Tag Archives: sister

TMI before there was “TMI”

When I was around twenty, my older brother was dating a younger woman who was closer in age to me and my slightly older sister. She was a wild gal, up for anything, the life of the party. She had a headful of naturally curly blonde hair and a husky voice which, as a real talker, she used a lot. She played the guitar and sang beautifully, a gift I have always admired. That year she joined my brother at our out-of-state family reunion, an event known for hard partying and drinking into the wee hours. The next day when most revelers were hungover and hurting, I can still see her – despite having been drinking with the best of them – springing about, bright and early, looking good, and ready to go. I wondered how she did it.

The relationship between her and my brother didn’t last but my sister and I still saw her for awhile. One time the three of us went to the local dive bar. We sat on stools at the bar proper, and over beers she decided to share intimate details of either the last or one of the last times she’d been with our brother. While in bed he’d criticized her lack of uh, enthusiasm, accusing her of “lying there like a wet noodle.” This was information my sister and I never needed to know and I’ve never been able to forget.

For a few reasons, we didn’t ultimately stay friendly with our brother’s ex but I knew she went on to settle down and have a little family, two daughters who looked like her; I saw them as children once at the public pool. But that was long ago. I learned recently online that she’d died. I was sorry to hear this, especially for her children and family’s sake. I will always remember her, though, not as somebody’s mother or wife or as a middle-aged lady but as that wild child who animatedly told us a little too much one day at the bar.

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Bed Time

When I was a kid, grade school age, I read a quote from a guy in a band in what I remember as Tiger Beat magazine. I don’t remember the name of the guy or his band but I’ve never forgotten what he said:

Whoever invented the bed should be given a medal.

What a funny thing, I thought, for an adult (a guy who was likely, in retrospect, in his early or mid-twenties) to say! Since I didn’t know about sex, I almost certainly didn’t interpret the quote in that light. I’ve thought often of his words and the older I got, the more I concurred. Again, not because of the sex angle either. I just think beds are grand! I feel so lucky to get to sleep in one. I love my bed.

I remember when I was in my twenties, telling my sisters I called it “The Happy Bed.” I’d climb on in and smiling, would say this to myself as I snuggled down. The Happy Bed. Later, one of my sisters told me she’d tried it but said – somewhat accusingly I thought – it didn’t work for her. I wasn’t sure why she thought it would; those were my feelings about my bed.

This thing we humans do – laying down to sleep is kind of strange. What if we slept upright instead and merely stood there like some animals? We wouldn’t need beds, perish the thought!

One of the few things I miss about the winter season once it’s passed, is burrowing under a pile of blankets in bed. That is one of life’s most delicious sensations. I wonder from time to time, if it’s at all related to being in the womb? An unconscious reminder? I have no idea.

What pleases me to no end is that we have to get in bed and go to sleep. It’s not optional. No, I’ll never be one of those silly people who say they’ll sleep when they’re dead and consider time spent in bed a nuisance that cramps their style. On the contrary, it’s one of my favorite places to be. A medal to the inventor indeed! Bed I salute ye!

Visiting my brother’s group house

My oldest brother moved out of the house – after a history of increasing unpleasantness between him and our father – when I was a child in grade school. Our family was rather conservative, religious, and conventional. My brother, who was artistically inclined and never the rough-and-tumble son our bullish, alpha father would have theoretically wanted, was having a go at the hippy life much to my father’s disapproval. I’m sure my mother didn’t think much of his lifestyle either, but this was her favorite child and she saw it as her role to run interference between the two, albeit not very successfully, so he got a pass in quite a few things. Still, my father ruled the roost and rebellion was not well received, especially the counter-culture kind.

My brother left after one last ugly conflict, of the sort where I was awoken one night to hear my father and brother shouting at each other on the front lawn, coming to – or about to come to – blows (not for the first time), while my mother hollered at them to stop, saying “the neighbors would hear.” Laying awake in my trundle bed in the room I shared with my sister, I was so scared.

He moved into the city and lived in a group house with his girlfriend and roommates. After a little time had passed and enough smoke had cleared, our family, that is, my parents and their three youngest children of which I was one, went to visit. We put on our church clothes for this little foray. Father in suit, mother and girls in dresses, little brother combed and cleaned up, the whole bit. And drove to a sketchy neighborhood downtown where the big old rental house was located. My life was a sheltered affair; I found the whole thing shocking, from the fact of my brother leaving us to his new arrangements. Group house? What is that? When my brother pointed out his room that he shared with his girlfriend, I took note of the solitary mattress on the floor. Mattress on the floor? Just one?! What was this?? I didn’t know about sex, not at that point. I just knew something was up.

We sat, in our good Sunday clothes, in the dark, high-ceiling living room and made small talk with my brother. It was uncomfortable. There definitely wasn’t anything for children to do there. From the outside, we must have been quite the sight. I remember a long-haired roommate passing by and giving a nod. Otherwise, whoever was in the house at the time, steered clear. Who could blame them?

Other details are lost to me now, but I was most impressed with the Chore Wheel I saw tacked to the kitchen wall. It had all the housemates’ names written around the outer edge, and a smaller circle with various chores written on it, inside, and it manually turned so that once a week, a new chore would line up by someone’s name. How ingenious! This I could appreciate.

It was the only time we ever went there.

Now for your viewing curiosity: Playboy (sort of)

I remember the first time I saw a copy of Playboy magazine.

After she married, my older sister, trying to be a hip woman of the world, gave our father a subscription to the men’s magazine for Christmas one year. This was odd for several reasons. Ours was a conservative, religious household. Our father was no ladies’ man and gave no evidence (beyond becoming animated about the yesteryear film star Mitzi Gaynor) of being all that interested in such things, at least not at that point in his life.  He was not even lusty toward his wife, our mother (no bear hugs, kissing, or vocal hubba-hubbas, let alone swats on the ass were ever on display). My mother would surely not have approved of either the magazine or the gift but I now expect she must’ve looked the other way, and not objected audibly since it was her favorite daughter doing the gifting. That’s my best explanation anyway.

After we expressed interest, it was decided that my sister, two years older, and I, could see an issue of the magazine. We were probably 11 and 13 at the time. However, our father went through it first and then handed over a heavily redacted magazine. There were thick black lines drawn through much of the copy. Of course, then I was most curious about what had been hidden from us, although now, I expect I’d have been disappointed with the verboten content. This because our father had odd ways of thinking in general, and related to children, especially girl children, poorly. He grew up surrounded mostly by rough-and-tumble brothers, didn’t understand us, had no interest in trying, and was old enough to be a grandfather to his youngest children, of which I was one. Lord only knows how he decided what wasn’t fit for our viewing.

I have to tell you, though, even in its weird condition, the magazine was a happy surprise, in that I’m still a bit shocked that we were allowed to see it at all. I don’t remember much of what I thought about the visible content. I’m sure I didn’t relate to the women shown or the overall sensibility, but no doubt was glad to learn what it was. Curiosity has driven me all my life and this subject was no different. My sister and I looked at the magazine together, alone, and then returned it. There was no conversation with any adult as to what we’d seen, or if we had questions. This was typical of how things were done in our household, and I’d have expected no different.

What’s in a my name?

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My parents named me Colette. Not for any special reason. Not after the writer who I’m sure they never heard of (not being judgmental; just stating a fact). There was no other Colette around, no friend or relative I was named after. I have one other sibling they bestowed with an uncommon name but it was a derivative of our grandfather’s name. So I was their sole kid with a true out-of-the-box name. Which, in the long run, kind of makes sense, although again, it wasn’t anything they planned.

As a kid, I dreamed of being a “Linda” or “Jennifer.” “Colette” was a name I had to grow into but when I did, I was grateful to have an unusual name. Today I think it’s pretty cool.

It’s a name, however, that regularly gets butchered. I’ve been called Colleen, Nicole, Claudette, and even Suzette once last year. In grade school, a classmate once addressed a Valentine card to me as “Clet.” Why trouble yourself with all those pesky extra letters? The pronunciation I despise though, is CAW-lette. It pains me.

When I say it, I pronounce my name with the emphasis on “lette” so it sounds like CuLETTE, not CO-lette. There’s nothing wrong with the latter per se – it’s kind of pretty said that way – it’s just that I say it the way I learned it and the way it flows more easily. Frankly, in childhood, I heard my name barked sternly at me a lot, like so: CuLETTE!!
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I don’t know exactly when it happened that my mother switched up her pronunciation and began referring to me awkwardly as CO-lette instead of the way she always said it, the way she taught ME to say it from birth. I was an adult and it kind of freaked me out. There was something very stilted about it, which seemed symbolic almost of our relationship. My own mother didn’t say my name right?? What is THAT?? (A sister unfortunately picked it up, but fortunately called me by a nickname anyway. My head might have blown if multiple blood relatives started mispronouncing my name.)

I’ll tell you one other little family oddity. One of my sisters gave her only child my name but she doesn’t seem to know it. I’ve never even brought up this observation to anyone. Her son is Cole. When she told me the baby’s name and how she and her husband decided on it, she never uttered a word about it being so close to my own. Our relationship was such that I have some confidence she would never have deliberately given her child my name, but I think she accidentally did. Yeah, my family is weird.
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Barbie gets a “makeover”

It’s the season for toys. Which makes me think of childhood toys and things I wanted. I wonder what I’d be coveting now if I was a kid? For one, I think I’d be attracted to the little play kitchens. Which seems like a horrible idea. Hey! Let’s all start pretending to do the drudgery you’ll be doing the rest of your life. Why not have a little play bathroom so you can practice cleaning a toy toilet? And trying to get rid of the mold and mildew stains in the caulk of ancient tiles? That sounds like fun! And laundry – let’s not forget that. A play laundry station so you can enjoy hours of fun slogging through pretend dirty socks.

I know children want to emulate adults. I did too. The kindergarten I attended was separated into various corners, one of which was a “house” and one was a “store.” I thought both of these were great. Playing house and playing store was fun. Of course, no actual scrubbing or cooking was involved. And I didn’t have to part with any real cash money when buying things at the store. I learned nothing of any practical use from these set-ups or kindergarten generally. But I attended long ago at a time when activities like reading Nietzsche – or reading at all – and studying supply side economics were not yet on the curriculum.

Barbie still seems to be doing the brisk business she did in my youth. I didn’t have a Barbie but still coveted the Barbie swimming pool. The commercials made it look so glamorous and entertaining. Ken and Barbie in their chaise lounge chairs. Or frolicking down the slide. I don’t think I ever saw the toy in real life so maybe it would have disappointed. At any rate, my dolls never got to find out if they’d enjoy a swanky pool; they had to content themselves to swim in a plastic bucket (and only outdoors). I also dreamed of owning a plastic doll head – not sure who made her but probably Mattel – that was roughly life-size. The toy was for applying makeup and fixing hair. I don’t know where a head would go once fixed up, hardly out on the town, but still.

My mother didn’t approve of Barbies. She said children shouldn’t have dolls with “figures.” No boobs, no ass, I guess. Instead she wanted us to have baby dolls with that little hole in their mouth to pour water down which came out the little hole between their legs. You know, as I write that, it sounds twisted. Then again, perhaps this one WAS a realistic toy. As toys, baby dolls were too limited. You couldn’t play games with baby dolls or give them interesting lives. They just had to be babies. Always.

Our school had an annual bazaar, at least when I was very little. One of my older sisters was involved in working at it. When it was over, she got a hold of two Barbies – leftover prizes? – that she then gave, one apiece, to her little sisters. We were beyond thrilled! Barbies! Just handed to us! For no reason! Unsophisticated and sheltered as we were, we (or at least I) failed to recognize or mind that these dolls must have been second-hand. They didn’t come in boxes or all fixed up. In fact, although my Barbie was a white lady with long red hair, she was given to me along with an extra head, which was a darker-complected lady sporting a curly afro. I took it all at face value, as if that was how it was meant to be. I didn’t question the Barbie gods. I’d switch out the heads and make a whole new character with a different name.

Our mother was angry that my sister and I were given the Barbies. But uncharacteristically, she didn’t take them away. Instead, she relied on her standbys, shame and guilt. I think she wanted my sister and me to voluntarily give up the dolls, to see for ourselves the inherent wrong-doing in keeping them. No f-ing way! Voluntarily give up this goldmine?! Coveted Barbies? Even used and a bit downtrodden? No way. Being shamed and guilted was not enough to make me turn on Barbie.

My sister, though? Oh, this is good. She did not want to give up her blonde-haired Barbie, but she also wanted to please our (un-pleasable) mother. We had 2 little school desks in our basement that the school had gotten rid of and my father had brought home. One day when we were playing, soon after getting the dolls, my sister went and got a hammer from our father’s tool bench. She put her Barbie, naked, on one of the desktops. And she attempted to give Barbie a boob reduction with the hammer. Oh yes. I still see this image in my mind decades later. It was troubling to say the least. Where on earth had my sister come up with such an idea?? Here she was, trying to have it both ways; keep Barbie but also eliminate the woman’s “figure” that our mother found so distasteful in a child’s toy.

It didn’t work. My sister’s Barbie was made of a hard plastic and her boob merely cracked on one side. So forevermore, my sister’s Barbie had a botched boob job. MY Barbie stayed intact; I was not about to take a hammer to her. The fact that she had a woman’s physique didn’t faze me one bit and I held tight. Although when I washed her hair the top fell out, resulting in a kind of male pattern baldness, while the rest turned orange. That bothered me most of all.

I invented the vintage “selfie”

Back when Yugos were still a punchline and I owned a boxy, not “pocket” or “compact” Kodak Instamatic camera, I devised what surely was a precursor to “selfies.” See, I figured out I could use a long stick to press the shutter button down and take a photo. This wasn’t an exact process. It didn’t always go off as planned. Sometimes I merely shoved the camera or knocked it off its perch with the stick instead of successfully depressing the shutter. More often than not actually. It was tricky to reach from the side – in order to avoid taking an arm selfie – and press the shutter AND not jostle the camera in the doing, resulting in a blurry picture. Also, it had to be a long stick – unlike now, anything taken too close wouldn’t result in a decent photo. You might just get a weird-looking nose or something. There weren’t no ZOOM on this thing.

One time it worked well was when my sister and I went to the beach. We’d made a one-time-and-one-time-only trip with an older sister and “her guy.” (This was a mistake.) Anyway, having had enough of sister & guy, the two of us took off to spend the day at an unpopulated beach nearby. There, after I found a decent long stick and set up my camera on a cooler, the two of us lay down on our towels and posed, propped up on our elbows, facing the camera. Later, much later, when the film was developed, it turned out to be one of the nicest, most fun, pictures of us. (To this day I suspect her of having swiped it since I can’t find it and my photos are well-organized, but that’s another matter, ahem).

My sister was impressed with my invention and began talking about “stick photography” – without actually saying what it was – including, she said to a friend studying photography, who couldn’t understand why she’d never heard of this term.