Mother also brought cultural baggage to the marriage. She had idolized her father as much as papa had idealized his. And Opa had been in rebellion against his self-made Burgher grandfather and his dandy of an army officer aristocrat and had opted for a Bohemian cultural expression that led to perhaps a more Bohemian lifestyle than he had wanted. Mother, too, wanted to be “different,” as shown by her childish challenges to God in front of her friends, all daughters of Burghers with whom she was locked in a secret sorority. That she had ambitions to perform in the role of intellectual is indicated by her going to college, though I never heard her speak of any ambition and her actual performance ended with a couple of articles in the Alcalde, the alumni publication of Texas U., the import of which I do not remember. The first years of the marriage might well have been quite seductive, with the accoutrements of elegance, including a gardener cum butler and the luxury of a second honeymoon to Mexico. Then began the children, and from family stories, Thea was a delight with her imaginary Die Lila Lady. After that came the fall, its full impact staved off by Fredericksburg, where her intellectual talents could be put to practical use while the Burgher demands were lost in the realities of the peasant surroundings.
By the time mother appeared on my radar she had given up all pretence at following intellectual pursuits, but had not given up on being intellectual. She shared her interest in poetry with Thea in high school, she read to all of us from books that reflected her dissidence, and socialized with new librarian friends more than with her LUC cronies. It is clear that she had settled for getting her sense of self from the performance of her sons. The good side of this is that she put a lot of her time and energy into relating to us. Sometimes it was to her advantage, too, as when she responded to a neighbor who said what a wonderful garden could be made of the large yard where we played and she countered that she would rather use it for the cultivation of her children. Saves money, saves time, and is unassailable. But there is a downside to parents’ getting their kicks from the accomplishments of their children: the reinforcement of sibling rivalry. I believe sibling rivalry is a phenomenon that is built into social life – not as an inherited trait but as the result of the structure of the situation of infancy, most particularly where children are spaced close together. It rests on the fact that the younger displaces the older from his monopoly on the major source of affect, the mother. (For detail, see Bridge.) But the rivalry can be exacerbated or ameliorated by other culture traits, and maternal investment in children can be an exacerbating one.
This leads to an examination of Buntz, whose behavior I have always seen as being the most formative influence on me. He was the one who was displaced by me and my robust health must have threatened his sovereignty of the nursery. I have no doubt that his incessant teasing was a calculated campaign to lessen my powers and reduce my self esteem, forcing me to enact what he was accusing me of. He had a way of putting me down, as in his contemptuous response to my having been made editor in junior high school. His later behavior as big brother can be seen as the second phase of his hegemony, reinforcing his dominant role by being patron to my peasantry. It is not surprising that I wanted no more of this relationship and only that I had the wit and courage to turn it down. The public awareness of this invidious comparison was made by Miss Johnson when she returned my “Many Mansions” paper. That, at least, had the virtue of showing that I was not just paranoid. I grew up being envious of his superior skills and of his success and when he bought a house in Georgetown (which did not have the panache that it has now, to be sure) and mother told me it had three bathrooms, I was green with envy. I avoided asking him for favors, though I always stayed at his apartment when I was in New York. But once he said that I should have told him beforehand that I was going to Puerto Rico, saying that he was a good friend of the governor. So when I was going to Iran (where he had spent a year while at the U.N to get a sense of local conditions for programs he was initiating wt the U.N.), I told him, and it was clearly to my advantage. I was duly impressed with the degree to which his name opened doors. When I thanked him he said that in Iranian culture it is more important to be a brother than oneself. Of course, for my part, I always sent him copies of my books to show my progress. When the attack on Margaret Mead hit the press, Tex phoned me and teased that perhaps somebody would find I’d faked the Arvin/Dinuba data. My riposte was instant and gratifying, “Tex, with brothers like you, who needs friends?”
I had always thought of this as my envy of him and only slowly became aware that the feeling was reciprocated, that this was all classic sibling rivalry and that I hadn’t just rolled over as anticipated, I suppose. My first realization came after I was a professor, on occasions when I visited them in New York as an established academe and one or other of his children were in college, and would corner me to ask for my advice and he would nose himself into our conversation. This happened repeatedly, as did his recurrently telling me that he had been asked to be President of Reed College, seeing this as an up-stage, though my ambitions never took me to such “heights.” I am not even sure that it was an offer as distinct from a mere expression of interest. Whichever, I am sure Wickie would have nipped it in the bud as she was so disdainful of her father’s having been President of Case Western Reserve. Much later, in the last decade of his life when I visited him at Quadrangle, we had discussed our relationship from time to time. Once Tex said, “ashamed as I am to say it, I am glad that the first child died, for I would not have liked being a younger brother.” He also quipped in a talk at his 90th birthday that my championing the underdog came natural to me as I had always been one, whereas he had to learn of their needs.
The rivalry didn’t just happen; it was fostered by mother. I record the following sad story reluctantly, for it is not a pretty one and my own role in it makes me wince, but do so because it is a telling one. At some time – I must have been home from college – mother showed me a pair of papa’s cuff links, gold and set with rubies, and said something like, “they are to go to the first of you to do something important.” I should have protested or opted out right then, for it was sheer foolishness, invidious and oblivious to the age differential. Later, I was back in San Antonio after my As You Sow was published and its controversy had given me a public role, I suggested that it was a draw and that each of us should be given one to make into rings for our wives. I think mother was reluctant but she could hardly refuse. How could I have still been so childish? Like all good stories it ends with a sad irony. I did have a ring made and Gale never wore it, oblivious to its significance. Nothing was ever said about cuff links; I don’t even know if Tex knew about this “contest.” I made a kind of postscript to the cuff-links saga, though I had not intended it to be that. When I was included in Who’s Who, I knew that Tex would be in it too, for the instructions said that all ambassadors were listed and Tex had just been appointed one. So mother had her two sons listed for the first time in the same edition and I thought she would be so proud to see both our names on the same page that I bought a copy (for the only time, I might add) just so I could Xerox the page and send it to her to give her bragging rights. Perhaps significantly ironic again, she never said a word about it.