My sister has threatened that if I ever publicly embarrass her in one of my stories, she’ll stop reading them and that her opinion of me will go lower than her opinion of chitlins.
But sibling life is full of stories that beg to be told. Or, another way to put it is that a brother with a blog is a dangerous thing.
One Saturday morning, I’m sitting in the den with a bowl of Captain Crunch watching the Coyote blow himself up for the 14th time. I’m not paying much attention to anything else. My sister is a young teenager. Probably sassy as most young teenage girls tend to be.
She and Mama were in a fairly heated discussion, I guess. I don’t recall anything that was being said. It would be unfair of me to make something up just for dramatic effect. All I remember is that I almost choked on my cereal when Mama slapped her across the cheek.
Suddenly, my attention was not on the Road Runner. My first thought was about whether or not I was next. As a brother, I always assumed that if my sister was in trouble that I must have been the cause of it. Would I be next? Collateral damage was always a possibility.
“He made me do it,” is the battle cry of siblings. “It’s his fault.”
I know that she and I got into it from time to time. I remember getting mad at her enough to take one of her school pictures. The wallet size black and white. I drew all over her face and wrote “Stupid” across the front, and slid it under her bedroom door. I got a whipping for that one.
We didn’t get into fights much. But I remember one episode that still stings a little bit. I had a whip that I had bought at Six Flags. Wooden handle with about a 6 ft. braided leather strap. “Six Flags” burned into the handle. I was pretty good with it. I was out in the back yard cracking that whip at anything I could find. Pecans hanging on low limbs. Old Coke bottles that I’d set up on a fence post. Unsuspecting cats.
Marian came outside and I got this idea in my head. As you know, boys are not always real bright. Boys think of things that sound fun at first, but which are in fact really stupid. I wondered if I could pop her on the leg with my whip. We popped each other with towels all the time. Pillow fights. Stuff like that. How bad could a whip be?
Realize that she is 3 and ½ years older than me. I weighed about 70 lbs soaking wet. I did not have a threatening physic. It was summer time and I was shirtless.
Evidently, cracking a whip on your sister’s leg fits into the category of life threatening hysteria. She did not take it well. After she wrestled the whip from my scrawny hands, she chased me like a crazed person. I ran into the house for cover, but she caught up with me just as I was leaping on the bed, headed for that small space between the bed and the wall.
I didn’t see exactly how it happened, but she took a round house swing at me with that whip, wrapped it completely around my midsection and snatched it back. She drew blood and left a whelp on me that lasted for days. I had a different level of respect for her from that day on.
Being the older sibling, she had a record player long before I did. Made by Singer, it looked like a grey suitcase. You unlatch the front, lift the cover, and put on the 45s and the 33LPs. Herman’s Hermits. Paul Reverie and the Raiders. Elvis. Tennessee Ernie Ford. You could stack records and listen for hours.
I was pretty young when she got that record player. We had a 33LP of Peter and the Wolf. It was an orchestrated story narrated to the sound of French Horns, Obo and Timpani Drums. That thing scared the living bejeebeez outta me every time I listened to it. I had nightmares for years of a wolf snarling at me right next to my pillow. It was the best story ever.
She finally got one of those fancy High Fi stereos. One of those that unfolded with the speakers turned out on either side of the turn table. And I got the Singer. A record player of my very own in my own room. I would go to sleep listening to Nat King Cole singing Rambling Rose.
When we got older, vacations to Panama City was the highlight of our summers. The foundry where Dad worked was always shut down during the week of July 4th for inventory. So, that was our week to head to Florida. We both got to take a friend with us. We thought our parents were generous to a fault for that. I know now that they were just being smart. Siblings with friends can split up and reduce the stress on the parental need to intervene between brother and sister every 30 seconds.
You never realize while you’re growing up what life with your siblings is going to be like. You leave home. You walk different paths. My sister, reading some of my stories, swears that we grew up in different homes. Her memories are not the same as mine. No doubt she will think, “Huh?” when she reads this one.
Siblings do not choose each other. Life chooses us. She didn’t ask to be my sister and I did not ask to be her brother, but we are connected for life. We have related from a distance since moving out of the house and going our separate ways. But none of that has changed the fact that we belong to one another in a way that cannot be duplicated or replaced by any other relationship we know.
I have always given my own kids this one piece of advice. Usually in the middle of some scrap defined by yelling and screaming that led to whippings and parental discussions.
“You had better learn to get along your brother or sister. You may think you have lots of friends now, but one of these days your sibling just might turn out to be the only friend you can count on. You’re going to need each other one of these days.”
And, of course, those words were always spoken with a measured spirit of calm and wisdom. After my belt was back in my pant loops.
College and careers may have separated us, but nothing has ever really come between us. My sister and I have been through our married lives together. She and her husband have been the best Aunt and Uncle to our kids that anyone could ask for. We buried our folks together. And we have shared in most all the things required of us as family. As Dad would often say of Mama, “I guess after all these years, I think I’ll keep her.”
Be good to your siblings. Look beyond the troubles of this life. Hold on to that mysterious bond you share. Thirty years from now life will be rich. And the mark left by that whip from Six Flags will be gone.