I never understood those, including my first-born wife, who insist that the youngest child is always the most spoiled, most privileged child of any family. My skepticism comes from first-hand experience, myself being a youngest child. I am not claiming to be able to speak to everyone in my situation, but I know that I never felt like a particularly most favored one.
My brother Mike and I were in a kind of trailer situation; all of our older siblings were much older than we. A further complication from my perspective was that Mike and I were only thirteen months apart, which as far as my parents were concerned meant that we were more or less at the same stage of development.
Another, more complex complication, was that while by the time Mike and I came along our parents were by far in a better financial position than they were in when our older siblings were our age, so they could afford to be more extravagant with us; they were no doubt shaped by their earlier years of hardship to the point that they were far from being considered spendthrifts. The result of these factors was that while we received more expensive gifts than our siblings, inevitably only one gift was given that we had to share. For example, the spring when Mike and I turned six and five respectively, we received one bike that we were expected to share.
My parents left it up to us, which really meant they left it up to Mike to decide exactly how we were going to share these joint gifts. I recall some specific conditions when the bike was brand new. First, in terms of the bike, it came with streamers in the handgrips, and a battery-powered head light and a ringer bell on the shiny chromed handlebars. The frame was racer red. The seat was red and white. In terms of our yard, my dad had placed four reflectors at the end of the driveway to help guide him in on those nights that he worked the late shifts at the mill and he came home in the dark.
Mike’s unsurprising-to-me decision concerning sharing the bike was that he got to learn to ride it before me. Mike proved in terms of bike-riding anyway, to be a slow learner. He was determined though and spent hours at it. Of course, since the bike was to be available to him at all times, I was a forced spectator. Sometimes he would allow me to run alongside him, but it turned out to be less fun than you might think.
Things were much worse for wear by the time Mike finally mastered the bike. Because of a significant number of crashlandings and his unpredictable steering, the bike suffered significant wear and tear. The streamers, ringer and head light were all missing. The chrome handlebars and the red paint bore many scars where the cement and blacktop had scraped the gleam and the color from the metal. The seat had a tear as well from one particularly spectacular crash with an innocent bystander elm tree. And my dad had to find his own way in the driveway on those dark work nights because all four reflectors had been taken out. Such is the true way of life for the one at the end of the hand-me-down ladder.
The only sense of justice I recall was in receiving once again, a to-be-shared present a few years later on. That present was a brand-new Daisy bb pistol. The coolest thing about gun was that it looked like a cowboy’s Colt 45. This, at a time when I never missed a Gunsmoke episode and I carried a Bonanza lunch box to school. By now though I knew the drill. I knew that I would need to be satisfied with the old bb gun that was a hand-me-down from our oldest brothers (the one they no doubt had to share between the three of them). It wasn’t the most powerful of air rifles as you could literally see the bb kind of lob weakly out of the end of the barrel. Hitting anything more than ten feet distant was all about learning how high over the target you had to aim.
The day of reckoning was early summer. As a true Western tale, the time was high noon – at least mom hadn’t called us in for lunch yet. I had a cap-gun pistol at the time that had a genuine leather gun belt and holster. That morning Mike had taken my cap gun from said holster and strapped the gun belt on. He said that he was going to show me how to ‘quick draw’. I was probably just curious or maybe even oblivious, but let us say for sake of the moment that I was tensed and holding my breath. Then, in one lighting fast motion, Mike’s hand reached for the gun handle. (I bet now you are holding your breath!) The next thing I knew, Mike was hopping around the backyard, holding the thigh of his right leg and repeating “ow”, “ow”, “ow”. Very un-cowpoke-like tears were welling up in his eyes.
When the dust settled, and the welt had risen and turned a nice red, I figured out that Mike had managed to shoot himself in the leg. He had learned the lesson that it is best to clear the pistol all the way out of the holster and point it safely away from you before pulling the trigger. Of course, pulling the trigger while the gun was still in the holster did prove to be a hair faster. For once in my life, I was quite satisfied to learn this lesson from watching Mike go first. Patience, friends, is indeed a virtue.