Friday, July 11, 2008
Happy Birthday, Joy!
Everybody has funny, embarrassing stories about their siblings, right? Well, I thought I did, too. Until I gave it some thought. I tried to think of an instance where my only sibling, Joy, stood alone and did something amusing. The problem is, every time I think I’ve got one, it’s not Joy alone - it’s Joy and me together.
Being the only two children, sisters at that, and less than two years apart in age, raised in a family where the mom stayed home, made it inevitable that we would do almost everything together. Add to that the fact that we always shared a bedroom and always shared a small closet - well, we might have been twins. By the time I started school, and two years later Joy started school, we had formed a lasting bond which only strengthened as we grew. After all, we attended the same school, the same church, had many of the same friends (and were familiar with each other’s friends). We watched the same TV shows. We took piano lessons from Miss Vuille. We shared the same wonderful parents and grandparents, aunt and uncle and cousins. The see-saw picture above tells it all. You can’t ride a see-saw by yourself.
This is not to say we never fought. Of course, we argued (but really, not much!). And I’m not claiming we were virtually identical. On the contrary, at bedtime Joy kissed posters of Davy Jones and I kissed posters of Abraham Lincoln. We could be very different. But we were raised as two peas in the same pod, sharing a remarkable assortment of memories.
I’ll bet we spent a third of our lives together in the back seat of the family car, back when gas was cheap. From our early years when Daddy was teaching Mama to drive a stick shift in the fairgrounds parking lot (“You’re gonna KILL us!” we screamed as the car jerked around), to later years when we travelled on memorable family vacations as teenagers, the back seat of the car was our second home.
Now, I’m telling you straight - you can’t share a back seat with a sibling for this much time without learning to get along. These were the days before iPods and DVD players for the car, before cell phones, before laptops, before all the modern distractions which can enable two kids to sit side by side yet be light years apart. Heck, we started out before there were seat belts! So we became creative. Remember the old Bingo game for car trips with the little “windows” to close over things you see - like cows, trains, etc.? We loved those! We played word games, sang songs, learned the French alphabet, counted license plates, asked truckers to honk their horns, and even took “notes” on our journeys. Of course, our snack-filled “goodie box” was kept in the back seat, too. Yes sir, on vacations, the back seat was the place to be!
Around town, it was a different story. Our ride to church was about 20 minutes long, and when you go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, and every other Saturday, you can sometimes get bored. But not us. That’s because we usually had to pick somebody up. You wouldn’t believe how many people we could squeeze in the family car! Even today I can’t believe it. Daddy was a choir director, and to make sure all the members had a way to get to practice, he’d go pick a few of them up himself. He would have tied them to the roof if he had thought they wouldn’t get to practice otherwise. So Joy and I would be squeezed into the back seat with, at various times, women who smelled like smoke, perfume, mints, or lemon and oatmeal cookies. We could always squeeze in another person. Little Mary Pat (a soprano’s daughter) was so skinny, we could always fit her in and never even know the difference.
Every other Saturday, we would get our grandfather and drive a couple of hours away to see our grandmother, who was in a state institution (she was anorexic before the medical community knew much about that disease). So we’d be riding with Paw-Paw, a simply marvelous man who smelled like chewing tobacco and Listerine. On those trips, Daddy would drive (sometimes Paw-Paw’s huge ocean liner of a car) and Paw-Paw would sit in the front seat with him, and we’d share the back seat with Mama - a real treat for us, not to mention the fact that she’d take out a piece of Juicy Fruit and give us each half. Unfortunately, on those trips we also shared the back seat with Paw-Paw’s precious cans - one for his spittoon and one for his worms. (He’d sometimes try to get in a little fishing back then.)
Sometimes, on our way home from church on Wednesday or Sunday night, after we dropped off the myriad crammed-in passengers, we’d beg Daddy to drive us to Dairy Queen before we went home. “Dairy Queen?” he’d usually say. “What a waste! Those cones cost 10 cents apiece, and I can go to the grocery store and buy a whole half gallon of ice milk for 42 cents!” Occasionally, though, we would catch the car going in that direction, and the whoops and hollers coming from the back seat filled the car.
Did you know you can get drinking water from a faucet in a car? When the back seat got too tiring and we’d get thirsty, we’d start whining for something to drink. Daddy would turn on the fan, put an imaginary cup up to the dashboard, and hand it back to us, which we would pretend to drink in the spirit of the moment. Funny, it actually could quench our thirst.
Oh, and I mustn’t forget the twin boys who lived next door. Mama volunteered to take them to school with us, as if we didn’t have enough strangers sharing our back seat at other times. Their names were Ronald and Donald, and one of them sat up front with Mama, and the other one shared the back seat with us. These were, let’s say, boys who were not boyfriend material. Luckily, the ride was not that long.
Sunday is Joy’s birthday, and I just wanted to go down memory lane (in the back seat, of course) to remind her that we have lived a third of our lives together a car, sharing the back seat just like we shared a room, a closet, and a whole host of fantastic memories. Happy birthday, dear Joy! I love you!