I got to spend part of this past weekend with my other old friend, little Lane, who is but a pup at 27. Ryan and I went to visit her in KC and I wish we'd had more time so Lane and I could shop and chat sans boys. But it was good to see her settled in at her new home and so in love.
I can't imagine what my life would be like without these two girls...how different my childhood would have been. I often wonder what disservice I'm doing Macauley by not having other kids, by not giving him the built-in friends that only siblings can be. If only my two sisters, Aunt Lindsay and Aunt Lane, would give their nephew some cousins before he's old enough to babysit them...
29 November 2000
Whispers, Giggles and Toilet Paper
I have two younger sisters, Lindsay, who is almost 21 and a junior English major at SMSU, and Lane, who is almost 18 and a senior at Cassville High School. One of my 110 students interviewed me for a paper he was writing last week, and the first question he asked was, “Describe your childhood in one word.” Now that’s a question. It stumped me at first, and I had to pass on it until the end of the interview so I could think about it a little. The word I decided on was “perfect.” I suppose little in life can truly be classified as such. I guess my family could have had more money, and I really wish we hadn’t let our dog outside the morning he got hit by car. But I said my childhood was perfect because I wouldn’t change anything about it. My parents married when they were 18, and almost 29 years later, they still seem like the same people in their wedding pictures. My sisters and I were raised in a comfortable and nurturing home by parents who are young compared to most of my friends’ parents. I credit most of my ideal childhood to them, but when I think of being young and happy and free, I think of my sisters.
My sisters claim I was a grouch to them from the time I turned 14 to about 18, and I guess I was a little self-centered and moody throughout my teenage years, but aren’t we all? They shared a room right next to mine, and on Saturday mornings when I wanted to sleep all day, I would fling my bedroom door open and bark at them to quit making their Barbies talk so loud so I could sleep. I wish I hadn’t been that way. But, really, I think we got along well. I can’t remember any major blowouts, just the occasional bickering over clothes or what to watch on TV. I took my sisters on dates, and I really don’t think the boys minded. Different boys took the Cowan sisters bowling, to haunted houses, to play mini golf. My sisters were mature and smart and witty and fun, and they didn’t embarrass me. That is still true. I wish we had as much time to be together now as we did then, when we had no idea what that time together really meant.
Because I grew up in a happy, functional if you will, family, I have always looked forward to the holidays. And what more vivid memories do we share with our siblings than those of Christmas? The excitement sprouted a little after Thanksgiving with the making of our “lists.” I remember pouring over the JCPenney Wish Book, but I don’t remember ever getting anything from the pages I turned the corner down, and I don’t remember being disappointed. Lane’s list is traditionally a work of art, spanning at least two pages of notebook paper with detailed descriptions and disclaimers for every item. “Underwear, but not Granny Panties (Dad!).” Perpetual items dating back at least four or five years include a Mustang GT and a guinea pig. (We can finally mark that last one off--she convinced my dad to let her purchase Aleese the Guinea Pig this past weekend.) On Christmas Eve, after placing our stockings on the floor in the living room in the area where we wanted Santa to leave our presents, the three of us all slept in the same bed, even after I had gone away to college and Lindsay was in high school. On any other night I would have been annoyed by the crowding and legs touching mine, but not on Christmas Eve. Lane, being the youngest and the most filled with that magical wonder of Christmas and Santa, would wake Lindsay and I up around 6 am, but we didn’t leave our room. When we got older and had phones in our rooms, we would dial our home phone number, then hang up so it would ring and wake up our parents. My dad would turn on the Christmas lights, and then my mother would finally give us the okay to enter the living room and see what Santa had left. Particularly exciting was the year he left a plastic sled on our back porch. It didn’t snow that year, but the next Christmas it did and, although the hills around our house were no ski slopes, we must have put in miles walking up and down them with that sled. Instead of snow angels, we imprinted our bare bottoms into the snow and signed our names by them with a stick.
Last Christmas Eve was my first as a married woman, and my husband and I slept in our bed at our house here in town. I cried for my sisters.
Our town was small, but we had a wonderful old library. It must have been a house before, because it had several small rooms and hallways. I can still remember the familiar musty smell of the place, of all the old pages. My mother took my sisters and I to the library about every two weeks. We each had a “library bag” that we would fill with enough books to last us until our next excursion. My mother would have to give us limits or we would just keep bringing armfuls of books up to Marion the Librarian’s desk. We perpetually checked out our favorites: Miss Kiss and the Nasty Beast, the story of a scary monster who only needed a kiss to turn into loveable blob, and a series of stories about triplets named Flicka, Ricka and Dicka that must have been from the 30s or 40s. When I got a little older, I graduated to the Young Adult section in the hall and read every biography on the shelves. My favorite was Louisa May Alcott’s. But I still read my sisters’ books to them at night. We would all three snuggle into Lane’s bottom bunk and read until I couldn’t anymore or we were told to turn out the lights. Even though I had my own room, I slept in Lane’s bed a lot. I don’t know why. Maybe I was scared because my room was the only one downstairs in the house we lived in then, and it felt like everyone just left me down there after dark. Or maybe I just liked being with my sisters and our pug Rex (who always slept in the top bunk with Lindsay so he couldn’t walk around bugging everyone all night), having whispered conversations and suppressing giggles with our pillows.
My dad doesn’t like things to go untaken care of. That goes for everything from bills to cars to the wrapping paper on the floor after we open our Christmas gifts. The lawn always looks nice. We returned home from a trip to my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma to find that some of my “friends” had toilet-papered a few of the trees in our front yard, a miserable job considering we weren’t even home to catch them. That kind of vandalism is something my dad just won’t stand for. Under his orders, I was out there in the freezing cold weather as soon as we got our bags out of the car, with every stitch of clothing I could have on and still walk, hoisting a rake into the branches in an attempt to pull the cheap, break-away, one-ply toilet paper down from our tall oak trees. Our dad is a quiet, relaxed kind of guy; he just likes things to be nice. So when we wanted to make ourselves laugh, my sisters and I would invent catastrophes around the house just to see how our father would react. We played two-square a lot in our garage, which was separate from our house and had a manually operated door. One Sunday afternoon, the three of us walked anxiously into the house with our two-square ball and Lindsay said to our dad, “Okay, now don’t get mad.” Of course, he tensed up. “We were playing two-square and I jumped up and fell against the door and it came off the hinges.” We still love to imitate the, “Girls, girls!” that came out of our father’s mouth and the way he shook his head and clapped his hands once before walking outside with us. Luckily, either out of relief at not having to spend his precious time off work fixing our garage door or amusement at how well his daughters knew how to push his buttons, he laughed with us when he saw the door in operating condition.
Our father would also call “family meetings,” to instruct his girls on the proper use of our evidently delicate septic tank system. “Do NOT flush feminine products down the toilet,” he would say, trying to keep the corners of his mouth from curling up into a smile as my sisters and I rolled our eyes at one another. I would argue that the box said “Safe for Septic Systems,” but ours was an exception. He would also hold up five squares of toilet paper, the appropriate amount to use on an average visit. This stemmed from a friend of mine who visited often and would use so much toilet paper that we had several messy overflows. Although he had a message, our father did this mostly to make us laugh, and it worked.
Lindsay is the most willful of the three of us. She’s got a rebellious streak in her. Her hard-headedness was evident even at the age of three. We lived down the street from a convenience store, and Lindsay and I wanted to walk down and get some candy. She went to ask our dad’s permission and came back with a $10 bill. Jackpot! That can buy major candy. We went on a shopping spree and even bought a jumbo variety pack of Smurf press-on tattoos. As we skipped home, in the distance we could see our father coming our way, not happy we could tell as he got closer. Lindsay had asked his permission all right, but the answer had been no. She just took the $10 out of his wallet anyway. We never got to use the package of tattoos. My mother put them in a cabinet in the kitchen and anytime that cabinet was opened, we (no, I--I don’t think Lindsay, as a three-year-old felt much remorse) were reminded of what we had done. I felt guilty about that incident for years.
I am in complete shock, almost in denial, that Lane will be in college next year. She just isn’t old enough. I think it might annoy her to know I still think of her as about 12, so I try my best not to act like it. She is very mature; she always has been, so it’s not that I can’t picture her as an adult. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time feeling my own age, and in my mind I’ve aged my sisters accordingly. I am the older, the wiser, but I'm not out to to impart my wisdom uninvited. That’s not the sister I want to be. But I struggle to let Lindsay and Lane grow up. I worry about them when they drive a long way! Are they good enough drivers to react in a dangerous situation? I worry about boys treating them the right way…I worry about lots of things. I feel protective, but I don’t want to be a protector--I can’t be a protector. My sisters and I are friends, to be sure, but I have more invested in them than I do my other friends, and it’s hard for me at times to just let them live. But I do.
Lindsay was my maid of honor when I got married and Lane was a bridesmaid. We had read together, played together, grew up together, and there we were at my wedding. A new step in our evolution. They stood with me as I became a wife to someone, the matriarch of a new family someday. They had to let me go a little. It’s difficult to put into words how it feels to not just be their sister anymore, to have my own family now, even though we don’t have kids yet. I just know it makes me cry to write about it. I have a wonderful life now and my sisters are still a part of it. But I still sometimes long for the days when I knew my sisters were only a bedroom away.