Moving into our new neighborhood was like transitioning into a whole new world, a world where there were kids. Lots and lots of kids. And they would come out of the woodwork in the evenings to play kickball (while still daylight) or hide-and-go-tap (after it got dark). All toes went into a circle and the next person to be “it” was determined by going around and tapping each shoe to the rhythm of “Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish? “3” 1-2-3-and you are not it. Bubblegum, bubblegum…”

The person who was “it” put their hand on base (usually a street light pole) and counted, while everyone else scattered and hid. The goal was to touch base before the person who was “it” tapped you. Sometimes there would be watermelon or popsicles offered somewhere. The fun only lasted a few years—someone built a house on the kickball lot—but it was great while it lasted.

There was a downside to living in this new world, however. The family of one of my father’s teaching colleagues lived up the hill from us, and their four kids were similar in ages to me and my brothers. The boys were all into weightlifting and Pete and Jeff started following in their footsteps. Parroting his new friends, my oldest brother Pete started tormenting me by calling me fat.

The youngest in that family, a girlfriend of mine named Stacy, was on the receiving end of similar treatment from her older brothers. That cruelty went on for years and despite my pleas, my mother did nothing to stop it. Pete and I can joke about it now, especially since as adults he has apologized (the brat).

Throughout our lives, including when we were kids, Peter and I have had very different relationships with our mother. In general, she has always treated Pete, who was the oldest, as the favored one. A few years ago, talking to Pete on some or other holiday, he commented about a strange conversation he’d had with our mom that morning. She had been distracted because she was cooking and the whole conversation felt really off to him. “Oh,” I said, “You must have been speaking with my mother.”

Walker: A Spiritual Memoir by Jill Loree

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