Brian Cupcake is what Amy and I called this man that did landscape work at the house where we grew up . His first name really was Brian but the appellation was one we invented. He said that if we did not stop pestering him, he would dig a deep hole in the ground, fill it with water, throw us in and only feed us cupcakes made out of mud, snails, and rocks. I guess it wasn’t much of a deterrent because we continued to plague him with various “traps” — you know, the sophisticated “leave-the-rake-lying-about” sort. Once, we stretched my pee-stained baby blanket between two trees fully expecting him to walk into it to be tortured by the scent of urine (never mind the fact that the blanket had been washed many times between my diaper-wearing stage and the present kindergarten year). We tossed marshmallow berries all over the sidewalk so he would step on them and release streams of berry juice into his eyes, blinding him forever. Didn’t we have homework or something to do?
photo: Christmas morning, probably 1976. I'm in front with the infamous binky in my mouth.
I can’t recall a childhood memory that doesn’t include my sister. Amy and I were born sixteen months and exactly one week apart (she’s older) so we were always close as kids. In fact, people would often mistake us for twins even though we didn’t look a lot alike. Maybe it’s because our mother dressed us in matching clothes anyway. Maybe it was the (usually) long, blond hair or sun-kissed skin. At any rate, if it was hard to tell us apart, it was even harder to keep us apart. Together we caught polliwogs in mayonnaise jars; built tree forts; played dolls, of course (“Joy” and “Noel” were Christmas presents one year); wrote, directed and starred in our own salad dressing commercials; took gymnastics and voice lessons; and screened the same “movie” over and over in the coat closet (which involved a flashlight and some faded Wizard of Oz stickers stuck to the wall). Our bike treads were worn thin from all the trips to the liquor store where we spent our quarters on Muncho's potato chips and demi cans of 7-Up.
As we grew older, we did less and less together. In fact, it became more apparent that we were very different people. She retained her free-spirited nature while I grew more serious. I focused on getting grades and beefing up a resume for college while she lived more in the moment. I was athletic, she poetic. Her friends were older and listened to alternative music. I liked it, too, but Top 40 was more my style.
photo: from a family picture taken around 1986. Amy (in red) has already finished junior high, I still have a year left.
But even as our life’s paths diverged, I always felt her love for me. During one particular rough patch in high school, I found the following written on plain white paper and slipped under my bedroom door (copied just as it is written):
I know how you feel
And if fudge had no fat
I would make you a bunch
And I’ve give you just that.
I’d send you some flowers
but in time they would wilt
And I can’t send you fudge
Cause of fat grams guilt.
I would give you a call
But my room's next to yours
And I could tell you I love you
By yelling through doors.
And the flowers would die
But my friendship would never
And the fudge is too fattening
And a phone call’s not clever.
But I wish you were happy
So I wrote you this letter
So you know I’ll be here
‘Till your problems are better.
As sisters do, we had our fair share of fights. When we were kids we had the knock-down, drag-out, hair-pulling kind. As teenagers they mostly took the form of arguments, hurt feelings and petty disagreements. But at the end of the day, whether I was six or sixteen, if I was too afraid to fall asleep by myself, I knew I could share a pillow with her.
We spent the first couple years of college in the same state but it wasn't long before our paths split again. She picked up and moved to New Orleans where I visited her once. I tried not to seem too out of place when she took me down to Bourbon Street one Friday night. I was a buttoned down BYU undergrad (and looked it, too), she a carefree artist out having a good time. "Hey, Sugar!" handsome men would call to her. "How about a little chocolate in your vanilla world?"
photo below: on my wedding day, July 1999
I didn't see or hear from her much after that. Whenever she did come to visit, everyone got excited. Her tales were so full of hilarity — impossibly mad capers she lived to tell about. If anything will get Amy by in a pinch, it's her sense of humor which is unrivaled in our family. And there's no one I know with more compassion for complete strangers than my sister.
After Louisiana she lived in Alaska for a time, then on to Illinois where she finished her degree. Eventually she moved to Boston where she met her husband and lives today.
I had a message on the answering machine Monday morning to tell me their first baby, a boy, had been born. "Hi, Jenny - it's Amy. I'm just calling to say that I had my baby all natural," she began. "And [he's] sooo cute," she cooed into the phone. I wish I was there and could see her. I wish I could pick up her sweet little beeb and whisper into his ear to tell him how much he is loved and about the wonderful childhood that awaits him. I can only hope his memories will be as rich as mine. With such a beautiful woman for a mother, I can't imagine it otherwise.