I Always Sat on the Hump

 

Being the youngest kid sucks. “You’re too young; you’re too little; you don’t know how; you can’t do it, you can’t do it, you can’t do it.” And, of course, “You’re sitting in the middle.”

I’ve said before that I was the youngest of four brothers, two sets of two born a year apart, with three years in between. That’s four boys in six years; the oldest being five years older than me, the youngest. Most of the time we were divided into two groups, and I was just the younger of the younger group. But whenever we were together as a group, as a family, I was a the bottom of the heap. And although my two older brothers would occasionally include the third, that was usually just so they could exclude me.

Now, sometimes the youngest gets spoiled, but not in a crowd like that. I was just part of the horde, the nameless rabble; you know, the little one on the end. And the nameless part was almost literal; whenever my Mom yelled at me, she had to work her way through three other names before she could remember mine. (She did them chronologically.)

And you keep on being the youngest, year after year. It’s completely unfair. You never get to be the oldest, or the biggest, or get to know the stuff the other guys don’t, and you’ll never be left in charge. (Just as well … if I’d been left in charge, I would have had my oldest brother in leg irons.)

Even strangers felt entitled to belittle me. I met the only man I ever called Grandpa on the day he married my father’s mother, my grandfather having died shortly after my birth. When I was introduced, he looked down at me and said, “So you must be the baby of the family.” I tried to take his head off. I was five.

(He loved to tell that story. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that he had boxed professionally as a young man. He liked me, not in spite of me trying to deck him, but because I tried to deck him.)

But it was always tough being the little one.

When it was time to bully someone for laughs, I was always there. I was routinely pinned down by my oldest brother, while he dribbled a string of saliva down to my face, sucking it back in at the last moment. Because I was the smallest. Of course, I made him pay for the privilege, with a couple of mule-kicks to the spine. But as much satisfaction as that may provide, it still wasn’t worth it. And that sort of thing never happens to the oldest. I mean, I never pinned him down and dribbled spit in his face, no matter how severely in need of it he was.

And I don’t want to talk about the episodes that started out with the dreaded words, “Let’s de-pants (Judge Mental)!!!”

Of course, sometimes they were right; sometimes I didn’t know what I was doing. Like the first time I played baseball. I was playing first base, with a runner on first, when a grounder came my way. Being an avid kickballer, I knew what to do. I scooped it up awkwardly, and turned to throw out the base runner. I have a memory of everyone there, both teams and spectators included (even my Mom), shouting in seeming slow-motion unison, “Noooooooooooooo.” But undeterred, I nailed him right between the shoulder blades. Hey, how was I to know? That’s how you do it in kickball … you know, a man’s game.

But the quintessential example of the cruel hierarchy of the sibling pecking order was riding in the car. I always had to sit in the middle, riding on the hump. Now, other than church and vacations, most of the car trips we took were my Dad and us, which put me in the middle of the back seat. But even worse, on a car trip with the whole family, I not only rode the hump, but had to do it sitting in front between my parents, excluding me from the group one more time.

How I hated sitting on that hump. There were no springs in that part of the seat, so it was uncomfortable. You couldn’t see out the window without someone’s head in the way. There was no place to put your feet; either you put them on the hump and your knees are in your face, or you put one on each side and get kicked by your brothers.

It was even worse when my father bought the first foreign car in the neighborhood, an old used Fiat. It was black with a white roof, although calling it black would be giving undue credit; it was so faded out that it was charcoal at best. It had a one-lung, putt-putt engine and no air conditioning.

Guess where I got to sit?

But in the end it was all just fuel for my annealing in the fire of perpetual struggle. You see, always being the low man on the totem pole, always being the smallest, being picked on, being told that I just couldn’t do it, gave me something to prove. I was Avis and I had to try harder. I could do stuff, and hey … I grew. I went out into the world to do it and do it better, and I did things the other guys didn’t do, I went places they’ll never see, and I achieved things that they’re not even aware of. It doesn’t even matter if they know; I did it.

Because I always sat on the hump.

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  1. J.D. Snapp Coolidge
    J.D. Snapp
    @JulieSnapp

    You’re bringing back memories for me of things I did to my younger siblings because I was the oldest of 3. Now I feel bad. :(

    • #1
  2. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    J.D. Snapp (View Comment):
    You’re bringing back memories for me of things I did to my younger siblings because I was the oldest of 3. Now I feel bad. ?

    As well you should, young lady.  Thanks for reading.

    • #2
  3. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    J.D. Snapp (View Comment):
    You’re bringing back memories for me of things I did to my younger siblings because I was the oldest of 3. Now I feel bad. ?

    I on the other hand do not, because most of the beatings I dished out were retaliatory in nature. Keep poking me when I’m trying to read a book, even after a warning? It’s on.

    • #3
  4. Muleskinner Member
    Muleskinner
    @Muleskinner

    Old man Skinner was the youngest of 9, with four older brothers. I suspect that explains exactly why he was a boxer.

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The older the car, the bigger the transmission hump (Cars were always front engine/rear wheel drive in those days). Women wore dresses back then, so it was a matter of some delicacy to try to keep your knees together if you were in that center seat.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental: Because I always sat on the hump.

    Third of three, so Momma only had to go through two other names before she got to mine. Otherwise, I remember it all well.

    • #6
  7. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    When the youngest bounces a golf ball off the back of the head of the oldest and the oldest catches him in order to dispense necessary justice, it’s the oldest that gets the “You’re older — you should know better” speech.

    Spare me your whining, delinquent!

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    When the youngest bounces a golf ball off the back of the head of the oldest…

    Explains why he now wears armor everywhere.

    • #8
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    “Where’s your brother?”

    “In the back yard, next to the maple tree.”

    “How do you know he’s next to the maple tree?”

    “He doesn’t know how to untie square knots yet.”

     

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):
    “You’re older — you should know better” speech.

    Actually, this is how my middle brother got away with everything. The eldest was 6′ tall at twelve. (He wasn’t through growing.) My middle brother was always small for his age and topped out at 5’8″. Middle brother would start fights with eldest brother, and eldest brother got in trouble. I was kind of loud, so when middle brother started fights with me, I would get told to quiet down.

    When he was thirty, my middle brother admitted this all to my Mom, so she declared it was his thirty years to take the blame. A few months later, she called him up and lit into him for something eldest brother was doing.

    He asked, “Mom, why are you yelling at me about this? Why not call him?”

    “Because it’s your thirty years!”

    It’s still within his thirty years.

    • #10
  11. OldDan Rhody Member
    OldDan Rhody
    @OldDanRhody

    Judge Mental: I went out into the world to do it and do it better, and I did things the other guys didn’t do, I went places they’ll never see, and I achieved things that they’re not even aware of. It doesn’t even matter if they know; I did it.

    And they still won’t respect you for it.  Because you’re the youngest.

    • #11
  12. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    I’m the youngest of 4 as well, with 5 years between the next oldest and me.  The phrase, ‘Come back in 5 years’ was said often enough (when I didn’t understand what my siblings were talking about) that that’s the first thing that came to mind when I started reading your post.  Thanks for this!

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Judge Mental: But in the end it was all just fuel for my annealing in the fire of perpetual struggle. You see, always being the low man on the totem pole, always being the smallest, being picked on, being told that I just couldn’t do it gave me something to prove. I was Avis and I had to try harder. I could do stuff, and hey… I grew. I went out into the world to do it and do it better, and I did things the other guys didn’t do, I went places they’ll never see, and I achieved things that they’re not even aware of. It doesn’t even matter if they know; I did it.

    And you also turned into a very fine writer. No fluff stuff here, but sweet memories, beautifully described.

    • #13
  14. She Member
    She
    @She

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    The older the car, the bigger the transmission hump (Cars were always front engine/rear wheel drive in those days). Women wore dresses back then, so it was a matter of some delicacy to try to keep your knees together if you were in that center seat.

    Yes.  Either one leg on either side of the thing, and your knees together (very uncomfortable), or legs raised, feet on top of it, knees together and the driver looking straight up your skirt in the rear-view mirror.

    I had (mercifully) forgotten.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    My mother, youngest of five, has a theory that “the baby is always retarded.” This has nothing to do with intelligence or success. It is simply that the older siblings always remember you as you were, rather than what you have become. For instance, her eldest sister was twenty-one years older and would occasionally say things as if Mother were an idiot. This was despite Mother’s years of working as an executive.

    I experienced this when I decided to buy my first computer. I worked for a computer company. I helped make hardware and software decisions. My eldest brother, while working as an engineer, also supported computers for his engineering firm where someone else had made the purchase decisions. I found a really great deal on a computer through work.

    My middle brother objected when I told him about it, “No, you really need to check out brand Y.” Middle brother is in a vocation that has little to do with computers. (Also going back to @seawriter ‘s recent post, “The Dumb One,” middle brother is the dumb one. The difference was that instead of just working harder as Seawriter did, he decided to stay away from STEM careers where our eldest brother and I went.)

    “Brand Y makes crap. Do you ever talk to our eldest brother and what he goes through supporting those things?” I asked.

    We went back and forth several times. I pointed out that part of my job was making and supporting purchasing decisions for computers and software, but it made no dent in his argument. He kept insisting that Brand Y was a better value.

    Finally, I got it, “Oh, I get it! I’m the baby of the family, so I’m retarded!” I bought the computer I wanted to buy.

    • #15
  16. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Marvelous, as usual, JM.  One can glimpse the iridescent glint of “St. Michael” steel from time to time.  John Mantle, call your office… :-)

    • #16
  17. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I was the fifth of six, and got a lot of this type of abuse myself…

    The saliva thing you experienced is still quite vivid for me. I also recall my brother shooting the bb gun at our sneakered feet, growling, “Dance, fool” like a bad guy in a western.

    But, I remember one glorious moment when fate, karma, the gods, whatever, conspired on my behalf against an aggressive older sister. She aimed a strong kick right at me… but alas, she was wearing a nightgown. She knocked her own support leg right out from under her when the force of her kick hit the hemline, and landed completely hard on her back. I laughed and laughed… I still laugh about that vision… I did not need to run away because she could not move for several minutes.

    • #17
  18. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Judge Mental: You never get to be the oldest, or the biggest, or get to know the stuff the other guys don’t, and you’ll never be left in charge.

    I know you never get to be the oldest. Not sure about getting to know the stuff the other guys don’t. That sure did not apply to my kid brother. (But, then again, I was the dumb one.) And I hated being in charge – I was responsible for what my kid brother did. (Boy did I get in trouble for the stuff he did when I was “in charge.”)

    I can guarantee that being the youngest does not mean you never get to be the biggest. I met Quilter’s uncles for the first time when we got married. If you lined them up from oldest to youngest (my father in law was the oldest), it was a half-parabola going up from the origin (my father-in-law). I looked up to my bride’s youngest uncles. I had to to look them in the eyes.

    When my kids were all little I used to warn the oldest two to treat their younger brothers as if they were bigger than they were because by the time they were in their teens it was likely to happen. And it was a prediction which proved true. All three are taller than me now, and the youngest is the biggest of all three.

    Seawriter

    • #18
  19. Kim K. Inactive
    Kim K.
    @KimK

    Hey, at least you didn’t have to sit in the “way back” of a station wagon. My sister and I had to do that on vacations and it was kind of fun for the first 500 miles or so but after that we would have liked to sit on a regular seat.

    My kids (7) get a little ticked when I go through the names when calling them. They accuse me of not being able to tell them apart or of not remembering their names. Hardly.

    I often accused my parents of being too easy on my younger siblings – two kids born 10 and 12 years after the “original” 4 kids. (These kinds of surprises are known as “Dutch trailers” where I’m from.) But I can say from my own parenting experience that when the parent gets older the parenting gets more relaxed, i.e., you’re not the same parent at 25 that you are at 50, you’re just too dang tired!

    • #19
  20. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    You see, children, cars used to have rear-wheel drive, so they needed a driveshaft, which made a hump down the middle of the car. (I’m guessing there are a lot of people who have never had to deal with that arrangement!)

    I’m the third of three boys, so I always rode the hump, too. In fact, I remember one car where the carpet on the floor was worn off on the hump from me standing on it.

    Here’s one advantage of being the youngest: you get to do things sooner, in a way. I remember once when we were target shooting with a 22 rifle my Dad had. My brother complained, “You’re getting to do this and you’re only 6! I had to wait until I was 10!” So there’s that. And they had to drag me around trick-or-treating, but I never had to do that for them.

    • #20
  21. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):
    Here’s one advantage of being the youngest: you get to do things sooner, in a way.

    My oldest sister is still quite bitter about this. I wish I were kidding.

    As an example, she remembers vividly the day our mother let her get her ears pierced, for which she had to wait until she was 16. At the salon, my mom said, “Hey, if anyone else wants to get it done, go ahead.” Our youngest sister was only 10. My eldest sister’s husband has begged us not to bring up this memory, since it sets her off all over again still 30 years later.

    • #21
  22. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    My baby is getting her cell phone soon and the older brother is upset that it’s two years sooner than he got his.

    Nuances to every spot.

    • #22
  23. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    While the University of Tennessee was recruiting my oldest daughter to play basketball, I learned an interesting tidbit about Pat Summit (the great Tennessee basketball coach who died a few years ago).  She would not recruit a girl to play for her unless that girl had older brothers.   Older brothers will NEVER let you win.  A little girl who grows up playing basketball with older brothers will be TOUGH.  And toughness was what Pat Summit recruited.

    • #23
  24. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    The older the car, the bigger the transmission hump (Cars were always front engine/rear wheel drive in those days). Women wore dresses back then, so it was a matter of some delicacy to try to keep your knees together if you were in that center seat.

    I think some magic went out of the world when women started wearing pants.

    • #24
  25. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    I’m the fifth of seven — oldest sister, three older brothers, me, and two little sisters.  I know very well the miseries of being the youngest boy.  Couldn’t touch the girls at all without dire consequences.  Us brothers could do pretty much anything short of bruises, blood, or broken bones.  I was small until high school, so suffered greatly at the hands of my next older brother (two years apart).  Most of the trouble stopped in tenth grade after I finally passed him, both in height and bulk, and managed to throw him across a room.  I ended up the biggest, he the shortest.  We’ve all gotten along well as adults.

    • #25
  26. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I think some magic went out of the world when women started wearing pants.

    Perhaps but it is still one change I can cheer for!!

    • #26
  27. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I think some magic went out of the world when women started wearing pants.

    Perhaps but it is still one change I can cheer for!!

    Me, too, for modesty and comfort…Katherine Hepburn sure made them elegant; Audrey Hepburn made them: Wow! :-)

    • #27
  28. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I am the oldest of six boys. I don’t know what the hell you’re all griping about. It is known in all cultures, in all times that the eldest child rules by divine right of kings. We are put there by God to ensure order.

    • #28
  29. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I am the oldest of six boys. I don’t know what the hell you’re all griping about. It is known in all cultures, in all times that the eldest child rules by divine right of kings. We are put there by God to ensure order.

    Right you are, Gary!  Eldests exceed expectations…

    • #29
  30. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I am the oldest of six boys. I don’t know what the hell you’re all griping about. It is known in all cultures, in all times that the eldest child rules by divine right of kings. We are put there by God to ensure order.

    I don’t know about all cultures, but in the Irish-American culture I grew up in, the hierarchy was:

    God
    Priests and doctors
    Any member of the Kennedy clan (this one is for my grandmother)
    Men in general
    Nuns
    Women in general

    So as the eldest son in an Irish American family, you were likely indeed the prince and darling.

    • #30
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