I was the third son in a three-son family. There were no daughters, only sons in my family. The two oldest boys were only thirteen months apart in age, then I came along, two years and four months later. Generally speaking, we were quite close in age, though there was enough of a time gap between me and the two older boys that made me not count for much when it came to any competitive engagement.
And what did we compete for? Almost everything. Or maybe that’s just my perception of how things were.
Looking back on it though, I find one of the more curious and fun phenomena of this usually friendly rivalry was that because we were three in number, anything else that came in sets of three we had to claim as our own.
When we learned that there were only three primary colors, we had to own them. Bill owned blue, Al owned red, but I was unhappy with yellow, not because of the symbolism attached to it (what did a three-year old know about symbolism) but because it was generally pale, so I was allowed to choose green as ‘my color.’ Coincidentally, the primary colors of light, with which I spent 18 years working professionally, are red, blue, green.
The Rice Crispies we sometimes ate featured three cartoon characters named Snap, Crackle and Pop. I remember being Pop, for sure. He was the third mentioned. And somehow, I even managed to secure in my toddler-hood, a ‘Pop’ hand puppet, which comforted me one day on Harland Road when I suddenly decided to be frightened by all the photographer’s equipment that he had set up in the living room to take a group portrait of the three of us.
Then there were TV cowboys! When we started laying claim to things that came in threes, there were only three cowboys on the two Providence, RI TV stations we could get with our antenna. Bill chose Hopalong Cassidy, Al chose Roy Rogers and I was happy enough to ‘choose’ the only cowboy left, Gene Autry, who was no slouch with either a six-gun or a guitar and a song.
But cowboys seemed to multiply over time, and when Sky King came along, Al laid immediate claim to him too. The rules of this game were pretty loosey-goosey, so Al was not required to quit claiming Roy Rogers. Bill and I were happy with our cowboys, so Al could have two if he wanted to. There were plenty of cowboys to go around in the 1950s.
Then came a cowboy show with four main cowboys! I’m pretty sure the show was called, “Bonanza,” but if someone countered me and said, “Oh no! That show was called, “Ponderosa,” I wouldn’t argue the point. Ponderosa was the name of the ranch located just outside of Virginia City, Nevada where Pa, played by the venerable Canadian actor, Lorne Greene, had dominion over his stable of three cowboy sons. Oops! There’s the three – Adam, Hoss and Little Joe! Just like Snap, Crackle and Pop, I recall that our claim to these characters followed the same order. The cowboy characters even had parallel ages to ours to help make the fix. Adam more-or-less ran things the way a lieutenant runs things below a general (Pa). Hoss was action-oriented. He made things happen. Little Joe helped where he could but was mainly interested in chasing women. I felt that mine was an especially good character fit.
In time, the claiming of things for no particular purpose lost its appeal. In their early years as young drivers Bill seemed to claim Ford, while Al went for GM products. I wasn’t about to claim Chrysler, American Motors, Studebaker, Kaiser, or any other car maker as my own. I just let that one go. And we all pretty much let go of symbolic allegiance to characters, colors and brand names. But the whole set of recurring episodes has given me many fond memories and smiles over the years despite or perhaps even because of the patent silliness of our eager, childhood enthusiasms to stake our claims.