George A. Blair
Copyright © 2012
George A. Blair
'But it is not Fair!' he had screamed so often, stamping his little foot. Little foot no longer; not for years. And now, instead of looking up at his father, as he used to do in his rants, or even looking over at him, he now looked down at him. His father's head barely reached to the top of his shoulders.
He had learned by now to say nothing, but he still thought what he had thought back then--and so many times since. At first, the answer was, "Simon is bigger than you; be patient and you will be able to do it (whatever "it" happened to be at the moment). But as time went on, he began to catch up with Simon in height and overall size (and in ability to do "it," whatever "it" was), and then the answer changed to, "Simon is older than you. You will understand later." He ranted at the beginning, because nothing could convince him that it was not fair, just because Simon was bigger, or older, or whatever else they wanted to use for an excuse for unjust favoritism; but it never did any good, and it festered and festered, though he finally had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.
As it was festering now in his mind, and as he said nothing and looked up from his sandals down at his father. He did not even protest, with anything more than a sullen glance, because it never did any good. His father ignored him--he always did--and went on with what he had been saying, expecting Andrew to listen politely and then agree. "So the two of you will have your own boat now that you are both men. I will take the hired hands into my boat, and we will buy a two-man boat, and you will--" He knew it was coming, and sure enough, it came-- "take the oars, and Simon the net and . . ."
He went on explaining how it was to be, and how Andrew was to have no say in the matter, because John was the father, and Simon the older brother, and that was that; but everything inside Andrew screamed, "But it is not fair!" and he longed to stomp his now huge foot and roar at his father, "Everyone knows that I am better at throwing out the net! Everyone knows that we can catch more fish if I throw the net! Simon is nowhere near as good at it as I am!" But it would be a waste of breath. Simon was older, and besides, Andrew was stronger, and could manage the oars better--which was certainly true. But what was more important? Getting to the fishing grounds a little earlier, or throwing out a net that was more likely to catch something? It was not fair!
It made what should have been a joy and a delight bitterness and ashes. He had so looked forward to the day when they would have their own boat and his father would not be looking over at them and whispering criticisms at Andrew and encouragement at Simon (one never spoke aloud when in the boats for fear of frightening the fish). But of course, it did not matter. The fact was that Andrew was better than Simon in all aspects of fishing, and so he should be doing what was the more productive task; but Simon was the older brother, and that meant that Simon would have the more dramatic duty.
He wondered if his father even realized that Simon got almost nothing but encouragement and he received almost nothing but corrections of his mistakes--which were legion, it seemed. Finally, more in exasperation than anything else, he began listening to his father and following the corrections, and, certainly, they became fewer and fewer as the years went on--it was hard to criticize when there was nothing to criticize, though his father seemed to manage somehow, and though Simon still needed as much reassurance, it seemed, because the support kept coming. To be fair, Simon also seemed to profit from encouragement in his own rather inept way, and became more skilled--or less unskilled, and so the two of them grew better and better at what they were doing.
A thought flickered for a moment in Andrew's mind. Perhaps his father knew what he was doing. But it was quickly drowned out with the thought, "But it is not fair!"
When they were in the boat, away from their father, Andrew at first tried to set Simon straight on some aspect of what he was doing badly; but all he got in reply was a glare that said, "And who do you think you are, to be telling your older brother what to do?" Andrew longed to send a look back that would say, "Someone who knows what he is about!" but he only looked down at his feet and sulked--something which Simon never bothered to notice.
Eventually, however, he realized that, though Simon bristled at any correction or suggestion for improvement on Andrew's part, and often deliberately did the wrong thing again out of spite, after a day or two when the incident was apparently forgotten, he would take up Andrew's suggestion, as if hoping that Andrew would not notice. But he did notice, and was both happy and annoyed at the outcome. Happy, because Simon had actually listened to him, and annoyed because Simon would have put his hand into the fire rather than admit it.
But since, even with the hired hands in the boat, it was foreordained that Simon would be throwing the net, Andrew pondered how he could induce him to do it acceptably--or, to be fair again, more acceptably. There was no point in fomenting strife, because Andrew was the one who felt it; Simon, after reacting with hostility, promptly forgot the conflict. That was another thing that was not fair. It was Andrew who was in the right, and he was the one that got insulted, even though often enough Simon eventually took his advice. And the insult in Simon's glare rankled, mainly because it was so unjust.
Why could there not be a world in which there was justice? Andrew did not want to be superior, he told himself, merely not be treated as if he were just "the little brother" when he was head and shoulders above his "big" brother not only physically but in practically every other way. And then they graduated to a real boat, with two hired hands of their own--but Andrew still rowed, and Simon still threw out the net.
It dawned on him after a year or two that his father's treatment of Simon might actually be the most effective way to deal with him. Perhaps it was not simple favoritism (though Andrew was convinced there was a good deal of that in it), but his father's realization of the difference between his two sons. So as a kind of experiment, one day Andrew , instead of saying, "Look; if you hold the net in that way, it will not spread out properly when you throw it. Try it thus," he whispered, "That was almost a perfect cast! Do it in that way, but lead with your left shoulder a bit next time."
And Simon smiled at him and actually did what he said--and the net flew gracefully from his hands and spread out perfectly in the water! It galled Andrew to have to be praising what was mediocre, but it seemed that was the way to bring it from mediocre to rather good, and (who knew?) perhaps even better.
But it was not fair. Why should he have to cajole Simon into doing the right thing? Why could he not take over and do it himself, and let Simon do the rowing? Who cared if there was a splash or two while they were getting toward the place where the fish were? Simon knew enough to ply the oars quietly when they reached the place.
Oh, well. After these few years together, they were already doing almost as well as his father and his hired hands, who were considerably less skilled than either of them, and (since the hired hands were stupid and were hired to boot, they neither had the ability nor the inclination to improve) it looked as if in the near future that Simon and Andrew would surpass them. Not that this was a tremendous accomplishment; but it made life more bearable. In fact, rather pleasant.
"You seem to be enjoying yourself," remarked Simon as they were rowing back to the dock with their load of fish squirming in the vat in the middle of the boat. "Well, it is a beautiful day, and we did well, the two of us," answered Andrew, refraining from adding, "no thanks to you," because Simon had not been at his best that day, to say the least; but Andrew had directed the boat to a new fishing-ground, which turned out to be quite productive.
And when they got the boat beached, their father actually praised them, looking pleased at Andrew and patting Simon on the back, as he said, "Well done. Well done." Then he added as a kind of afterthought, "And we will perhaps be better in the future, because I have begun talks with Zebedee to unite our two businesses into one. There is an empty house next to them there in Capernaum, and it would be more convenient for us, because it is closer to everything than Bethsaida; and your mother likes Zebedee's wife, and so there would be no problem on her side if we moved. I know not. There are many things to consider, but I thought I should let you know that we have some tentative plans we are pondering. Both of us, Zebedee and I, seem to think that we would be better off if we united rather than stayed rivals."
Simon reacted with his customary impulsiveness that James was a good friend of his and would make a superb partner, and young John seemed to be a good enough boy, "very bright, and already strong as a young ox, or like Andrew here, though it does not look as if he is going to grow as big." John had only recently had his bar mitzvah and emerged as a man, which was tantamount to saying that he had become someone one could pay attention to. To anyone but the family themselves, children were like the animals that wandered around the house; one ignored them, merely hoping that they did not create a mess or a fuss one had to deal with.
"Well, we shall see. It is still very much just an idea, but I think it a good one," said Zebedee.
Andrew, after some thought, also felt it a good one. He had noticed John once look admiringly at him, and the glance warmed him. He doubted he could really be a friend of John's, since he was four or five years older, but he was pretty well convinced that he could get along with him, and even work with him if it ever came to that. He had nothing against James, other than that he was inclined to be a bit hot-headed (as was John, for that matter), but he doubted James would ever try to vent his wrath on him, since he was so much bigger--and, to be fair, James had always been friendly whenever they had met. No, it would work out nicely.
But there were the chores to be done, seeing to the fish and pulling them out of the vat (the hired hands took care of a good deal of this) as the women pointed to the ones they wanted, and handing them to them to put in their sacks, which they seated on their heads as they hurried home to clean and cook them while they were still fresh. The women always chose the fish last, so that they would not spoil as they were looking for other things such as vegetables to go with the meal; those could last nicely for days, but a fish had to be cooked as soon as it died, or it would not taste good. Salted fish would last longer, but the general opinion was that salted and smoked fish were far inferior to fresh--though, to be sure, there were some who preferred them.
Nothing happened for several days after this, but then their father told them to help pack for a move to Capernaum. He had hired several donkeys and a couple of carts to transport their possessions, and the two young men and the hired hands pitched in with a will, especially after they saw the house, which was bigger than the one they were living in, with rooms for each of them. It would be pleasant not to have to share quarters with Simon. After spending all day with him, it would be a relief to get off by oneself and think about--and it then occurred to Andrew that he had nothing much to think about. His life was already fixed, though he had but twenty-five years, and after moving his furniture--his own furniture--into his room--his own room--as he looked out of his window--his own window--at his own view of the lake they called the Sea of Galilee (in Bethsaida they had been much farther away), he looked out at his future, which would be the same as his present, until he became like his grandfather and no longer could fish, and simply sat and looked out at his past until he died.
It occurred to him to wonder if this was all there was to life: every day the same as the last, with only storms and such varying the routine. Even summer and winter were not that different from each other, with the lake there to temper the climate. It was a good enough life, he supposed; he liked fishing, and he supposed that his father was a decent enough father, in spite of his favoritism, and even Simon was easy enough to get along with, since he never lorded it over Andrew. That would have been intolerable; but Simon was too--not exactly stupid, but unnoticing--to realize that he was being favored. In fact, there were times when Andrew actually thought that Simon was a bit in awe of him; Andrew's natural superiority managed to worm its way into Simon's consciousness occasionally, though he tried to hide it, because, after all, he was the older brother.
Andrew sat on the bed for a while, still looking out of the window--his window--and lapsing into a state without thought, until Simon called that he had finished with his own room, and it was time to go back for another load. His father and the hired hands, along with occasional help from Zebedee and his sons, were also loading up the two other donkey-carts and taking them back and forth. Actually, the whole operation only took two days, since there was not really that much to transport; and in the meantime, the two families began to get acquainted.
Once installed, they had a little party, where they discussed the arrangement of the fishing business. Nothing much would change, but they would pool their efforts and share the profits equally. It was hoped that the profits would be a little bigger now that they could operate more efficiently. "And John can manage the oars of their new two-man boat rather well now." said Zebedee, as they walked in front of his house. "This is the boat they started with," he said, showing a neat little boat--almost a toy--that he had beside his front door like a trophy, "that I had built for them when they were too young to manage a real one. When they outgrew it, I could not bear to sell it, and so we kept it here as a kind of memento. They both loved it--they still do, and so do I, for that matter." He looked at it proudly.
Andrew's father asked who had built it, and Zebedee answered, "Joseph, the carpenter up the hill in Nazareth."
"Ah, yes, I have heard of him. They say he is very good, and by the looks of this, they are right. It has many more years left. It looks sad that it is not out on the water."
"His son Jesus helped him; it was a joy to see them work. They almost spoke to the wood--or it was as if the wood was talking back to them also. It was fascinating. And you are right about the fact that it should be out on the sea, where it belongs. But we have no time for joy-rides, and to get it out there, I would have to sell it, and I simply cannot bring myself to do so."
"Well, I can see how you would want to keep it--and why it would be difficult to sell in any case; it is something for children, and there are few who would have enough to spare to buy such a treasure for their children to have fun in."
"It was not all fun for James and John, of course. They learned a good deal in it; and they missed it when I bought the boat they now use--especially John, because he was rowing, and at the beginning, he ached rather severely; he was no Andrew at first, though he is strong enough now."
"Yes, Andrew can handle almost anything I give him to do; he is as good as any two men."
Andrew, who overheard this conversation, glowed. He had not realized that his father was aware of his abilities.