|Sister For Sale,
© Copyright 2002 by Teresa Ambord
"Sister for Sale, 50 cents," the sign around my neck read. An hour later, when no one had bought me, they crossed out the 50 and marked me down to 25 cents. That's when I would usually wake up. I've been having that same dream for nearly forty years, though it comes less frequently now. It seems that in my dream, my older sisters would walk me down to a nearby busy intersection and try to unload me on some unsuspecting soul while scoring a little cold cash for themselves.
Do I need to explain that there was tension between us when we were kids? The persistent recurrence of this dream speaks for itself. There was tension... oh boy, was there ever tension. I, of course, was the innocent victim of their heartless shenanigans. At least that's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.
There were four of us, and we lived with our overworked, under-rested dad. Linda is four years older than I am: Sharon, two and a half years older: then came me: and finally there was the baby, Ruth... six years my junior. She got off easy. Because she was so young, and some say, soooo cute, nobody dared pick on her. Linda and Sharon were pals. They fought at times, but mostly they were a team with a common enemy. That common enemy, of course, was me. Not that I did anything to deserve it. I still maintain that, of the four of us, I was the nice one. At this point in the story people usually ask if I turned around and took out my frustration on Ruthie. But having suffered the slings and arrows of victimization all my young life, I took pity on the baby, and never laid a finger on her. So you see, I really was the nice one.
Now that we are adults, we occasionally debate about who the true aggressors were. Routinely they drag out the same old tired story, known to me now as The Ice Cream Chronicles, to try to prove that I deserved what I got. .
It seems that every Sunday after lunch Dad would pile us in the car and take us out for ice cream cones. Ruth was the baby, and she sat in front with Dad--that was before infant car seats were invented. The three of us older girls sat in the backseat. And in those days, back seats had a hard hump in the middle. So of course, that's where I had to sit, flanked on either side by the most dangerous and sneaky of enemies... my sisters.
"Here's your ice cream, girls!" Dad would say cheerily. In spite of evidence to the contrary, week after week he was oddly optimistic that this would be a happy time.
"Thank you Daddy," we all cooed.
In mere minutes, Linda and Sharon had gobbled down their ice cream, cones and all. Somehow the routine never varied. Not until they were finished and licking their fingers and wishing they had a little more, did they look around. And there I was, in the middle, with almost a whole ice cream left. I had nurtured it oh-so carefully, monitoring it for drips, lest I make a mess in Daddy's car.
In keeping with their relentless attacks, Linda and Sharon unfairly attributed to me the most sinister of motives. Decades later they still claim that I was torturing them, when really I was just a delicate eater. I'd take a long, slow lick and look at Sharon. And another slow lick, and look at Linda. And so on. I had something they wanted. According to their version of the story, I'd torment them that way for several minutes till they, in unison, cried out in sheer agony,
"Daddy!" they'd both wail. "She's bugging us!"
"What's she doing?" asked Dad who was trying to drive.
"She's looking at us!" again in unison.
"Oh for crying out loud," Dad would moan, pulling the car over so he could referee.
He'd take a look in the backseat and there I was, a perfect angel, looking straight ahead, just minding my own business, not making a mess in Daddy's car. And on either side of me, my sisters were fuming.
With my blue eyes full of innocence I'd hold out my ice cream to him.
"Want some Daddy?" I'd offer, proving positively that I was a good sharer.
"You girls leave her alone and stop trying to take her ice cream," he'd holler. Then the moment of my crowning glory would arrive when he'd hold my ice cream cone while I got to hop over the seat and sit with him and Ruthie up front. Once I was in the front seat I never dared to look back at Linda or Sharon because I knew the darts coming out of their eyes would surely have killed me.
I was so misunderstood back then.
There was also the matter of allowance. Every Friday Dad would give us each a dollar--no small sum in those days--and take us to a five and dime store where we could spend our great wealth. A couple of hours later we'd return home with our bounty. Linda and Sharon spent every penny and had some treasures to show for it. Me... I was eternally thrifty, always looking toward the proverbial rainy day. I bought a small treasure or two. Mostly though I'd save the change, turning that single dollar bill into a fistful of nickels and dimes that I would hide. Someday I hoped to use my savings to make a major, important purchase like a Barbie dress complete with little plastic high heels.
Every once in a while, Linda or Sharon would begin to lament the fact that they had no money left to buy the newest teenybopper magazine, or whatever. Sadly, this is where the story turns to slander again. According to them, I'd dash off in my bedroom and come back with a closed fist, then prance around the room in front of them, open my fist and reveal my secret stash of coins that added up to more than enough to buy a magazine. They'd ask politely if they could borrow it--their words, not mine--and then I'd just laugh fiendishly and hurry off to hide my money away again. Truly, I do not remember this, and I find the story to be full of holes. Because now I get paid a lot more money than a dollar bill, and yet I never have so much as a fistful of nickels left over to hide. So you see, their assertions that I was a money hoarder way back then just don't add up. It's their word against mine.
With all these bogus claims flying around, what really surprised me is that the one and only time I really did pull a caper, they never figured it out. And it was so transparent! I've always thought of this one as The Chicken Pie Incident of 1963.
It seems that one evening for dinner Dad had baked for each of us a frozen chicken potpie. There were few meals I loathed more than the dreaded chicken potpie. It was just Dad and we three big girls at the table, so I guess the baby was in bed already. After a few minutes, Dad finished his dinner and announced he had some work to do in the garage.
"Nobody leaves the table until their plates are clean," he warned as he went out the back door.
Linda and Sharon somehow managed to eat their loathsome chicken pies, and then ran off to the bedroom to play. And there I was, on the horns of a great dilemma. I couldn't eat the thing, and neither could I leave the table with the, as yet untouched, chicken pie on my plate. But in mere minutes, "My Three Sons" was coming on in the living room. I had to act fast. So I did what I had to do and was done in plenty of time to be sitting in front of the TV when my favorite show's theme song began.
Quickly I became absorbed in the program and forgot all about dinner. Minutes later, the back door opened and shortly thereafter, Dad's stack blew. My ears were trained on the kitchen, but my eyes never left the TV.
"Linda! Sharon! Get in here!" he hollered.
Innocently they hurried into the kitchen, wondering what could be wrong. And there was the damning evidence. On each of their plates, half a chicken pie. My plate, on the other hand, was clean of even the smallest crumb.
"But Dad!" they started to protest. They may as well have saved their breaths.
"Look at your little sister's plate," he said. He probably held it up for them to see. I didn't dare look for fear that my guilt would be discovered.
"But..." said Linda.
"But..." said Sharon.
"No butts! What kind of examples are you girls setting for your little sister? Don't you know she looks up to you two?" I didn't look at them, still keeping my eyes on the TV. But I'm sure I felt the white-hot heat of four angry eyes burning holes through my pigtailed head.
I don't remember what their punishments were. Back then you could actually spank your child's fanny without being labeled a violent child abuser, so that's probably what happened. And then once again, the crowning glory... after he dealt with them he came in the living room to watch TV with me. I was dying to sneak down the hall and find out just how mad Linda and Sharon were at me. But I resisted and stayed put in Dad's lap instead.
Why nobody ever figured this out, I never understood. I had to believe that they knew... it was so obvious. I really only expected to fool Dad. Recently I reminded them of The Chicken Pie Incident of 1963. They only vaguely remembered it and I find this quite disappointing. To me, this was the caper of capers, and they barely took notice. Or maybe they've finally gotten their revenge by acting like it was no big deal. I still maintain that one day I'll be walking down the street in my designer original, on my way to the president's inaugural ball, and Bam! Two half chicken potpies, right in the kisser. Didn't I tell you they were sneaky?
During all of our growing up years things improved very little. In one way or another, we were always embattled. But something strange happened in our late teens and early twenties. We grew up.
And we recognized a commonality among us that nobody else shared. Our years of making do without a mom and having to share a Dad with long, long work hours gave us an experience that no one else knew. If the four of us were trees and you cut us down, you'd see in our rings, evidence of nearly identical lightning strikes from the traumas that plagued our young lives. It was a heavy price to pay back then, but now we have the payoff. Because the four of us are very close.
My sisters have been there to lift my head when I couldn't lift it myself. And I do my best to lift their heads too when they need it. We're all playful, involved mothers, partly because we observe and learn from each other. What my sisters think of me is important because I like the women they've become and I want them to like the woman I am.
When I was a kid, if you'd told me I'd say my sisters were nice people, I'd have stuck half a chicken pot pie on your plate. But it's true. We are four intelligent, creative, compassionate, fun-loving adults.
But I'm still the nicest.
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