Sister vs. Sister
Soon, a police officer showed up to the scene, as did Mama. She had to leave work to come check on us, and still wore her white plastic apron and hairnet. Below the hairnet the pencil-drawn eyebrows were furrowed, she was very angry.
When I was six, we had the misfortune of living in an old farmhouse located across the street from the local high school. I was the youngest of four children, with two sisters who were nine and twelve years older than I, and a brother who was only eighteen-months my senior. It was as if my mother had given birth to two sets of warring opposites.
My oldest sister Annette attended the newly built high school across the street, and absolutely abhorred the site of the multiple vehicles, in various states of repair, under the trees in our yard. My father was somewhat of a “shade tree mechanic” and always seemed to have a vehicle broken down. I can remember Annette complaining loudly about the fact that everyone in town could see just how poor we were. Her disposition matched her fiery red hair, and her fearlessness when standing up to our parents left me in awe. She was the strongest, hardest-working person I knew at that time. I have distinct memories of her flouncing in the front door from school, her long straight red hair flying, and her bell bottoms properly flaring as she disappeared in to her immaculate bedroom to get ready for work. She was a petite, independent, teenager who represented the rebellious spirit of the 1970’s well.
Norma Jean, the younger of my two older sisters, was a tall, typical, middle school student during this time period. She attended a school across town and was completely obedient to, and perhaps a bit fearful of, our parents. She was my mother’s helper and my father’s performer. Her dimples, blue eyes and charismatic personality won everyone over, and she could make my father smile often. He would have her sing for anyone who happened to come by for a visit, and even bought a “Fun Machine” organ and insisted she learn to play it. I believe she was our father’s favorite daughter, which was no small feat considering he had so little respect for women in general. Norma Jean could often be found in the yard helping my father rebuild a carburetor, or in the kitchen washing dishes for my mother. She said “Yes Ma’am” and “Yes sir” and tried really hard to please everyone. Perhaps it was her status as the “golden child” that completely annoyed Annette. I wished for her engaging personality and confidence that seemed to always draw people to her.
My sisters were my heroes. I always hoped that someday I could be as beautiful, loving and strong as they were. I loved it when they babysat me but steered clear of their fights. My conflicts were with my brother, and they were very often. However, the intensity of our fights did not compare to those of my sisters’.
I have a distant memory of one of their greatest fights. As I recall, it was a cold, icy morning before school, and my brother and I were finishing up the oatmeal my grandmother had prepared for us, I could hear an argument brewing.
“Mama said for you to clean the ice off the windshield, it’s the least you can do if I am going to drive you to school,” Annette was saying in a loud, irritated voice.
“Why do I have to do it? It’s your car,” Norma answered. She carried her books and her purse to the door, and I could hear the argument continue as both of my sisters went outside. “It’s YOUR car. Besides, you can’t tell me what to do—you ain’t my Mama!” This was a line I heard often, Norma always told Annette she wasn’t her mother, I also always used that line of my brother when he bossed me around.
“Get your books, kids,” my Grandmother ordered. We all headed outside intent on getting into Grandma’s car, since she would be taking my brother and I to the elementary school.
My sisters were still arguing in the middle of the yard as school traffic passed by. It all happened very quickly. Annette was yelling at Norma and Norma was stubbornly refusing to go get warm water to pour onto the windshield in order to melt the ice. Suddenly, like an angry jungle cat Annette slapped Norma across the face. As Norma took few steps backwards, she began to swing her purse in a circular motion and let loose, very much like I imagine David did when he threw the stone at the giant, Goliath. Her purse hit Annette in the face, and broke her glasses. Annette’s hands flew to her face, and came away with both blood and pieces of her glasses. The broken glasses had cut her forehead. Blood streamed out of the cut, which was strangely shaped like a question mark.
My brother and I stared in shock at our sisters, but Grandma was livid. I rarely saw my Grandma mad, but when she was mad, she cursed. Grandma immediately went inside, cursing the entire way. She called Mama, who had gone to work at 5 a.m. in order to cook breakfast for the residents at the nursing home.
Grandma returned quickly. “Kids get in the car, I will take you to school. Annette, you just drive yourself.”
We all piled into Grandma’s big red car. Norma was unusually silent, and I was still shocked that she had caused Annette to bleed. It was upsetting.
Grandma also seemed rattled, which was likely the reason she pulled right out in front of a car while passing through a busy intersection. The impact of the car hitting our Grandma’s car jolted all of us, and Grandma once again began cursing. Fortunately, there was minor damage and we were all okay.
Soon, a police officer showed up to the scene, as did Mama. She had to leave work to come check on us, and still wore her white plastic apron and hairnet. Below the hairnet the pencil-drawn eyebrows were furrowed, she was very angry. She promised Norma Jean “a whipping” when she got home. She said that had Norma Jean just did as Annette asked to begin with none of this would have happened. Now, Mama would have to pay for Annette’s new glasses and had missed time from work. Not only that, but Grandma would have to pay for minor repairs to her car.
I was never so happy to get to school that day, the morning had been so stressful and eventful. That evening, Mama kept her promise and Norma Jean was punished. While Norma Jean lay on her bed following her whipping, Annette walked by her room, stuck out her tongue, and smiled as she walked away. I went back to playing with my dolls, relieved that I wasn’t the one in trouble this time.