Large families tend to carry a certain sense of camaraderie; everybody looks out for the other, or looks out for the mother while the children undertake nefarious deeds between each other. In our family, there was a constant mix between these two.
On one hand, my siblings were my best friends, playmates, and competition. On the other, we were sometimes ruthlessly mean to each other.
For most of my childhood, I grew up with three siblings. Steve, Lydia, and Mark. I was third in the order and usually the one most prone to making trouble for the others. Mark, especially. He and I would spend hours playing with each other when we weren’t fighting or bringing the other to tears.
Mark fell victim to a lot of our childhood stunts, such as the Chinese water torture incident. However, he always took these in stride and seemed to enjoy being the center of attention, even if it meant using him as a guinea pig for our little experiments.
The two of us shared a lot of quality time together. On one of my earlier birthdays, Dad took me to Sears and let me pick out my own pocket knife. If i was going to have a knife, it was going to be a good one that would last for the rest of my life.
While on that trip, Dad reminded me to always buy Craftsman tools. Why? Sears offered a lifetime warranty for all Craftsman tools – offering a no-questions-asked replacement policy for broken tools.
The thing about Craftsman tools…they never break. Dad knew what he was talking about.
Our trip to Sears resulted in a shiny new Buck pocket knife, with multi-tools and a matte black handle with a small red Buck logo embedded in the handle.
Returning home with my prize, I went to show it off to Mark. The two of us promptly formed the “Buck Club” as a result. Nobody else was allowed in the club because they didn’t’ have a Buck knife. Mark was allowed because it wasn’t much fun to be in a club by myself.
Over 25 years have passed since that day and my siblings still rib me about silly things like the Buck Club. I can laugh about the silliness behind it all, while appreciating the special connection Mark and I shared through our childhood.
Of all of the siblings, Mark seemed to own his place as the youngest (until several years later, when two more were born) and wore it quite well.
He was an adorable kid, with bright blue eyes and blonde hair. Not to mention, an incredibly high voice that drastically changed after puberty. I think that’s when we stopped referring to him as “Markie” and began to go easy on the torture experiments.
For being the youngest, little Markie was a great team player. Prior to writing this book, I asked him if there were any chapters he wanted me to write about. He reminded me of one incident which, to this day, remains an unsolved mystery in our family.
Ladies and gentlemen, I now share “the hermit crab incident” with you.
In Columbus, OH, there was a small amusement park known as Wyandot Lake, which is where my Dad took me for our special day out.
During the Summertime, our family had a membership to Wyandot Lake, as an add-on to the Columbus Zoo membership, which was located across the parking lot from the amusement park.
Wyandot Lake was a magical place for a kid – full of rides, water slides, and carnival games we never played because they were expensive.
I have a feeling Mom and Dad weren’t too keen on having a household of cheaply made stuffed animals, either. They preferred to buy us stuffed animals that would last until our adult years – as all of them have.
Mom and Dad promised us a trip to Wyandot Lake if we all behaved that week. It was pretty good incentive to be on our best behavior. As a result, we collectively decided to snooze our bad behavior and get along with each other.
Everything was going to plan. No fights or arguments and the four of us did our best to appear extra angelic in hopes it would seal the deal for our trip to Wyandot Lake.
Then, something happened that none of us can explain (or take responsibility for).
The morning of our trip, Mom walked in to the bathroom and found one of our pet hermit crabs sitting in the bathtub.
Since it was unlikely the hermit crab crawled up a flight of stairs and inside of the bathtub, Mom wanted to know which of us had placed the hermit crab in the tub.
She gathered all of us in the kitchen and asked for a confession. Crickets. The four of us looked at each other, hoping one would make the confession. None did.
As a result, we were given an ultimatum. We had one hour to confess to the issue, or none of us were going to Wyandot Lake.
This posed a major dilemma. None of us knew which person had put the hermit crab in the tub, which began a finger-pointing game to determine the guilty subject.
One detail stood in the way of a confession; fear of the paddle. We all knew the impending punishment would be harsh for whoever spoke out, since the truth didn’t come out right away.
Time passed and the waiting became excruciating. Our fear turned into anger at each other, as we believed one guilty person was responsible for all of us missing out on a day riding water slides.
It’s moments like these that I began to really understand Lord of the Flies…
Finally, Mark cried out:
“I did it! I put the hermit crab in the bathtub!”
His punishment was swift and painful – immediately taken to the kitchen, where he had to place his hands on the counter while harsh punishment was dealt with the family paddle.
He returned with tears in his eyes, while the rest of us solemnly packed our bathing suits and towels in bags. We were going to Wyandot Lake.
Many years later, Mark confessed to not putting the hermit crab in the bathtub.
At the time of this writing, I again pressed him to tell the truth and come clean. He stuck to his story that he wasn’t the guilty culprit, while speculating that perhaps it was Mom who had done the deed, in an effort to avoid going to the amusement park and spending money because times were tight as a family.
Perhaps we’ll never know who put the hermit crab in the tub (I’m looking at you, Mom…Steve) and that’s ok.
What I do know is that little Markie was wise beyond his years and wasn’t afraid to take punishment so his siblings could enjoy themselves – even the guilty one.
Thanks, Mark. For everything.