Years ago my brother and I traveled in the back seat of the family car, a 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 4-door. Of course mom and dad were in the front seat, and we were sharing the back. Sharing the back seat on this trip from our home town in Washington State to the big wide state of Montana turned out to be an epic adventure.
By mutual agreement, we stayed each on our own side of the rear seat bump. But after a time, things started to happen to break the peace. My middle name is Eric, and somehow that became Earache. I never saw the humor in it, but by older siblings thought it was hilarious. “Well,” I thought, when the first Earache comment happened, “there has to be something to do with my brother’s name.”
His name is Frank, and it always annoyed him when people started a sentence with “Frankly…”. So, I said, “Frankly, I don’t care for that nickname, Frank.” And so it begun. Between the Cascade Mountains that divide Western and Eastern Washington State and the distant prospect of Spokane, several more Earaches and Franklys were heard.
As we approached the Rocky mountains, I decided to step up my game. I remembered my sister’s phrase: “Franky Panky Stinky Stanky.” I laid that marker down around Coeur d’Alene. As we rode higher into the mountains, the temperature in the back seat was getting hotter.
About this time Mom looked back and said that we should tone it down.
So we were quiet. Then I broke the silence. About every 10 minutes I would just say, “Frankly.” Or “Stinky”. Or “Stanky”.
The subtlety of the delivery was such that I was never heard in the front seat, but it was very clear what I was doing in the back seat.
At about the 25th saying of “stinky stanky” there was an explosion. We had driven now about 500 miles and we were nearing Missoula, Montana. 500 miles was the family driving limit in those days. And 25 “stinky stankys” whispered across the back seat was my bothers limit. He launched himself across the divide and let me have it.
I cried out with great surprise and innocence, “What is wrong with you?”
My dad looked around and said….
Now here is the question. Who is at fault?
My brother clearly took the conflict from words to fists. Should we look just at the part where he launched himself across the back seat at his sweet younger brother? Or should we look at the whole lead up of the 500 miles of back seat shenanigans, where I do not look so sweet and innocent?
Some look at the events of Ferguson, MO by only focusing on the 90 seconds of a confrontation between a police officer and a young black man. Others see that this 90 seconds was part of a longer story with many provocations that came before.