I’ve been reading collections of fairy tales, public-domain stuff you can get for free on your Kindle. One was a Norse bundle with a 70-page introduction working to prove that the taletellers had turned the gods of Valhalla into giants who wanted to eat Christians (can’t blame them).
Anyone who was whelped on Grimm’s knows the ubiquitous three sons, who loom even more prominent in the Norse collection. Generalized plot: The father or king – somebody in deep authority – sets a seemingly impossible goal such as rescuing a maiden imprisoned in the farthest room of an impregnable castle. The two elder sons, over-confident wingnuts, charge out blindly to do the deed and get killed/captured/lost, or just poop out.
Finally, the youngest son – the wastrel (in the Norse versions, he sits around all day with his feet in the fireplace ashes) – decides to continue the quest, in the face of general derision. He succeeds, in part through a fool’s fearlessness, in part through doing the unexpected, in largest part because he doesn’t give a damn about how things are supposed to be done or what will happen to him next.
In these translations from the Norse, the son’s name is always Boots.
I finished that collection and had an epiphany:
I am Boots.
I’m the youngest of three sons by some 13 years. While my elder brothers earned their bread through toil, and amassed enough moolah to meet old age with relative equanimity, I’ve blundered my way without a goal, with no clear idea of how one is supposed to exist in the world, not so much ignoring the rules as not letting them register.
Of course, the parallel is limited: I have not gained half a kingdom (the default Norse reward for offing a giant). More significantly, my elder brothers were neither over-confident or thoughtless.
So, rather than a sneer at elder recklessness, this entry of mine is a paean to my brothers, Rod and Vic, who saved my butt more times that I will ever know, who showered me with kindness, who protected me throughout all the years of my growth, despite my battle against morphing into an acceptable human being.
Indeed, if they had a fault, it was in protecting me too well. When my father died, they made all the arrangements, did all the paperwork. When my mother went nuts in California while I was doing grad work at Stanford, they saved me from the consequences. As I squelched through life, “no direction home,” working half time or less, bumping from one odd job to another, they never said a condemning word.
Rod and Vic both died in their 80s. They lived “good” lives in every sense of the word. But if my brothers never fit the fairytale stereotype, nonetheless…
I am still Boots – and still bootless.