Eventually, every single rod in our home, saving those with curtains attached, ended up badly dented and bent from our fierce brother/sister fencing matches.

The strong urge I have to take fencing lessons as an adult can be attributed to the fact that I never beat my brother in our rod fights. Our last duel ended with me backed into a corner by the front door, desperately cutting my rod across the space in front of me in an attempt to stave off Natie's onslaughts as he came at me laughing with eyes blazing. I think he forgot I was just a snard in that moment instead of a real brother. Mom and Dad were out grocery shopping, so I had no contingency plan. I believe I just kept weakly crying "Uncle! Mercy!" until the fateful moment when Nate's weapon smashed against my index finger, and I yelped. As the appendage turned all red and blue, a frantic look of concern took hold of Natie's features; the invincible curtain rod warrior vanished.

"Are you okay? Are you okay?" he kept repeating as he followed me to the bathroom and watched me wash it in cold water.

When I finally mumbled, "I'm fine. I guess..." he promptly added, "Good. Whew! Now, quick! - go to bed before Mom and Dad get home!"

Good old memories of childhood - busted fingers, pop guns and playing fort together in the old chicken coup! Still, we must all do our duty of growing up, so we can change and have the next generation of snards. Soon you find you have to get to know your siblings anew as mature individuals. I confess that since my brother Nate and I live so far apart from each other, I am jealous of the friends and co-workers who must know the adult Nate so much better than I do simply because they are able to spend a greater quantity of time with him. Ah, but I do know they have never built a GI Joe fort with him in the grass, or made tracks with micro-machines in the soft dirt by a creek, or engaged with him in sword fights with Mom's curtain rods. At least, I seriously doubt they have. So, I'm content, because for a large part of my childhood, I got to be my brother's little brother, and that doesn't change no matter how little we see each other now or how great the miles grow between us. After all, I'll always be a snard. At least to him.


  1. Mom is still laughing, and that's after I revived her with the electrified paddles!
    Man, do I remember those days.

  2. Poor Hillary. I'm so sorry I moved out and left you unprotected. On the bright side, I'm sure it made you a stronger person to be picked on like that ;)


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