I grew up watching The Brady Bunch, but for some reason it never dawned on me that they were stepbrothers/sisters.
In fact, that term never even registered with me until middle school. But the day I learned it was unforgettable.
My brothers—Clark, Phil, Bootie—and I had lived in an idyllic little subdivision where everyone seemed just like us: shiny, happy people with Bermuda grass lawns and barely a care in the world. But in fourth grade, my dad bought some land out “in the country” (it’s not “in the country” anymore) and we moved so that we could have dogs and horses and maybe even a dirt bike.
The new house and new dogs were great. Not so great? Being “the new kid” at school. The education I received on the bus ride through back roads to Bryson Middle School, however, may have been more valuable than anything I learned in those classrooms.
We rode for miles every day down partially-paved country roads past broken homes where marriage vows had been cast aside like a fading front porch sofa. That’s when I started realizing that most of the kids on the bus were using the phrase “my stepbrother did this” or “my stepsister did that.”
The bus was usually fine until Robbie got on. He was loud and obnoxious and liked to brag about smoking and fighting. He hung out with the rowdy crowd in the back, so we were only occasionally menaced when he ventured toward the front of the bus.
Clark was in 8th grade and I was in 6th, and as Robbie lurked behind us we would stare uncomfortably out the window or at the floor, and that seemed to suffice. But one day, on the ride home from school, Robbie was feeling particularly feisty and he wandered up front and threatened to get off at our house.
“I’m gonna get off the bus at your house, and I’m gonna whoop your…” he said.
(I thought about explaining that we didn’t have any donkeys, but Robbie wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so I stayed quiet.)
“What do y’all think about that?” he said to us. He turned around and grinned at the other hooligans in the back who egged him on. “You want me to get off the bus at your house and beat your…?”
Clark and I stared at each other silently speculating if both of us would be able to defend ourselves against this maniacal middle schooler. To this day I have no idea how it occurred to my 6th grade mind, but the stepbrother stories I had been hearing for months suddenly made sense.
I turned and said, “You don’t want to get off the bus at our house because I’ve got 3 brothers,” and then I quickly pointed to Clark and continued, “And he’s got 3 brothers, and his brother’s got 3 brothers, and our other brother’s got 3 brothers!”
Robbie’s eyes grew wide, he cursed again, and pushed back from the seat. “I ain’t gettin’ off at y’all’s house! Y’all are gonna gang me!”
Clark and I got off the bus, stared at each other, and exploded laughing!
Maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when advising us: Be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves. (Matt. 10:16)
In our world where words can start disagreements and wars, I’m reminded that when we use them wisely, they also have the power to diffuse anger and to heal.
Dr. Steve Cothran lives in Newnan and has been a Baptist youth pastor for over 30 years.