Growing up, growing olderDec 22, 2022 11:12AM ● By Will Sanborn
Amos McCoy. The old man with the limp and the cackle of a laugh. Many of you will remember Walter Brennan in his iconic role as the grandfather in “The Real McCoys,” a classic TV show of the late ’50s and early ’60s.
My brothers and I used to watch that show. Without question we knew that Brennan had to be about the oldest guy we’d ever seen.
Except that it turns out he was just 63 years old when the show started and 69 when it ended. No way!
My four brothers and I are now 84, 79, 75, 75 and 72. Who are the ancient ones now? At least I’m the young pup of the family, although you’re not much of a young pup when you’re older than Grandpa McCoy!
LESSONS GROWING UP
Life has a way of doing that to you. It just won’t slow down. The years pile up and before you know it, you’ve got a lot more years behind you than years left ahead of you.
There’s at least one good thing about that, though. Enjoying old memories has a way of giving perspective to life now while also bringing some much-needed laughs from looking back.
Growing up with four older brothers and no sisters meant I had to be tough enough to hang in there. My life consisted of hand-me-downs: clothes, shoes, toys, bikes, bats, balls, gloves, food….okay, maybe not food, but it felt that way at times.
As my mom worked full-time helping my dad run their small grocery store, the de facto person in charge at home was the oldest brother who happened to be present. Of course, that was never me.
That led to some interesting times (and memories) for me.
When I was 5, my oldest brother left home for the Navy. Whenever he was back on leave, he would employ his military training by posting a duty roster on the kitchen wall each morning for the rest of us. As the youngest, my duties would normally start with taking out the garbage and end with cleaning up the cellar.
That brother had a unique method for determining which of us was at fault whenever one of us had broken his rules, which happened regularly. He would take five-pound lead weights and have us hold them straight out at arm’s length. The first one whose arm dropped was determined to be the guilty party. I think you can guess how that judicial proceeding went for me. The last-in-line little brother ended up with an unusually long rap sheet.
Fighting was a weekly, if not daily, part of home life, but we had one standing rule: no hitting in the face. However, one of my brothers had a temper that bypassed any rules. When he would start grinding his teeth in anger, that was my signal to bolt out the door as fast as I could!
One of my brothers taught me how to ride a bike. His method was simple: put me on the bike, push me onto the downhill street we lived on and stand back to watch. Just 100 yards down the hill, the street took a sharp right turn—so what he saw was a monumental crash! He hadn’t thought to show me how to use the brakes.
Fast-forward some years, and it was time for me to learn to drive a car. Stick shift was the only option back then. One of my brothers would take me to the steepest street around, aptly named Crest Road. He’d have me stop halfway up the hill, tell me to shift back into first and then see if I could avoid stalling and rolling backward down the hill. It was a do-or-die system, which was the norm for much of my brothers’ training. How I managed to make it into my teen years and through them is anyone’s guess!
But there was one area where my brothers showed their love and concern. I was a somewhat picky eater. No problem—my brothers knew what to do. They saw to it that I ate what was put in front of me, whether I wanted to or not.
I remember gagging on a piece of steak with more fat and gristle than meat. They wouldn’t let me leave the table until I’d swallowed it. They would take the peas that I detested and hide them in the mashed potatoes as their method of making sure I ate my vegetables. Come to think of it, that was the last time I ever ate peas!
MEMORIES & PERSPECTIVE
All this time later, with 385 years of life among us, we’re spread out around the country. We have occasional get-togethers, sometimes with one or two other brothers, sometimes with the whole crew. And the memories? Priceless.
Stories change, often embellished or remembered differently, but the laughter flows. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade those growing-up years for anything.
There’s no stopping time. But it’s those early years of good times and bad that provide our memories, and those memories give perspective to everything life brings now.