My dad has four brothers and sisters, and the five Church siblings procreated like good Protestants: I have two sisters and ten first cousins.
Burton was the youngest by three years.
We made up a game called Dart Wars in which we broke into two teams and shot one another with Nerf guns. The game had similar rules to dodgeball. Slower to react to a volley of foam projectiles, Burton was usually eliminated toward the beginning of each round. That, or he was simply expendable. If one player had to be sacrificed for the good of the team, then it should be our charming little Pillsbury Dough Boy with his tuggable ears and reliable waterworks. My Aunt Susan had to intervene and ask for special allowances for Burton. The older cousins muttered under our breath and felt like martyrs for letting Burton spoil the game. I was easily the most competitive of the bunch and thus the most ruthless.
Special allowances for Burton? Fine. I’d simply redouble my efforts to shoot him and place special emphasis on headshots.
I have made Burton cry more than any other human being, alive or dead.
I never had a younger brother to pick on, only a couple of lousy sisters who weren’t interested in fighting or fishing and showed signs of weakness, such as “trying not to hurt other people’s feelings” and “including everyone in games.” Though Burton grew up to be three inches taller than me, he is the closest thing to a little brother that I have, and thus became my understudy in the great drama of pranks and general mischief.
I bestowed some of my best pranks and sayings. For example, one night my friends Andrea and Heather were discussing medical advancements that would enable men to carry babies in artificial wombs. This subject was fascinating, and that’s why I exclaimed, “Bor-ing!”
The abruptness of the interruptions and the inaccuracy of the word in relation to the subject matter caught both the girls by surprise, and they spent the next half hour laughing until they cried.
A worthy disciple, Burton recognized the comic potential of this technique, put it in his arsenal, and used it to good effect on multiple occasions in college.
He got married a month ago, and his older sister Kristen, who is just a month older than me, told one of our favorite stories from when we were kids.
My grandparents had lived in a Dutch Colonial with two basements and a large sideyard. The cousins played croquet, shuffleboard, badminton, SPUD, and a game called The Grass Game, but on one momentous day, we must have gotten bored with the usual games because we got out the golf cart and a length of rope. I don’t know if the plan was pre-meditated or a product of the moment.
We attached one end to a stick, threw it over a high branch in the walnut tree, and then tied it to the trailer hitch of the golf cart. Wanting to be included by the older kids, Burton agreed to let us tie the other end to his back belt loop.
We were delighted to discover that the golf cart had more than enough power to move forward and raise our guinea pig into the air.
Burton’s shorts slid up to his armpits. Dangling and screaming in pain, he demanded that we let him down.
We did a good thing that day, teaching Burton to fly. Not many people have that opportunity.