Generally Speaking

Maybe I’ve mentioned once or twice that my brother, Fred, was a wonderful big brother.  I really don’t exaggerate.  If  you could have made up the perfect big brother, it would have been Fred.  But you probably would have given him a better name.

Fred is 3 years older than me.  And he played with me all the time.  He didn’t beat me up.  He wasn’t mean.  He let me tag along wherever he went.

He actually seemed to enjoy my company, too.  Or at least, it never occurred to me that he might not be enjoying it.  Perhaps I was late in picking up some social clues.  Anyway, I can honestly not remember Fred ever hurting me, or setting me up to fail, or doing any mean big brother things to me.

He was my hero.  When we tucked towels into our jammies and jumped off the back of the couch, I was not just pretending Fred was Superman.  He was Superman.  Of course I also thought that our dog, Tip, was SuperDog when we called him “Kripto,” tucked a dishtowel into his collar and pushed him off the back of the couch.

It was during the late 1950s and early 60s; we saw Westerns on TV and in the movies — The Lone Ranger, Branded, How the West Was Won, and more.  There were a lot of shoot outs at our house, too, because that’s what we played most of the time.   Fred invented great games for us.  Cowboys and Indians, gun fights, sheriff and posse.

Fred was always the hero.  Me?

I was the bad guy who got outgunned and had to keel over and die.

I was the outlaw brought to justice by the handsome sheriff.

I was the squaw who had to skin and cook the deer.

I always lost.

I felt good that at least I had a better part than Tip.  Tip was the deer, and Fred and I would chase him around pretending to shoot him with arrows.  Fred and his friends once caught Tip and tied him onto our broom and carried him Indian-style, to roast over our pretend fire.  Tip escaped and didn’t want to play Indian for a week or so.  We did not eat him.

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason.  (Google Image)

Tip was much less cooperative for some reason. (Google Image)

Losing wasn’t a condition for Fred to play with me, but it was reality.  Fred always won.  He was always first, fastest, bravest.  He was always the hero.

Fred’s pretend horse, Thunder, was faster than my horse, Lightning, even after Fred discovered that in real life lightning comes first.  Fred showed me pictures of lightning in “the big dictionary” – a huge reference book we loved to look at.  It had the coolest pictures and lots of words we couldn’t read.  If something was in the big dictionary, it was fact.  Period.  “In real life,” Fred said, pointing to a picture of a scary bolt in a stormy sky, “Lightning is faster than thunder.  But not with horses.”

I really didn’t mind.  If Fred’s horse was slightly faster than mine, that was OK.  We were a team.

But one day when Fred wanted to play Cowboys and Indians, I’d had enough of losing.  Maybe I was growing up.

“I wanna be the cowboy,” I insisted.  “You always get to be the cowboy.  I always get shot.”

“OK,” Fred said.  He didn’t argue or try to convince me to be the Indian.  I should have been suspicious.  But I’ve always trusted Fred completely.  I knew he would never be mean to me.

“OK,” said Fred, again, thinking up a new game.  “You can be a General!  I’ll be an Indian, ummmm, I’ll be called Crazy Horse.”

“OK!” I said, excitedly.  A General!  I wasn’t just cowboy.  I was gonna be a general!

I blew my bugle, called my troops to arms.  My imaginary troops and I rode off on our stallions to fight the Injuns.

I blew my bugle again and my (pretend) troops surrounded me.  We heard Indian war whoops from Fred and his Indian braves.  Fred/Crazy Horse and his braves came at me, surrounding me and my men on all sides.  But I wasn’t worried.  I was a general.  And even at that age, I knew that the cowboys always win.

And then Fred shot me.

I did not flinch.  I did not fall.  I did not succumb to my wounds.  I screamed bloody murder:

“I’m the cowboy!  You can’t shoot me!


Fred calmed me down and took me by the hand over to the big dictionary.  He turned the pages and showed me a picture of a general in a cowboy hat with blond curls.  He looked just like me.  Except for the mustache (mine grew in many years later).

Thanks a lot, Google

Thanks a lot, Google

George Armstrong Custer.

“That’s General Custer,” Fred said.  “Crazy Horse killed him.  Or Sitting Bull did.  Some Indian killed him at the battle of Little Bighorn.  The Sioux Indians surrounded General Custer and his men and killed them.”

I didn't have a chance

I didn’t have a chance

If it was in a book, in the big dictionary, well then,  I had to die.  It was right there in black and white with a color picture.  It was my fate.

We went back over to the battlefield (the front hall) and started the battle again.  Again, I blew my bugle and rallied my troops into a circle around me.  Again, the Indians pressed forward, surrounded us.

Again, General Custer got shot.  And this time he/I was brave.  I clutched my heart, tossed my curls and fell dead.

*     *     *

I owe my devotion to the underdog and my tendency to look everything up to my big brother, who is still wonderful.

And I looked this up:  June 25th is the 137th Anniversary of the Battle of Little Bighorn.  And speaking once more as General Custer, I deserved exactly what I got.


Filed under Childhood Traumas, Family, Humor

58 responses to “Generally Speaking

  1. Larry Hayes

    Having known both you and Fred from our wild and crazy Big Top days in Westport, I cracked up reading this. Tip on the spit may be my favorite detail. Fred always had that mischievous grin and joyous free spirit about him that you capture so well here. Beautifully written! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Fred was always great to me. Always.

      But Tip? Tip did not like being a slain deer one little bit. He put up with a lot for us!

      Thanks for reading!


  2. Pingback: Happy Birthday to my Partner in Crime | FiftyFourandAHalf

  3. I had a big sister who was a lot like your big brother. I love her to pieces now. But back then…ARG! 😉


    • Oh no. I idolized Fred. I rarely challenged his authority like I did that day. He is truly a great brother. Always has been. Always will be.


  4. How apropos that your brother became a college professor. I figured he would either be in a profession that has to do with books, or become an end-of-life doctor helping people die cheerfully. 🙂


    • Two our of three, actually. He became a professor and married a librarian. He had enough death in those early days, though, and tries to avoid it when he can nowadays. So he doesn’t get three for three.


  5. Loved this – I have baby brothers and I’m pretty sure I was not the thoughtful older sibling that Fred is. I also never got to win the battle. My pop set up for us to do a reinactment of the battle of Lexington at the University football field for the bicentennial. The men all got to wear their leather “mountain-man” get ups while all the girls were outfitted in “red-coats”. We were supposed to fall down dead when they fired a volley of black powder and toilet paper in our direction, but I spotted a large spider at my feed and decided that this red-coat was going to run away like a coward rather than die with a tarantula on the 40 yard line.


    • You were a very smart red-coat, if you ask me. A tarantula would beat me every time.

      You were probably nicer than you think you were. But only your brothers know!


  6. Oh, I love this. Reminds me of my kids. My son is a great big brother and a by-the-book kind of kid. 😉


  7. Elyse, this story about you and your brother is delightful! What a wonderful relationship. It warmed my heart and made me laugh as the same time. Thank you for that.


    • Hi Eleanor, Yes, I’m quite lucky to have grown up with Fred, and to still be close to him. He is really the one who should be telling stories — he was quite a rascal as a kid and is now a fine upstanding citizen!


  8. Ha, well played, Fred, well played. You’re a good sport to go along with the actual story fall over dead. I would have tried to rewrite it so that Custer kicked Crazy Horse’s ass, if my brother did that to me. Did you ever see Night at the Museum 2? It’s a silly movie but there are some great lines in it—one of the characters is Custer, and he says, “My hair is used as currency in some parts of the world.”


    • No, I haven’t seen that. Now I think I have to — and with my brother!

      We adopted our son from Chile and when we were there, people would literally circle me, looking at my hair. Fortunately I had been warned that it would happen, otherwise I would have played Custer and fallen over dead!


  9. Love this! My brothers were all younger, so we rarely played together after we were little. Looks like I missed out.

    Have you considered Jolene Creme Bleach for that ‘stache?


  10. I just knew he was going to make you General Custer as soon as he agreed you could be the cowboy!


  11. Red

    I played Fred’s part in most of our productions. Terrific story, Elyse.


    • You must have been the older sibling then, Red. Lucky you! I always thought that it was more ageism than sexism!


      • Red

        For the majority of my childhood, I was the oldest. It meant more wins and less trouble… especially when I was the ringleader with good patsies. 😛


  12. Well, you got the great big brother, so maybe you didn’t do too bad after all.
    (And nice ringlets!)


  13. Even though you were the one who got shot, I completely envy your relationship with your older brother. My older brother had a few wires crossed.


  14. Luanne

    Good grief, I LOVE this story! It resonates so with me and my childhood experiences. I used to play cowboys and Indians with my cousins, and Scot and I always had to be the Indians, so we were always hiding from the cowboys. Too much TV, I guess. But when I played army men with the boy next door, I got to be an army general and thought I was hot stuff. GREAT story.


  15. I laughed out loud at this (as I often do with your posts, Elyse!) My big brother always made me be the one who got shot, too, and always gave me noogies. But when I needed him, he protested me by standing up to other “big boys” in the neighborhood who wanted to give me noogies.
    I was lucky enough to have a whole bunch of younger siblings to love/torture in my own way!
    Great story! Now I’m off to look in my own “big book” (aka “Google”) to read about the Battle of Little Bighorn.


    • Thanks, Moms! We were both lucky, then. But I don’t have any younger siblings. Based on how well I treated my dogs, though, I would have been a terrific big sister.


  16. Awesome……..Just Awesome Share.I love it.Looking forward for more.Alex,Thanks.


  17. winsomebella

    Have you visited the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn? It is such beautiful country but the wind still speaks of sadness.


  18. Love this story! “If it’s in the book, it’s true”. Great tribute to your dear bro, Fred. You are lucky, my older brothers only wanted to give me Charlie horses and noogies. Thankfully I had a younger bro who I got along well with!


    • I was incredibly lucky, Darla. But when we were kids our sister Judy was, a witch. That’s what Fred and I called her anyway. We painted an effigy of her on the basement door and threw darts at it. Later we became great friends, but it took some time off!

      Are you close to your older brothers since they quit trying to give you noogies?


      • Ha! An effigy! Yeah, we did that stuff too…

        My older brothers are in their mid-50s so not very close. But, my brother who is only three years older than me? We have a totally different relationship now. He actually came to ME recently while he was going through his nasty divorce! And literally cried on my shoulder. and asked ME for advice!


        • Family dynamics seem to change all the time. And I think that there’s a time when you realize that you need someone, or that they need you. Nobody can be as good to you as a sibling — or as hurtful!

          Judy was not pleased when I showed her children that picture of her, though. Not pleased at all… Whatever was I thinking …


  19. Every little girl should have a big brother like your Fred. You have wonderful stories and memories to share. I hope all the children in your family aspire to have the same kind of relationship with their siblings.


    • Fred has two kids, a boy and a girl. And they were pretty close when they were little — but everybody else has smaller families. My mother was always amazed at how good he was to me — there really weren’t many brothers who treated their tag along sisters terribly well!


  20. Today I am uncertain who I love more!

    White Bull, the warrior who it is presumed actually killed Custer.


    • White Bull? I’m not sure he was in the big dictionary. Of course, we couldn’t read, so I might be wrong about that. And I can’t guarantee that the real White Bull was nice to his little sister. So I’d go with Fred!


  21. Awesome tribute to your big brother … well, and to General Custer as well. But too bad you didn’t turn into one of the loons from the right, after all, then you could rewrite history.


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