My Sister Lori is a few years younger than me. I know she was a little baby at one point, but don’t remember those days at all. I remember her as a toddler, pulling up the zinnias I planted in Sacramento, and feeding the chickens in the coop in the back yard.
Grandpa Spurgeon would sometimes call Lori “You old hot dog!” I thought that was hilarious, and used to sing (to the tune of “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits”) Lori Is a Hot Dog. She hated that. I’d call her that until I was about eighteen though. I’m nothing if not persistent.
She knew a joke that she would tell over and over again:
-Dwayne the bathtub! I’m dwowning!
I don’t think either of could understand why it was funny, or why somebody would own a bathtub called Dwayne.
When we moved to Oregon, I was six, and she would have been three (or maybe four) years old. She got to ride with Uncle Mark. I rode in the cab of the stock truck with my mom an soon-to-be stepdad.
Lori had flaming orange hair. She still sucked her thumb in those early days–she wasn’t even in school yet. My dad insisted she stop, and that he’d put Tabasco sauce on her thumb so she would break the bad habit. I don’t know if he ever did it, but she sure howled when he threatened to. Back then, I was pretty sure the Tabasco sauce made her hair even redder.
In our early days in Oregon, Lori’s best friend was our neighbor, Jennifer Hull. I had an older-brother crush on her best friend for a few years but managed to mostly control my weirdness around the two of them. Once, they were playing some sort of a game with a deck of picture cards: the kind where you flipped over two, and tried to find a match. I was standing over their shoulder, watching. Eventually I figured out where the Hat card and its twin were. I told them. They ignored me. So I began an impromptu song. I may have even had a little dance to go with it. “I saw the hat! The flowery flowery hat. / I saw the hat! The flowery flowery, flowery flowery, flowery flowery….” When I looked at them, they were staring at me in a condescending five-year-old’s silence. I stopped my song mid-stanza and left the room. Most of my interactions with them were like that.
We didn’t despise one another at all. We played a game with fisher price people we called “Gigi and MuffMuff.” I don’t know where we came up with those names. We had a Fisher Price house and would concoct various adventures involving the fisher price folks. There was a dog called “Bad Barney”. One day, right after she entered Kindergarten at Pistol River School, I was too embarrassed for my friends to know I played anything of the sort with my little sister. I pulled her aside, and told her as kindly as possible, that I was too old to play that anymore. She took it well. Didn’t kick me or anything.
One birthday, back in the seventies, Lori got a Baby Alive doll. It would make adorable chewing movements and eat anything you gave it. It would even drink from a bottle. In a minute or so, Baby Alive would poop the food out. “Baby Alive, soft and sweet–she can drink and she can eat,” the jingle on television went. Lori and I fed Baby Alive lemon pie. *Huge* mistake. It clogged her right up. I know we unclogged her somehow, but I don’t remember the specifics… Maybe a high pressure water enema.
Eventually, we moved a few miles south into Grandma Mead’s house. This was on Carpenterville Road, north of Carpenterville itself. It opened for us a whole new range of adventures.
We got a dog named Holly Berry. She was a chocolate-colored Springer Spaniel that was so small, we could have bottle fed her. She slept at the foot of Lori’s bed. That was always a sore point with me. Even the dog liked Lori better. At least I got to sleep in the bigger bedroom, by myself, in the bigger bed.
Lori collected plastic horses and dolls. She had a 3′ tall doll she named Elly May, and a bunch of dolls on shelves above her bed. Various relatives had given them to her over the years. Elly May was her favorite.
Once, we were playing “rocket” in the burn barrel outside our house. She got stuck, butt first, into the barrel and started crying. She must have been good and stuck, because I couldn’t remove her. I called my parents out to help. They laughed, which made her cry even harder. Somewhere in my parents’ stuff, there’s a photo they took before they yanked her out.
Lori and I would occasionally play more dangerous games. It involved bicycles and pine cones. I would whiz past her on my bike, and she’d throw Douglas fir cones at me. If she hit me, she scored a point. We’d trade places after a bit, and I’d throw while she zoomed past. Once, while I was speeding along, she landed a cone straight at the gears and chain of the bike. It came to a dead stop, and I flipped over. I had broken my arm. Except for the pain, it was really an ingenious and funny shot, to be honest. Gotta admire a woman with a good arm.
I was a senior in high school, when Lori was a freshman. For a few weeks, I dated my sister’s new best friend, Tresa, probably because I wanted to belong again, to share somehow in Lori’s life. Tresa was also our pastor’s granddaughter so it was probably easier for all of us when she and I broke it off.
One year later, I went to France and Lori took over my larger bedroom with a bigger bed. I acted like I didn’t care, but I kind of did. I was going to be out of the house and she would remain. There comes a point where even the closest people might drift apart. We have been in touch over the years. She got married. I played piano at her wedding.
Around the time her daughter Erica was born, Lori and her family even lived a few miles from us in California. She had decorated her apartment with ivy stencils around the ceiling. I was kind of impressed. She bowled a lot, that year. She was one of those people who, the more beer she drank, the better a bowler she became. I was jealous. She even bowled a few sets on their last day in California, with the moving van parked in the bowling alley parking lot. We hugged goodbye, and haven’t lived less than 400 miles from each other since that day.
Now she is a grandmother, but I think Erica and Clarissa need to know what her mom was really like back then, back in the seventies, when she was just my sister, and didn’t belong to anyone else.
Gawd I love that girl. Too bad she can’t drop everything, and drive to Virginia, and be awesome out here for a few months.
Happy Siblings Day, you old hot dog!