Sisters

And They’re Off

And They’re Off – 1964

“And stay outside until supper!”

Momma was on another cleaning spree and she “had had enough” of us and “all our tracas.” 

Since Chrissy’s five multi-colored kittens were now mobile and entertaining, my sisters and I began our outdoor time with her babies.  As the long black momma cat sprawled underneath the picnic table, her pink teats proclaimed their power to the trees, and I suggested we play Kitten Races.

Kelly and kitten, 1974

Gayle, Kelly, and I gathered the kittens to choose our racers. Chubby, the solid gray one, was the fattest; his round belly stretched out so much his fur had trouble covering it. I considered the grey tabby twins (Stripes and White Paw) – one’s solid white right paw being the only distinguishing feature between them. The fuzzy calico one (Cali) was my favorite, and I picked her up a second before Gayle reached for the same kitten. Finally, there was the runt (Lil Bit) – a smaller version of her midnight black mother. She had the same long, sleek body but looked as if someone had shrunk her.  Kelly always picked Lil Bit. Gayle settled on White Paw, and the racers were ready to compete. Chubby checked out a lizard nearby, deciding if it was edible, and Stripes followed us and our contestants to the starting line: an uneven indentation drawn in the dirt with a stick about nine yards from Momma Chrissy.  

“Let ‘em smell their mommy,” recommended Gayle, so we race cat owners took our squirming contestants to the closed-eyed Chrissy (dreaming of her former life of freedom) and let the racers understand where the finish line lay.  Back at the starting line, kitten claws kicked up anticipatory dirt as we each held a racer’s tail. All mewed and dreamed of mother’s milk. 

Kitten Cupid

I whispered, “OK, Cali, you got this,” right before Gayle announced, “Ready. Set. Go!”  And they were off! Cali grabbed an early lead and seemed sure of her victory. But White Paw was right behind and moving fast to the front. Lil Bit got distracted by a low-flying dragonfly and was back of the pack on the inside. We skipped on the sidelines as encouragement for our runners. And it was Cali barely in the lead at the top of the race until Lil Bit moved up on the outside. Soon the runt overtook Cali with White Paw right behind. With three yards to go it was Lil Bit and White Paw, and they were neck and neck. Then Cali put on steam and all three were bunched together and heading for home. 

“Come on, baby!’ said Kelly as Gayle jumped up and down to show support. 

I clapped my hands to the chant of “Go! Go! Go!”  

In the home stretch it was Lil Bit ahead by a nose with White Paw making a move up and Cali losing ground. It was Lil Bit and White Paw! Lil Bit and White Paw! Kelly squealed and Gayle closed her eyes. And the racers were even until from the left sidelines of the track Stripes decided to join the race! He pushed in next to his twin and ran to beat them all. Now the twins were keeping up with Lil Bit! And you won’t believe this, folks, at the finish line the latecomer Stripes pushed ahead and won it all by a whisker! 

Chrissy went, “Grrrmeow,” as all four racers reached the finish line. The crowd was in shock.

“What the hey!” said Gayle as Kelly clapped in surprise. (I felt relief that neither sister beat me). Even Chubby had found his way to his meal, and Chrissy had slitted eyes as her litter all tasted their kind of victory.

“I still won,” said Gayle.

“No, ya didn’t,” said Kelly.

“Stripes cheated,” said Gayle.

“And she won!” said Kelly.

Gayle pushed her baby sister to make her understand. “You too stupid to know race rules.”

Kelly stomped on Gayle’s foot. “You more stupid ‘cause your cat came in second.”

Gayle kicked Kelly’s knee right where her scab from yesterday’s bike fall was still moist.  So Kelly got a fistful of hair and they were off!

Five oaks in side yard of home

“Awwww, quit it,” I said right before walking away.  Our dog Footsie came over from the garage where he took late afternoon naps and followed me to the side of the house and the climbing tree. Our home had seven giant live oak trees surrounding three of its sides, and the tree next to the garage had the best low branches. Dad had nailed three wooden planks to the trunk to help short kids. I did not feel like climbing. I used the starting line stick to poke around the gravel road that ended near the tree. I gave Footsie a few pets, so he felt hanging with me held promise. I drew spirals in the loose gravel and sang snatches of “The Sweetheart Tree” song.   A crop duster plane whined in the distance, working in the rice fields that bordered our property.  As it moved closer its engine made steady zydeco…zydeco…zydeco sounds.

I looked up to see a hot air balloon floating by. A man all in white hung upside down from a cord. He struggled to get free from a straight jacket. I repositioned my pink driving goggles for a better look when the beep! beep! from a jalopy grabbed my attention as two clowns drove my way down the gravel road. I smoothed my pink frock and ran to my 1908 Model T parked under an oak tree. “That crazy female is no match for Professor Fate!” yelled the jalopy driver who sported a handlebar mustache and a cartoonish top hat. With my dog as my passenger, I tore down the gravel road through rice and soy bean fields.  “Boink! Boink!” came the sound of the pursuing car’s horn.  I shifted my gear to “Fast! Fast!” and was half a mile ahead now. The wind whipped at my tall hat and fantastically long pink scarf that trailed behind me. I smiled and wrinkled my pert nose as I imagined my victory over those boorish chauvinists. I was a woman of the future!  I had a brilliant writing career and more gumption than my smoldering brown eyes and stunning beauty would suggest. Literally the man all in white dropped from out of the sky and landed in the seat next to my dog. He wriggled out of the straight jacket and smirked while he lit a cigarette. 

“Well, well, glad to see you have not lost our lead, Miss Dubois,” he said. 

“OUR lead? Did all that blood rushing to your head make you insane?”   

“Let me set you straight, my dear. You are driving MY car, so technically I am about to win this race.”  

“You are unbelievable!” I said and reached to slap his insolent cheek. But he grabbed a cream pie from under his seat and gave me the old pie-in-the-face treatment. I swerved to avoid hitting a tree and someone grabbed my shoulder.

“Help me! I gotta hide from Gayle before she hits me with a switch!” said a frantic Kelly. I looked at my little sister’s tangled hair and stretched out t-shirt and decided to help. 

“Let’s get up on the roof,” I said. “She won’t think of there.”  

So Kelly followed me to the pump house on the side of the garage and helped me set up the ladder leaning against the house. My youngest sister could reach the top of the pump house and then scramble onto our roof while I distracted Gayle who was running through the garage with a long bendable branch.

Cerebral Palsy · Sisters

Operation

Operation – 1966

I used tiny tweezers to remove the sick man’s spare ribs.  The procedure ran smoothly until Kelly leaned over my shoulder and nudged me. “Brizzit!” sounded and the patient’s red nose lit up.  

“My turn,” said Gayle, so Kelly leaned back and looked down at her folded legs. I had no desire to scold Kelly because tomorrow was my for real operation.

Momma and I would drive to a Baton Rouge hospital where doctors would perform corrective surgery on my skinny left arm. This time they planned to give me supination – the ability to make my wrist muscles move and allow me to turn my left hand over and face palm up. This would be the third operation on my crippled hand.  The first surgery put a straight pin in my left thumb at the second knuckle to give me better fine motor control.  The second took three incisions and gave me the power to bend my wrist up and down.  Before then my stupid left hand stayed bent and locked downwards. 

The doctors predicted the supination surgery had a 64% success rate.  I felt nervous. The worst part of surgery was throwing up after the operations; however, Momma would be there to wipe my mouth and face with a cold rag and hold back my hair while I vomited in a metal container.  The pas bon feeling lasted less than two hours, and then I ate popsicles, opened presents, and read get well cards. My left arm would be in a plaster cast for weeks, but I was used to keeping my left arm in a supporting role.  The big difference with this operation was I would miss a week of school.

Sister B. had embarrassed me in front of my fifth grade class on Friday.  Right before we lined up for mass Sister said, “All of you need to pray for Ginger today.  She is having surgery on Monday to fix her crippled arm. We want God and the Blessed Virgin to watch over her.”  I had stared at carvings on my wooden desk and allowed myself two quick blinks before I realized a third blink would leave wet drops on my desk’s “Scools dum” proclamation.

“You’re lucky to miss so much school,” a friend told me at recess, and a popular girl who rarely noticed me, said,”You scared about them cutting up your arm?”

“I don’t wake up until it’s over,” I said. 

“Does it still hurt?” she said as her index finger touched the wrist scar where you could count the six stitches from my second surgery.

“Nah,” I said and followed my friend towards the playground.

At home in our living room I now watched Gayle remove the Adam’s Apple, funny bone, and wish bone from the electrically-charged Operation patient on the floor between us. 

“My turn!” said Kelly. 

“Wait!” said Gayle as she focused on removing the Broken Heart. 

“No! No!” said Kelly as her sister’s tweezer made the game go “Brizzit!” Kelly readied herself to win the game, so I left my sisters without a word. I went to my room to read away my consternation. 

Pippi Longstocking

When I began reading chapter books at age ten, I looked forward to being alone – on my bed against my flowered bed rest. Books about talking animals, strange gardens, or brave kids took me to cool places like movies did.  I enjoyed conflicts that sent characters in crazy directions before returning them to clever, satisfying resolutions. This afternoon I had Pippi Longstocking to laugh with and admire. However, I read only four pages before Kelly burst into my room with Gayle in hot pursuit. Kelly locked the door just before Gayle pounded the wood with her palms and moved the door knob back and forth. 

“You chicken cheat! Open up!” yelled Gayle.

Kelly stared at me with her dark eyes, gave me a small smile, and then backed against the door like the peyank she was.

“Come on, Ginger! She cheated!” said Gayle through the door as she pounded. 

“Quiet it down! Don’t y’all make me get up!” said Dad from his bedroom across the hall. We knew better than to rouse a napping Dad, so Gayle had two choices: to tattle to Momma or to find other amusement.

After Gayle gave up, Kelly jumped on the bed a few times and claimed the pillow to my right. “Pippi is my favorite,” she said, waiting for me to read aloud. 

“She and Mr. Nilsson headed to the South Seas to find her sea captain father,” I explained. 

“Show me the pictures,” said Kelly who flipped the pages backwards.  I read with different voices and appropriate animation for over two chapters before I felt Kelly’s head fall slack on my shoulder. Kelly settled in and opened her left fist to release a tiny plastic heart.

I touched the scar between my own elbow and wrist. I heard Momma vacuuming the big living room and the back and forth appliance sounds took on a zydeco…zydeco…zydeco rhythm.

I adjusted a tan tunic as I followed the odd old man walking quickly through the stone streets of ancient Rome. The large sweaty man wore a tomato-colored toga and talked fast on his way to meet someone important.  His round face smiled like a snake or frowned like an ogre. He stopped by a group of men around a small wooden table and pulled out a container of dice. “Who feels lucky?” he said. I leaned in to watch because I needed as much luck as I could find. Tomato Red shook out two dice that equaled seven and the men watching him groaned; Red shook and released the dice again.  He rolled another seven and got more complaints.  Then a short curly haired man twitching with anxiety came up and glared at Red who grabbed some coins and his dice.  Curly turned and stormed off with Red with me close behind. The men huddled together and exchanged hurried, urgent words. I believed these two knew where I could find mule sweat. I needed this potent ingredient for tomorrow’s ceremony. I would become an elegant princess if I drank the soothsayer’s  prescribed potion.   A short, sad faced man wearing a purple hat and tunic approached me from behind, “Excuse me, but are you my long lost daughter?”  Before I could answer, Red and Curly showed up and led us all to a comedy parade.  Red burst into song and people in the street danced:  “Something appealing/ Something appalling/ Something for everyone – a comedy tonight!” Folks with bongos beat out the rythmn of the song.

opening scene in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Pad. Pound. Pad. Pound. “Ginger, come on,” said Gayle in a low voice.  “Let me in. Please, please.”   And she continued the soft door pads.  I left the bed, careful not to wake my youngest sister, and let in the middle sister.  “I got nothin’ to do,” said Gayle. She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled out a deck of cards.  She divided the cards into two stacks. “Wanna play?”  

I sat next to her.  “Just don’t wake Kelly.” 

Gayle made the stacks equal and we began a game of battle. I let the face cards and numbers distract me until I amassed a much larger pile than Gayle’s.  I relaxed inside and believed this lucky streak could follow me all the way to Baton Rouge General Hospital tomorrow.

Birthday party from 1966. Kelly & Gayle in center. I’m behind them.