SistersPosted: May 29, 2008
Inspired by Jo Ann Beard’s work, I started an essay titled “Cousins” in an April 17 blog entry. It’s about visits to my grandparents’ farm when I was a child and experiences with my cousins — how children play, fight, play some more, and grow up. I kept on writing segments under this same title until I had 25 pages, over 7,000 words. So I went to work revising and cutting and somehow ended up with 9,000 words. I was never good at math.
Then it dawned on me that I should write a similar piece about my town life, my life at home. I call it “Sisters.”
Two sisters are watching TV in the living room. It is Sunday night, and Bonanza is on. We like the burning map showing the Ponderosa Ranch at the beginning of the show, and we like the snappy music. I am sitting in the rocking chair that has tweed fabric and wooden arms. She is sitting on the green couch with big flowers on it. We will watch Ben Cartwright and his three dissimilar sons look out for one another and defend their land. “There’s Hoss,” I say, when his picture flashes on the screen during the opening credits.
Hoss is my boyfriend, and Adam is hers. Hoss is giant-sized, wears a brown suede vest, white shirt, and white ten-gallon hat and is funny, vulnerable, and soft-hearted. I like that in a man. Adam wears a black shirt, black pants, and black hat. He is quiet and intellectual. We have different tastes in men.
We are light and dark like Hoss and Adam. Me: short with blond hair and blue eyes like the Hardy/Neal side of the family. Her: tall with brown hair and brown eyes like the Mahaffey/Boone side of the family. We fuss and fight like the Cartwright brothers, but we also take up for each other when it counts.
We have already gotten in trouble today for running and jumping and screaming and disobeying, and we got spanked with the pancake turner. Our mother does not like to spank us, but she will if we push her enough. I hop and dance around as she hits me and try to jump over her arm like I am jumping rope. I am not successful. I do not like to watch her hit my sister.
After it is over, our mother stews about it. My sister and I rally and become best friends and allies. We sneak into the darkened living room and sit on either side of the kitchen door and peek at our mother’s back as she is standing over the kitchen sink banging dishes and glasses in the soapy water and saying, I told them and told them not to do it, and they did it anyway. We look at each other and cover our mouths with our hands and stifle the giggles. We do this every time we get spanked. Our mother always talks out loud to herself, defending why she had to whip us, and we think it is funny.
This morning before we ate roast beef and mashed potatoes with brown gravy at dinnertime, and before we got spanked, we went to Sunday School at the Baptist church. I am in the Junior Department and we sing the junior song: “Out of James one twenty-two comes a call for juniors true, Who will live for Christ the risen Lord.” The call is for us to “Be ye doers of the Word.”
The two sisters wear dresses alike to Sunday School. Our mother has made them and they are polished cotton. They are of purple and green flowers, with puffed sleeves, square neckline, a skirt of three ruffled tiers, and a sash in the back. They have that new-material smell.
We don’t dress alike most of the time. Sometimes we wear layers of stiff white scratchy petticoats that make our dresses stand way out. You can see the bottom of the netted layers as we walk. Sometimes we wear hats and gloves and carry little white purses with our offering envelopes inside.
After Bonanza, the sisters take a bath together. Our father monitors the amount of water we can have in the tub. He does this every time we take a bath. He thinks four inches is liberal. That’s because he grew up on a farm, where they had to draw water from a well to bathe in, so he is not wasteful. I am also thinking he is still afraid the well will dry up. If we want to rile him, all we have to do is turn on the faucet. He will hear it and come running. We have already been spanked once this day, so we settle for the four.
Our mother buys Ivory soap, so that is what we wash with. I make up an advertising jingle that I hope to sell one day to Proctor & Gamble and that my sister and I are destined to remember when we are old ladies: “Floats on water, won’t burn eyes; It’s the best soap Mommy buys.” We sing this to the tune of the ABC song.
At bedtime we snuggle in twin beds on opposite walls of a room we share. Sometimes in the silent darkness my sister throws things at me from her bed, like bobby pins or pink foam rubber hair curlers. I laugh and then I fall asleep looking at the stars. Our mother has stuck glow-in-the-dark stars to the ceiling and they shine down on us.