I would have been the perfect only-child. No, seriously, Mom, Dad and I made a pretty good team. They worked hard at providing a home for us and I worked hard at not breaking too much of it. The three of us talked about stuff and I only recall a few times when they had to be the heavy-handed parent. I worked hard at screening them from things that would only agitate them.
Everything was progressing to my satisfaction until my parents (what were they thinking would happen?) introduced two young sisters to the mix.
My sisters broke lots more stuff with some of their fights than I ever did. I know they are going to read this so to them I say that my twice crashing the boat doesn’t count for reasons I’m still working out and let’s talk about that nice car that one of you wrapped around a power pole one evening. . .
Yea – the son never did anything like that. . .
Talking as a family now involved more screaming and I began to suspect that both my sisters had a feral side to their personalities than mom and dad weren’t sure how to manage. Maybe they were supposed to live outdoors like our hunting dogs and road trips locked in the back seat with them were nightmares.
So, my sisters greatly upset the balance of sanity in our family. I recall my mom once saying most of the problem was that they both had to share one bedroom. Humph, I thought. That problem could be easily resolved by sound-proofing that room and putting a lock on the door until they could outgrow the younger-sister stage.
In dealing with sisters, one must learn to survive, so I studied their dynamics and noted the following:
- My youngest sister (Cheri, about 5 years behind me) presented comparably little threat. She was also the easiest to deal with if I picked her up and put her in a big box I kept around and gave her a couple of favorite toys. I loved that box. It was her happy place.
- My older sister (Linda, just over 2 years younger than me) was tougher and old enough to be a problem whenever she wanted. I was fortunate that she had several personality quirks that lent themselves to what I call ‘management controls.’
Cheri, around the age of 10, had a “friend” from the neighborhood who was much more rowdy and often provoked Cheri to fits of frustrated screaming. I always knew when it happened because I’d hear an agonizing screech from the front yard followed by our front door opening, which allowed the full force of the scream to fill our halls and rooms. She would pause to breath, slam the door shut and lose a much louder audio alert to let everyone know that, SHE – WAS – VERY – UPSET!
Once, for fun, when I heard that initial scream, I grabbed my camera, a Kodak Instamatic with those cool flash cubes, and hid in her closet. She had a predictable pattern where she escaped to her bed to scream things off.
I knew when the perfect shot would be available and from inside her closet, right next to her bed, I saw it all just as predicted. Cheri plopped on the bed, paused the scream to reload and glanced up to see me standing in her closet framing my shot then, click-flash, gotcha!
And wow – I thought she was screaming pretty loud as she came into the room but after I took her picture, the sound that came out of her little body was absolutely epic and must have twitched the needles on far away seismographs.
I waited for her to take a breath before I said something like, “Thanks. That will be a great photo. Can I get your box for you?”
Okay, that was not the best call on my part because she managed to raise the amplitude of the next scream to an unprecedented level. My ears have had a constant distant ringing ever since, but that photo really was worth it.
I decided to make up for this atrocity by helping Cheri reduce the antagonisms from her friend. “Okay Sis, the next time she makes you this mad or hits you, just put up one hand between the two of you and make a fist with the other. If she gets close enough to touch your first hand, swing out with your fist and hit her right between the eyes.”
She was at that moment in the final recovery period of one of many events and was now sobbing pitifully. But she listened and understood, “okay – [sniff] – I will”.
This ought to be fun, I thought because Cheri rarely wasted words. If she said she would do something – it got done. I only had to wait until the next weekend. Dad and I were in the garage tinkering with something, when we heard that familiar scream from Cheri, and I knew this time things would go differently. The scream was much shorter and even went silent for a few seconds but was finally followed by a very different scream. Wow, that was not my sister, I thought and smiled.
Dad and I both looked out towards the street as the offending neighbor gal ran by as fast as she could, screaming with my sister very hot on her heals. Dad watched for a few moments as the new and rarely before heard scream got further away. He turned to look at me and must have found me grinning because his eyes narrowed and he firmly asked, “What – did you do?”
I explained. He laughed and we went back to whatever we were doing. Cheri came home soon afterwards, out of breath but much happier for having defended herself.
Linda was not this easy to manipulate. I pretty much had to trick her into being managed but we were so close in age that often she actually a partner in mischief and at those times, we succeeded or failed as a team.
For example, Linda helped me flood the back of the house one day. You can read about that in my story: The Indoor Tsunami.
I knew her weaknesses well and often played them to my benefit. For example, our dad was famous for Saturday morning pancakes. They were always wonderful, but he had one recipe that Linda simply could not abide. Dad and I were certain it was all in her head.
Did you know that beer makes a great flavor enhancement for pancakes? Linda, however did – not – like – beer. She did not like its taste, its smell, its color, its general existence, not even its spelling. “Beer” and “bad” were roughly synonymous to her. She took one taste the first time dad made them – but that bite was her last.
In the Saturdays that followed I had several chances to manipulate her resolve. As soon as she sat down to a plate full of fresh hot pancakes, I would ‘remind’ dad of how much I liked the taste of the beer pancakes – and that was all it took.
“Dad – you didn’t put beer in the pancakes again did you?” she would ask with a scowl.
Dad would only grunt and flip the next batch on the griddle. Linda would carefully smell them and look for any clues for the presence of beer. But I quickly learned that this was all it took to poison her mind about these pancakes. She would glare at me, certain she was being played somehow. Behind her, dad would be almost silently snickering. I’d only smile and tell her to try them herself, but she was so unwilling to let me trick her into eating a beer pancake that she preferred to abandon her plate of fresh pancakes – yes – to me. Dad would only smile and shake his head at us. Linda would soon storm out of the kitchen and not return until we left.
At high school, she was a typical little sister in that she always wanted to be part of her older brother’s gang of friends. She had carved out a place for herself at the double-long table we always sat at for lunch. Linda was ahead of her time in that she liked to dip her cafeteria french fries into her milkshake for lunch. (YUK!) The very thought grossed us out, but she did it every day and we railed at her for it.
She was always the last of the table to arrive and we were ready for her, so one day before she arrived, I announced how we would fix this and described the plan.
On the cue of her sitting down – about twenty of us picked up our trays and silently marched out of the room, conspicuously deserting her in the crowded cafeteria. She loudly moaned her distress at being abandoned. She somehow knew it had been my idea and took her time about forgiving me.
Linda also suffered from a bad case of naivete. I could talk her into almost crazy thing. The best example of this happened when we were in high school together. My buddies and I came in to find Linda in the kitchen. She normally wanted to hang around my friends, but this time, she ducked when we came in. Everyone said “Hi” as we passed by, but she conspicuously did not want to face us.
“What was that all about?” a friend asked, because it was really obvious that something was up. We were pretty sure she was over the lunch abandonment stunt by now.
“I don’t know – but that was weird. Hey Sis, can you come here?”
“No! I’m busy.” She was not the least convincing and her attitude, was way out of character.
“Let’s go see for ourselves,” I said, and led my friends to the kitchen where she was trying to remain unseen. The moment we walked in, she spun her back to us so we couldn’t see – what? . . . her face? “What’s with you?” I walked over and spun her around to face me and had to hold her head between my hands. We all looked and tried to make sense of what we saw. Wow – something really was terribly wrong.
“What did you do?”
She resisted but finally told us, with tears forming how she was trying to trim her eye brows and decided to use mom’s hair removing cream, but it ran down into the area she wanted to keep and before she realized what was happening – she had no eye brows left.
But this wasn’t the end of the story. We looked closer at what we first thought were weird non-eyebrows and finally figured out that she’d tried to fix things by using crayons to draw replacement eyebrows, which looked really flat and not at all like hair.
As the loving teenage boys that we were, we burst out laughing and wandered back out to the living room. One of the friends said out loud that she looks like an egg with hair.
She was not in the best frame of mind for what I did next, but it was too good to pass up. “Do you realize what you’ve done?”
“No. What are you talking about?”
“Linda, eye brows don’t grow back. Think how fast your head hair grows. Do you ever have to trim your eye brows that?” By this time she was in tears, howling, “No! Oh no…!”
Mom finally arrived on the scene and vanquished us off the premises and helped Linda with both the truth about them growing back and some kind of non-crayola-based temporary remedy.
Now with the hind sight of several decades, I have to admit, both of my sisters became both civilized and are leaving the world much better than they found it.
Dang! That sure tasted bad.