Having a brother wasn’t unique to growing up “ranch,” but it will help you fill in the big picture if I introduce him to you. There were some big differences in how we related to each other because we grew up “Ranch” together, but far from other playmates.
Paul came along when I was three years old. I was very used to being the special son/grandson. I got highly pampered and felt this was the norm. Imagine my shock when this little interloper came along and stole away my rightful attention! Nothing unusual about this; all first born children have to go through this change.
Soon I had reached the usual first child conclusion that my job was to protect him and make his life as miserable as possible in the process. As a parent, you never knew which way I was going to swing toward, cruelty, or smothering love. The result was that both of us needed watching at all times.
Parents have to listen for two sounds, silence; they have found a bad thing to do and are making a mess. The other is laughter; they have found something real bad and are having a great time making a big mess. One day the laughter side made its appearance.
Paul was in his crib supposedly taking a nap. I had dismantled my riding truck and discovered that its steering wheel worked rather like a tuning fork when struck. Paul, hearing the noise, woke up and was fascinated by the humming sound. There was a small white stool nearby whose top was perfect to bang the wheel on.
Soon I was banging, and Paul was squealing in delight each time. Being a good parent, Mom detected “Laughter” and came upstairs to find out what was happening. She was pleasantly surprised that Paul was the happy voice and steaming mad about all the gouges I had made in the stool top.
Now for most kids, having a brother so much younger would mean sort of a “ho hum, yeah there he is.” Then run off to play with friends. For me it was different. Here was a new family member who was little like me, and potential company, maybe even a playmate. So I decided he was going to be my mini-me whether he wanted to or not. Not only was I much bigger by three years growth, but I had the force of personality to bulldoze an issue till I got my way. By the time Paul was two, he was big enough to begin being real company.
Due to our very different natures, Paul adapted better to this than I did. Paul was more easy going and satisfied. Compromise came fairly easy to him, but I was a tyrant like independent and demanding. Paul learned quickly to go with the flow, but that was mostly because I just assumed he could do everything I did, even though he was three years younger. He had to catch up quick or else, and remember; Vern’s the Boss!
A good example was the “exploring” trips into the timber above the upper ditch. Typically we started off together. As we got deeper into the woods, we arrived at the big log. Here we played awhile until I was ready to go. Now the trouble started. Paul wanted to play here some more. He wasn’t always so easy going. No amount of begging, or pleading, or even threats, could change his mind. Finally out of frustration, I would start home. Now the wails began. Alone as a small boy, the woods were pretty spooky. Soon he was walking back home in tears still and snubbing.
“Why are you crying now?”
“I want to go play on the log!”
“Too bad, I’m going home!”
New tears as we arrived home. Yes, I could be a real jerk most of the time. But being an extreme ranch kid, who else was there to play with, or have along for company, besides Paul?
As Paul grew, the divergence continued. He almost never got in trouble. Well, that’s easy to explain. All he had to do was watch the bad example, me, and not do that. He seemed always to be anxious to please. I, on the other hand, wanted my own way, pleasing or not.
My Dad ran for State Senate once and held a political rally up in the high country. I got bored and went to play. While roaming the sagebrush-covered hills, I noticed the pretty flowers. I started to pick a bouquet for Mommy as I called her. Paul was smart enough to stay out of this. I picked a wonderful big handful of Indian Paint Brush. Paul stayed well away as I presented it to Mom. Unfortunately, I had chosen the Wyoming state flower, protected by law from being disturbed let alone picked, as the object of my floral offering (At a campaign rally!). Mom made me put back each flower from where I got it. I was in tears, and Paul was looking on thinking “Be careful what you pick. Got it!”
As we grew older, Paul’s social skills developed much more normally than mine. At least it seemed so to me. This meant I was forever jealous of his ability to fit into the group, while I orbited the outer planet belt, just barely accepted. At least in my eyes, He was accepted, and I was an outcast. However, you have to keep in mind one thing. There is an unwritten code in ranch country; “You have your brother’s back.” Had I not been there, Paul would most likely have been the bullies target, not me. So he “got away with it,” while I got goaded into fight after fight. Some of the social disjoints were caused by things like this.
It was the nineteen sixties in Wyoming. The crew cut was the standard hairstyle, blue jeans and a western cut shirt with pearl snaps were the clothing of choice. Cowboy boots or maybe work boots were the footwear. Enter the Fawcett boys. Shoulder length hair held in place by an Indian headband. Casual slacks, Long sleeve puff cuff shirts. And we wore clodhopper Red Wing boots. (At home we would have had our sheath knives on too) For most occasions, I wore the dreaded chicken track peace symbol necklace. Our appearance was so off beat that we suffered mild forms of prejudice such as this.
When we went to Douglas, one of our regular stops was the Ben Franklin Five and Dime store. As soon as we entered the store one of the clerks, stopped their job and began to shadow these two “shoplifting hippies.” As we caught on to this harassment, we felt it only fair to help them have something to report. Being very honest, we never stole anything, but that didn’t stop us from picking up and looking at everything in the store. Even women’s lingerie got picked up and looked at.
One thing that annoyed me about Paul was that whenever a new activity was being taught like riding, Paul got to do it at the same time I did. Wading and swimming, same thing. Exploration boundaries got expanded for both of us at the same time. This never really felt the least bit fair. To be honest, I brought some of this on myself.
Skiing was a major winter activity. I was old enough and grown enough, but Paul was still too small. I could have started earlier than him but as we shall see there was a problem. I needed to be measured for skis and poles. Ski’s weren’t a problem, just have me back up to a wall, mark it off, and you’re done. Poles were just as simple. All I had to do was to hold my elbow at a ninety-degree angle, grab a broom handle, and have it marked. To this day I don’t know why, but I refused to be measured for poles! I had absolute meltdowns over this until finally when Paul was old enough, they measured him, and guessed from that how long to get mine.
With both of us growing up ranch, we learned to be very self-sufficient even to the point of self-contained. If you needed one of us you nearly always had to call for us because we were busy. Most often not together but always busy. Riding, wading, toy cars, digging holes, exploring; we always found something to keep busy with. Mom's solution to this was the, “who who” call. Being an accomplished singer, she could make a yodel like two tones, "Yu-Hu" that could be heard easily for half a mile and sometimes as far as a mile. This call was an absolute. When you heard you came running, riding, whatever as fast as you could, no exceptions.
Paul and I most often didn’t play together. We had different interests, and we were so self-contained a playmate or company wasn’t needed. When we did play together, that’s usually when the sparks flew. Long rides or hikes required two for safety, not for self-rescue but to go for help. But most of these were done for work not play, so we seldom quarreled over those. It was near home we had squabbles.
One fine spring day I decided to chase Paul with my bike (the real bike not Toby). I charged; he dodged, I was having a great time! Bikes are faster and easier, so he was getting tired. Just as I came at him across the yard, he reached down, picked up an old broom handle, and stuck it into the front spokes. Bikes don’t take this well. I nose-dived straight down face first. Then to be sure I knew I had wrecked, the bikes back wheel slammed down on my back making a perfect pancake! Oh, I was MAD! Paul knowing what was coming had already made it to safety on the front porch.
Another day probably summer time and I was on the warpath again. I chased him all over on foot, taunting him the whole time. He finally ran down the water hole path then turned to see if I was following. No, I was doing my best King Kong impression shouting and roaring in triumph from the ditch bank. “What? Is he going to throw a stick at me!? Ha Ha who care…” I cut off in mid-gloat as a root clump worth of dirt and stick nailed me in the forehead! BAM! Down I went, backward, upside down in the ditch seeing stars. I sort of remember seeing him run by on the way to the house again.
Now, don’t misunderstand. Normally Paul got the worst end of these episodes. I just remember the exceptions better. One exception I do remember going the other way was the tying up game.
We both had small lariats for roping calves. All the cartoons had scenes where someone got tied up. Somehow we got started tying each other up and then escaping. Finally, I did a real bang up job including a loop around the neck on Paul. I wandered off and came back about forty minutes later to find him patiently waiting for release. I did feel kind of bad about that one.
I didn’t feel bad at all about the next one. I just didn’t carry out my plan. Paul had a friend Phil C. whose father was the County Sheriff, and one of my Dad’s best friends. As good as I was at tease terror Phil was a past master. He and Paul ganged up on me, and I was soon steaming hot. Then I was cross-eyed mad. Then I saw red and began to plot. Rocks wouldn’t work; they were staying out of range. I chased them almost a mile from home; couldn’t catch them. Finally, I decided to get the .22 rifle.. wait; Dad will get real mad! Better not do that.
It is important to understand that by and large, we played well together. In the winter, the snow fences at Grandma Ruth’s made two deep trench like dips in the drifted snow. Being somewhat war like we developed a game we called “World War One.”
The rules were that each of us got a trench to protect. It was a glorified snowball fight. If you got hit in an arm, for instance, you were wounded and couldn’t use that arm for the rest of that round. Body hits were fatal. You could also holler “grenade,” and if it landed within six feet of you, you died. Obviously, these hits were on the honor system, and we did honor it. We also figured out that grenades were too powerful, so we had a three grenade limit.
Another game we played in the warmer months was called “Guns.” This was cops and robbers combined with hide and seek. One of us counted to fifty while the other ran and hid. We both had small replica Winchesters which had a small drum built into the butt of the stock. It made a dull “Blop” sound when fired. The coolest part was that they didn’t use caps so you could shoot forever at no cost. Both being armed with a Blop gun the objective was to shot your opponent.
One strategy was to hide, but have the counter in your sights, and shoot him the second he looked up. Not fun or fair. New rule, the hider had to give the counter to the count of twenty to get under cover before starting. If the counter hid in plain view, oh well too bad; Blop-Blop-Blop he was dead. Obviously, it was honor system about the counter’s free cover run.
The best time to play was at night. I learned to hide in plain sight just by lying flat behind a clump of grass. On the other hand, if the counter got into dark cover, all bets were off, and the odds were even.
We had other games, and in general, we had no issues getting along. We had spear grass wars on horseback. We played a rather dangerous game of chicken by shooting hunting tipped arrows straight up and out of sight. Whoever moved lost. We took turns shooting. Luckily, neither of us ever got hit, but we did get some three to six foot near misses.
As we grew up, more adult supervision came into play. Skis were ok for just swishing along, but a real hill was so much better. Dad worked and cleared the trees and rocks from an area near the old sawmill set. Now we had a thrilling reward for side step tramping up the hill as we got an exciting if brief downhill run. Dad and I were, of course, older and so we briskly tramped up and flew down. Not regarding Paul’s near exhaustion; He had to get strong or else.
Paul and I also had different talents and abilities when it came to riding. Somehow I managed to maneuver my way into getting Toby assigned as primarily mine, while poor Paul got stuck with Tonka. Toby had nice smooth gates, was generally very obedient, and overall just a fun pony to ride.
Tonka was almost the opposite in every way. Rough gaited, riding him at a trot would tear the kidneys out of Superman. Bullheaded and sassy, Tonka had to be watched like a hawk and if he didn’t like the current plan you knew all about it. Head tossing, foot stamping, balking, you had to be a real rider to keep him in line.
Now you would think that Paul would naturally become a better rider but not so. One summer he had three runaways within a month. One was on Toby who dumped him face first into a ditch bank. About two weeks later Tonka dumped him off into a rocky hillside also face first. The last and worst was on Twiggy, one of the welsh ponies, who ran away and while doing so dumped him face first into a rock pile. Paul looked like Donald Duck for a week from the swollen lips he got.
I somehow managed to occasionally get into a runaway or dump off but never seemed to get hurt. The reward for being “sticky” was that I got to ride the green broken Broncos in the herd. The two welsh ponies were like Toby and Tonka, opposites. Twiggy was the good stable horse. Judy, her sister, was the devil in horse clothing. Naturally, I got to ride Judy, who was always just a split second away from mayhem. Whatever you did you HAD to keep her head up. The slightest inattention and you were on the ground figuring out how to catch her so you could get back to work.
However, I had a failing in my horsemanship. While I could ride almost anything, I wasn’t a trainer at all. Even guided by Dad, I was a washout. Paul, on the other hand, had the genuine rapport it took to not just break in a horse but to gentle them and grow them into the best possible mounts. We never had the chance to do much horse breaking, but the one we did was a Paul project.
Mystery was her name, and she was fooled with day to day by us boys. The hardest part of actually training her was that she didn’t realize she was supposed to move with a rider on her back. She also turned out to have been so spoiled as a filly, that she was stubbornness personified. Paul worked and turned her into a fine mount that eventually became a school horse for an Equestrian Treatment Program.
So while we were different, we both had the same isolation issues. Neither of us had any place to turn to for companionship besides each other. We went on many adventures together and depended on each other for things such as remembering the trail back. We climbed rock faces together that neither of us would dare try alone. We picked berries together, and as play turned slowly into work, we fixed fences together. I once asked Paul long after we both had grown and left home, “Why haven’t you pounded me into a tent peg yet?” His reply was one of the best left-handed compliments I ever got, “I thought about it, but then decided you weren’t worth it.”