That’s right… Mt. Olympus, as in the habitation of dieties. Just because maps of Indianapolis didn’t have a symbol indicating its precise location doesn’t mean it didn’t cast a very long shadow. Twelve mythical beings supposedly lived on Mt. Olympus, but I would only have occasion to mingle with a couple of them. Yet their influence was great. Who were these Olympians? And how did they come to have such sway in my small and simple existence? In explanation, I share the following:
It might be the middle of the afternoon and I might be snuggled into the cushions of the glider on our front porch with some comic books. Suddenly “the gang” would noisily descend on the porch, eclipsing any and all goings-on prior to their arrival. They might have a small bag of Bazooka Joe bubble gum, newly purchased with revenue gleaned from a recent scouring of the neighborhood for discarded Coke bottles (redeemable for pennies at the corner store). While the bubble gum was being distributed, my older brother might suddenly seize an opportunity to direct the group’s next activity by announcing a bubble blowing contest. All in attendance would then dutifully begin producing their finest specimens.
Now, I wasn’t all that good at blowing bubble gum. No, more like, I was really bad at it. Probably because of being about three years younger than the main ring leaders. This lack of expertise meant I was very likely to either 1) play it conservatively and blow a bubble of inconsequential size, or 2) continue blowing my bubble past the point of no return, ending up with gum all over my face. I hated when that happened. But no matter… if my brother had started a contest, blowing a bubble was the only cool thing to be doing at that time. So, I’d do it. Every time. (Unfortunately, by the time I got old enough to actually master the skill of bubble gum blowing, I don’t think anybody was around to notice.)
Another activity my brother might suddenly announce ( — remember this was the late 50’s and our ethics were borrowed from John Wayne and Gary Cooper) was that we were all going to play “cowboys and Indians.” I was usually assigned the role of an Indian. Now, mind you, I never had any inkling as to what this role entailed, no matter how many times we played. Didn’t matter that the lead Indian would always give some instructions after brainstorming a strategy for us against the cowboys.
“Go hide and wait for [some “perfect moment”] and we’ll ambush,” Indian #1 might say. Pure jibberish. (Sort of like — much later — being invited to join a co-ed touch football game and trying to wrap my mind around my role in the QB’s play. I sure didn’t like hearing, after single handedly screwing up the play, “What happened? You were supposed to go down and out…”) But my brother had declared “cowboys and Indians” the game du jour, and I was following suit, along with everyone else.
To further illustrate, it wasn’t long after my older brother added noisemakers to the spokes of his bicycle that everyone had to have them. At least that’s how I remember it. I know I for sure had to have some. And to think that just the day before I had no idea at all what noisemakers on bicycle spokes even were, and then suddenly, I just had to have some myself. But that’s just how it was.
You see, my older brother was not only the inventor of myriad cool ideas, an opinion shaper, and a trend setter — I deemed him a near demigod. (I was little, okay?) If he sported a tattoo, we all had a green light to wear one. If he had a certain technique for making a good snowball, that’s the way it was to be done. He called the shots. And it was all good. (I drew the line at liking his hand-me-down pea coat and golashes, though. Not cool.)
However, there was one caveat to his reign as King of the Play Time Mountain: our cousin.
A year older and very sharp, she was the only playmate I knew him to consistently and invariably look up to and follow. Having a tribe of younger siblings of her own, she was comfortable leading. She was Athena to his Apollos. Whenever our families got together I marveled at how he hung on her words, her every idea, and conformed to her plans and strategies, never seeming to chafe a bit in this role reversal. If he, being cool, deemed her cool, that vaulted her to super cool in my eyes. I loved filling the role of adoring subject in her realm.
The summer before fourth grade, our family moved away from Indianapolis, and chances to hang out with these cousins became fewer and further between. Despite our infrequent visits, the pattern continued. Even as we all shifted from childhood into adolescence and our conversations and activities changed, the adoration remained.
More recently, I’ve come to the realization that while it may have appeared, at the time, that she trumped him, my high esteem for her never could have occurred in the first place, had he not given her his nod. So it was, after all, he who reigned supreme as ultimate opinion shaper in my life. Who knew.
While he may have had pre-eminence, when it came time to name my one daughter, I tipped my hat her way.