Sometimes you get an early glimpse into a person's character.
Lubbock in the 50's. Front yard football. My little brother kept pestering us bigger guys to let him play. He didn't seem to know he was six years younger, a foot shorter and about 30 pounds lighter than the rest of us. Finally, I had to punch him a few times to make him leave us alone. He went away crying -- and swearing he was going to get even with me.
Later that night, I was jolted wide awake. Lee was hitting me in the stomach as hard as he could. I had to punch him again to make him stop. Through his tears, Lee said he hit me that night because I hit him earlier in the afternoon. And he pledged to return the next night to get even.
Damned if he didn't. The little fart woke me up the next night, hitting me in the stomach. Hard. As I swatted him away, Lee renewed his pledge of full revenge the next night.
This continued for three or four nights. I couldn't sleep, waiting for the next punch in the gut. Even though I was bigger and stronger and capable of administering some junior high hurt, Lee returned night after night, enduring the pain I inflicted just to get his shot at me.
It began to dawn on me that if I was ever going to get any sleep, I was going to have to endure one of Lee's midnight attacks without any reprisal. So I covered my stomach, rolled into a ball, and took it. He banged away as hard as he could. I took it and, grudgingly, I admired the little cuss.
I don't think we ever fought again.
Later, Lee deduced that his big brother would come to his rescue if he got into a fight with anyone else. Our parents were divorced and we didn't get a lot of male supervision. The job of protector became mine by default.
When Lee shipped out to Vietnam as a young 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army, it was like my own son was over there. For the first time in my memory, I could do nothing to protect him. He was sent out on long-range recon patrols. At night. A lot.
It was awful.
But I did what I could, sending cookies and writing often. At the time, I was working in Washington and, without thinking, often sent letters in Congressman Pickle's envelopes. The incoming congressional envelopes caught the eye of Lee's commanding officer. He thought his young lieutenant had political pull and stopped sending Lee out into the jungle so often.
So in a way, at least in my mind, I was able to offer a little protection one more time.