I wrote recently about my grandmother, who was known as Tid. She was the oldest of three girls, and was the bossy one. The next sister was my (great) Aunt C…we all just thought of her as the eccentric (i.e. crazy) one, but in retrospect, I think that she was mostly just very sad. She was (in)famous for her habit of giving me and my sister a $15 check to split on money-giving occasions (“Umm, thanks for that $7.50…I think”). She saw the same psychiatrist for many years, and her therapy seems to have been much more about prescriptions than it was about changing or growing. We loved her, but her house smelled weird, and late in life she developed a fondness for drinking Listerine.
The baby sister was Aunt B…the beauty of the three. She had two daughters, ended up traveling the world as an Army wife, and was the most amazing hostess I’ve ever known. When I was 11 my sister and I spent the summer with Aunt B’s family in Fort Benning, Georgia. It was an idyllic summer for the most part…at least until my sister decided that she wouldn’t eat carrots (or was it squash?) and ended up being left to sit at the dinner table alone for about four hours before she gave up and swallowed her veggies..with much gagging and no chewing. No one ever had anything negative to say about my great Aunt B. Her funeral was the most beautiful one I’ve attended…she was much loved and the memories of her flooded our hearts.
Tid and Aunt B each had two daughters. (Aunt C had two boys, but we won’t worry about them right now.) My mother was the younger of Tid’s girls by 18 months, and was an itty bitty thing with green eyes and almost black hair. Her sister is known as Scooter, and she has red hair and amber eyes. There is a story of my mom once throwing a carving knife at her sister because, as the tag-along little sis, she felt left out of some adventure. (Even as a child, my mama just couldn’t stand to miss anything.) My mother and her sister each grew up and had two daughters. It seems that we are a family of sisters.
My own sister, Lynnie, and I are also 18 months apart. She never threw any knives at me, but she did seem to have an uncanny knack for getting into trouble…a true talent for destruction. That child just couldn’t help herself…she played with matches, wrote on walls, burned the hair off of (or otherwise tortured) my dolls, and I imagine she must have run with scissors at some point, but I can’t swear to it. She loved to cut things up, and once performed surgery on a stuffed bear that belonged to my mother as a girl, calling the operation a ‘spleemectomy’. (Sadly, the patient didn’t make it.)
Another of my sister’s favorite tricks was to replicate things that we’d seen on TV commercials. When Prell shampoo advertised that their product was so thick that a pearl dropped into the bottle would sink slowwwwwwly to the bottom, Lynnie cut up my grandmother’s pearl necklace to try it herself. When a bra company showed us how thick and luxuriant their fiberfill padding was, one of Grandmama’s bras suddenly turned up cut into two pieces, its flimsy padding an obvious disappointment.
I wouldn’t say that my sister and I were exactly friends while growing up. We were close in age, but we couldn’t have been much more different. She loved to play outside and get as dirty as possible, while I preferred to stay inside with a book, and I rarely even walked around barefoot in the summer. I spent a ton of energy trying to be perfect, and Lynnie just had fun! She approached any kind of play with an abandon I just couldn’t match, and I think I was pretty damn boring in comparison.
Because I was older, I was expected to keep both of us out of trouble…not an easy task considering Lynnie’s skills in that area! Once, when we were in junior high school, Mama left us home alone and I was in charge. I was working on some artwork for the school yearbook, and had a bottle of india ink and other art materials spread out on the living room floor. I took a break, making sure to give my sister a bossy, “Now don’t you touch anything!” on my way out of the room. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing when Lynnie found me a few minutes later…her eyes cast down and a terrified look on her face. My stomach sunk as she whispered, “Ummmm…Tammy, can you come in here for a minute?” I knew by the tone in her voice that she’d either broken or ruined something, and I’m sure I started yelling before we got to the living room. I was right…she had been messing with the bottle of ink I’d left and had managed, of course, to spill a tiny bit. Unfortunately, she also had decided that she could ‘fix it’ before anyone found out about it, and took a yellow sponge mop to the tiny spillage, converting at least a foot and a half of the formerly whitish carpet into a huge grey blob. I was so furious that I grabbed that mop and bopped her squarely on the head with it! In the end, I was the one who got in trouble for the entire thing…as the older, (supposedly) more responsible sister. Lesson learned: Messing with your older sister’s things and making a huge mess…minor infraction; hitting your little sister on the head with a sponge mop…punishable offence. I personally think that Lynnie had done so many things in the past that it was no fun punishing her anymore…but I was “fresh meat”!
Years later we bonded over beers, boys, mutual friends and shared living-room dancing skills…the sponge mop violence and doll hair sins of the past behind us. One St. Patrick’s day we were together at Group Therapy, our favorite bar from college, and I leaned over the bar to talk to a bartender friend. I felt something hot on my rear end and turned to see a very drunk guy holding a Bic lighter to the seat of my jeans…I guess my big behind was just too perfect a target to not take advantage of! From out of nowhere, he suddenly had familiar looking arms thrown around his neck, and I saw my sister’s eyes looking over his shoulder at me. She had him in what appeared to be a Three Stooges style head lock, and he spun her around like a rag doll, trying to shake her off of his back as she yelled, “NO ONE messes with MY sister!”
It seems that sharing your childhood with someone can create the kind of glue that connects people for good. My Lynnie is now my biggest cheerleader, and just happens to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. When I’m at my lowest I’ll get a call from her that turns my day around, and when I go back to S.C. for visits, it’s like we’re 20 again..we dance and laugh and we both play now. She’s got my back, and I love her for it.