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Sibling folly

Although my half-brother Skip and I didn’t even meet until we hit our mid-30s, we immediately bonded. We craved restitution for our three-decades delay as playmates. Sharing the same father, we looked alike, thought alike and partied alike. And, like many wild and crazy guys, we had both been freshly divorced.

During this period between wives, we rented separate studio apartments in the same building. We knew better than to move in together. We were too much alike. Book ends. We’d have killed each other. As it turned out, we merely teased each other unmercifully.

For openers, when he popped into my apartment unannounced one day, Skip noticed a baby picture on my mantle and wondered aloud which one of my daughters it imaged. Julie or Sarah?

“Neither one, you dolt,” I said. “That’s me.”

“You? Then why did your mother stick you in a dress?”

“I’ll have you know that isn’t a dress,” I told him. “It’s a long shirt. Mothers dressed their baby boys that way in those days.”

“Then why does my baby pictures show me dressed like a quarterback, posing with a football?”

“Probably because your mother intuitively sensed your inevitable insecurities about your manliness.”

Skip meandered closer to my mantel and stared, stupefied by my collection of stuffed toy frogs.The real star of the collection was an adorable amphibian named Prince Benjamin. Nicknamed Benji, he proudly stood five inches tall, wearing ballet slippers, a pink jacket and a sly facial expression.

Skip picked him up.

“And whom do we have here?” Skip sniffed in a tone of mock condescension as he eyeballed my little prince. “Oh, my gawd! You’re a grown man, baby brother. Why don’t you just get some dollies and be through with it?

“Now see here, Missy,” I said. “My frog menagerie stands as no more immature or effeminate than your precious collection of Little Lulu comic books. And how about when you get high as a kite and stare for hours at a Bugs Bunny cartoon marathon?”

Skip then reminded me that I didn’t even have to be high to race to the park at midnight and demand that he push me as high as the swings could go.

I admitted that, even sober, I had become a bit idiosyncratic, but added: “Truthfully, Skip, I was never weird until I started hanging out with you.

“Oh, come now,” Skip said, pointing at my baby picture. “You’ve been weird ever since — ever since you posed for that baby picture.”

Ignoring him, I clipped Benji to my ear and informed Skip that Prince Benjamin would accompany us on all public outings henceforth. From then on, Skip feigned a deep-seated hatred toward my stuffed frogs, especially my “constant companion.”

A few months later, Skip received a lucrative job offer out of state. Some of our mutual friends and I threw a going-away party for him.

About a dozen of us were sitting at a bar laughing about one thing or another. Then out of nowhere, Skip said he had an announcement to make, looked directly at me and said: “Be forewarned that, before I fly away to Virginia, I’m gonna break into your apartment and I’m gonna kill the frogs.”

While I’m still reeling from that, he says, “Wait. Allow me to amend that: Before I move to Virginia, I’m gonna break into your apartment and kill JUST BENJAMIN.”

Horrified, I jerked Prince Benji off my ear and tucked the stuffed amphibian safely into my pocket.

Skip never made good his threat, but I never trusted him to see Prince Benjamin again. The day that Skip flew to Virginia, I saw him off. Just as he was about to head up the ramp leading to the plane, I yelled “Yo Skip!” and  took Benji out of my pocket, held him up and yowled, “RIBBET! RIBBET!” Stunned into speechlessness, Skip reacted by skipping to the ramp and onto the plane.

I overheard a woman wonder why a grown man was skipping. “Grown men in my family? No such animal,” I said. Then I skipped away.

I regret behaving inappropriately. I should have hopped away instead. You know? Like a frog.

— Steve Eskew

Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.

Reflections of Erma