Once a week or so I call my sister and we talk for an hour. We live 3,000 miles and three time zones apart, and don’t get to see each other often. Not nearly often enough. But we stay in touch as best we can.
If I wait too long to call, she’ll leave me a message: “Sissy, where are you? I hope you’re OK. Call me back soon.”
When I get that message, I call her as soon as possible. If I don’t, I’ll get another message within an hour: “OK, now I’m really worried. Call me, dang it.”
Why are Big Sisters so bossy? Are they born that way or do they just pick it up with age?
She is five years my elder, and some of my earliest memories are of her telling me what to do, what to think, what to wear and most of all, how to do my hair.
When I was 7, the night before my first day of second grade, she put her hands on her hips and said, “You cannot go to school looking like that!”
I didn’t know what “that” meant, but I could tell by her tone it wasn’t good. I looked the same as I did every day: Short auburn hair chopped off below my ears; brown eyes that could turn green; and a hand-me-down dress that used to be hers and had seen much better days.
“What’s wrong with me?”
She rolled her eyes. “We have to do something with your hair.”
She stuck my head in the sink, washed it, rinsed it and wrapped it in a towel. Then she combed out the tangles and twisted little sections into pin curls that she fastened to my scalp with our mother’s bobby pins.
My sister’s name is Barbara, but I always call her Bobbie. I thought those hair pins were named for her. To this day, when I see one, I picture her.
After she pinned the last curl, she counted them: 52, exactly.
“Can I go play now?”
“No! We have to dry it!”
She stuck my head in her prized bouffant hair dryer and made me suffer for an hour.
And if that wasn’t enough, she made me sleep on those pins all night. The next morning, she pulled out the pins, one by one, and tried to comb out the curls. But each time she stretched one out, it would spring right back to my scalp. I looked like a sheep. One that had stuck its hoof in an electrical outlet.
She felt bad, I could tell. But she still refused to sit with me on the bus. I don’t remember much about school that day. But thanks to my sister, I’m certain I made a lasting impression.
I could tell you a hundred stories about her, besides all the ones I’ve already told. She’d be glad to tell you a few about me, but she’d be making them up.
These days, when I call, she doesn’t ask about my hair. We compare aches and pains and medications and the weather and what we ate for supper.
We talk about our blind brother, who lives near her, how he’s feeling, what he’s up to. She asks about my family and I ask about hers. Not much changes in a week, so we repeat a lot. But we’re forgetful, so it seems new.
I listen to what she says, and to what she doesn’t say, and I pay close attention to her tone.
Sometimes the way we say something speaks more clearly than the words we use.
I try to make her laugh at least once before we hang up. She does that for me without trying.
She often asks, “When are you coming home for a visit?”
My answer is usually, “Soon as I can, but not real soon.”
Every call ends the same way. We both say, “Love you, Sissy.”
We come from a long line of storytellers, so our calls often include stories like the pin curl tale. Or how she lost her wig in the bumper cars. Or the time she tried to shoot me because I poured a Pepsi down her pants.
I haven’t reminded her of the pin curl tale in ages. Maybe I’ll call while she’s asleep and leave a message: “Remember when you put 52 pin curls in my hair? It’s still frizzy. Call me, dang it.”
— Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950 or on her website: sharonrandall.com.