See that paper mache pig in the photo up above? My twin brother made this back in high school. My mother was the guardian of it until she died in 2000. Now, I have it.
My brother made this in art class at Vevay High School in Vevay, Indiana in 1968. We were freshman, and 1968 would be the last year of using the old school. Switzerland County High was being built for the following school year.
I remember art class being down in a basement at the old high school. I took the class, too, but at a different time of day. Mrs. Cole was the art teacher’s name. She was young and pretty and nice to me and my brother. I remember this because so many other people — I should probably say mostly other kids — weren’t nice to us at all.
My twin brother and I were different than the others. We were Country Music entertainers and weren’t good at sports and were a little shy and awkward. Being different doesn’t always work in a kid’s favor, and when growing up, my twin and I were bullied a lot. I’m 60 years old now, but I still think about getting hit and kicked and shoved around during that freshman year in high school. These memories have never left me.
I remember during the high school lunch hour, my brother and I would go for walks around downtown Vevay trying to try to keep the other kids from seeing us to avoid violence or being made fun of.
I remember the name and faces of these bullies like it was yesterday. I remember being afraid to walk down the hall, afraid to get on the school bus and afraid of violent confrontations. My twin was going through the same thing, but the odd thing is, we seldom, if ever, talked about it. It was like we didn’t have to speak the words. We both knew all we had was each other.
When you’re being bullied, you try to focus in on other things — at least that’s what my brother and I did. Even back then, I enjoyed writing stories. It would take me away and I could be somebody else for awhile. My twin was creative too and he threw himself into art class and the making of that paper mache pig.
He worked on it in class and would sometimes take it home with him on the bus to do more work on it. That was a bold move on his part — taking it on the bus. That created more bullying. This told me how much my twin enjoyed creating that pig.
When it was finished, my twin brother got an A+ on the making of that paper mache pig. He was really proud of that.
The following year at the new high school, my brother and I were still bullied but we found some other misfits we could hang around with, so the situation got a bit better. We graduated high school in 1972, and in the fall of 1973, while attending college, my brother and I moved to Cincinnati. The paper mache pig came with us.
In the mid-1980s, my brother announced he was leaving for San Francisco. He was a gay man and I believe in his view he would be freer to be himself out west. He mentioned to me some years later while visiting that he thought being gay was one of the reasons why he was bullied in high school. In my view, being different from other kids in any capacity was enough to bring on ridicule and punishment. Even back in 1968, it could be a mean, cruel world.
When my brother left Cincinnati, he didn’t want to take the paper mache pig with him, so my mother kept it. When he passed away in Seattle, Washington in September of 1994, the maintaining of that pig and keeping it safe gained in importance. It was part of my brother’s youth and history — a part of him to always hold onto.
When I now look at the pig, I think back to the time my brother made it — back to his freshman year in high school in 1968 and the bullying we both had to endure. I’m glad this issue is in the news a lot these days and is being addressed more seriously. I know firsthand that being bullied can scar a person for life.
Perhaps it’s a bit strange that a paper mache pig would become a family heirloom, but it has. My twin brother made it and held onto it for years, then it was passed on to my mother. Now, for over 14 years, I’ve been the guardian of the paper mache pig. When I die, it will be passed on to my son. He already knows the story behind the making of that pig and how important it is to keep the story and that pig alive.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]