When I was seven years old and growing up in Smalltown, my friends were starting to get bicycles and train sets to play with. I got sisters—Vanna, Kelli, and Darlene. Every two years, I got a new one. At the time, I’d have preferred a new Schwinn or Lionel, but I didn’t get a vote; it seems Dad had more passion than money, so I got sisters.
So, what’s a young boy to do? I tried to make the most of my situation. Mom had her hands full with all the housework and dirty diapers—there were no Pampers back then—and she was happy to send me out with a sister in a stroller. Sometimes I’d have to fight with my older brother, Sam, over who got to take the baby out for a ride; he’d figured out that the 12 and 13 year old girls on the street liked to play with the baby girls. I hate to say it, but when it comes to getting attention of adolescent girls, Sam needed every advantage he could muster. I, on the other hand, had no interest in romance at that time—I was into stroller RACING.
Eastern Street, in Smalltown, is on a hill. It was ideal for racing my little sisters against Bubba Leonard’s baby siblings. The contest rules were quite simple: there was a 10 yard push zone, a 50 yard steep hill, and a chalk finish-line where Bubba’s brothers, Lennie and Peanut, would stop the speeding strollers. There was often a wager involving some marbles, a Baby Ruth candy bar, or an empty Donald Duck Pez dispenser. For the first few years, I lost some good stuff to Bubba; his baby sisters, Lula and Candy, were fat, and gravity gave them an advantage.
When Darlene came along, I got even. My youngest sister wasn’t fat, but all the racing had worn out the old baby buggy and my folks bought a new one with bigger wheels and more mass. I did my part, too. The wheels were always greased and I removed the sun shield to improve aerodynamics. By the end of the summer of 1966, I owned all of Bubba’s marbles and half of his plastic army men.
I was a good kid, but I got into a lot of trouble with my parents because Vanna was an instigator and a tattletale. She’d provoke me until I’d give her a gentle shove, and then, because she was awkward, she’d crash into Mom’s favorite knick-knack—the one she got with the S & H Green Stamps she’d earned at the First National grocery store—and then knock it to the linoleum floor. As it turns out, Mom didn’t go for the Venus de Milo armless lady look, and I went without Oreos for a week.
Kelli was nearly as evil. She convinced me to peek into my parents’ closet just before the Christmas of 1966 in exchange for three Lorna Doones. It was a deal with a five year old devil. I made the error of telling her what I saw there, and she was so excited, she sang the Hi Heidi doll commercial non-stop at the dinner table that night. Once again, poor little Joey got busted, and it was me, not the instigating little sister, who washed the dishes for a week.
Darlene was a bit easier on me, perhaps because I’m about 11 years older than she is, but I think she never squealed on me about the stroller races because she was so exhilarated by the speed and the thrill of victory, and because I shared the Baby Ruth bars with her.
Despite being a kind and protective big brother, I endured a lot of punishment as a boy, because my little sisters liked to get me into trouble. I loved them just the same, and I still do.
I learned from those experiences and, as a result, I knew better than to punish my son, Jake, when Maggie told me he threw burdocks in her hair, kicked her, hit her, stole her lunch money, or duct taped her to a tree and tortured her with a squirt gun . . .because, I know how little sisters lie.