Sticks & Stones*

Every child is gifted in some way.  My gift was being a pesky brother.  I often reminisce on the day I became a self-decorated master of the art.  After suffering from a rare drought of schemes to torment my older sister, Missy, I came up with a brilliant plan that to this day is vastly under appreciated by the rest of my family.

I addressed her as Melissa, her given name.

It was golden.  Adding a subtle inflection, I could arouse instant and intense frustration.

Missy would take off to Daddy like she and my brother had done thousands of times before.  The poor man had been inundated for years with complaints.

“Daddy!  Mike is blowing up the model General Lee that you bought him with firecrackers!”  Buying and blowing up a General Lee with the firecrackers I had smuggled from the day before had become a July 5th tradition for me.

“Daddy!  Mike recorded me singing without telling me and is threatening to play it on the school bus.”  “Without telling me” is key in this situation.  If I had told her, she would never have let me record her.  Therefore I had to do it secretly.  It was simple logic.

“Daddy! Mike shot Shannon in the pinky-nail with his BB gun!”  I admit this was purely accidental although I seriously considered claiming it was intentional.  My brother’s pinky-nail was awful small and the rumor that I had intended to hit it would have created a reputation as a marksman that I could never have accomplished on my own merits.  I guess it was irrelevant given that, after dad’s rage was quenched, I would never fire another BB down the crooked barrel of that poor Daisy rifle.

Traditionally, the events that followed my sibling’s grievances culminated with dad screaming, “Mike! Get in here!” at which point, Daddy’s belt and I would have some bonding time.

This time, however, was different.  As she approached him with declarations that I was calling her names, he sought clarification.  “What did he call you?”  “He called me Melissa!” was her horrified response.  Daddy’s auto-pilot kicked in. “Mike!  Get in….wait what did he call you?  Melissa?  Well that’s your name.”

“But, Daddy, he…!” “Now I don’t want to hear it,” he cut her off.  “Melissa is your name and he can call you by your name.”

Like the U.S. after World War II, I had become the first Superpower in the Collins sibling group.

The floodgates opened and ideas poured into my brain.  I knew my brother’s name.  My cousins all had names.  I had friends at school with names.  It was a veritable smorgasbord of parent approved torment!

Well, the sins of tonal inflection and Daddy’s belt eventually caught up with me and I am convinced that I have traces of cow DNA on my hind-end still today.

Years later, Daddy advised me that I should stop calling him Daddy which all of us kids had carried through from childhood without ever really considering it.  “But you are Daddy,” was my matter of fact response.

“Yeah but you’re getting too old to call me that.  You need to think of something else to call me from now on.”

Consideration of a new title for him, drew my mind back to the glory days.

If Daddy was going to force me out of my comfort zone, I would do my best to make it as unpleasant as possible for both of us.  Of all the terms of endearment for a father, one in particular had always grated me and that particular one would be my choice.  The man who I had known only as Daddy for my entire life would henceforth to be referred to only as Pop.  Over the next few years, until he lost his battle with cancer, I actually grew fond of the title and Pop, I believe, enjoyed it too.

I sure do miss you, Pop.  The belt?  Not so much.

If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more, click here.

© Michael L. Collins

*Originally published as “Of sticks and stones and sibling rivalry” in the September 10, 2013 edition of The Mountain Press

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