Not too long ago my daughter came up the basement stairs in tears. It seems her two big brothers and one younger brother were destroying her eight year old world and she had had it! “Mom, you have no idea what it is like to have to deal with 3 brothers!” She wailed.
A perfect mother might take her side, demand the boys get up those stairs, sincerely apologize and level out some serious consequences to those who dared offend the “princess”. Well, I am not a perfect mother. My response? “What did you do?” This brought on a new wave of bawling. The very insinuation that she might be partially responsible was too much — it simply had to be all their fault!
At this point I did feel a bit sorry for her but felt compelled to remind her, “I do not know what it is like to have three brothers…because I have SIX!” She had forgotten this fact and her face drooped as she began to realize she could not expect pity from someone worse off than herself.
Trying to hold in my own laughter I wiped her face and sat her down. “MaryKate, you know how Mom has lots of stories about her big family? Well, I am going to tell you a story that might help you out a bit, OK?” She nodded as I pulled back her long red hair, sat her down and began the story.
Once upon a time in Colorado there lived a family that had nine kids. Six boys and three girls. The two older girls and one brother were out of the house by the time the youngest, the other girl, was about 5 years old. That girl was left to live with 5 older brothers who were all out to get her! No kidding!
These boys were so clever that they almost never got caught being mean to Little Sister. Never were there ever so many mean brothers in one house! They would draw and quarter her favorite baby doll, then there was the time they took apart her roller skates to use the wheels to make homemade skateboards!
The meanest one of all was named Shawn. He would pop Little Sister’s balloons just to watch her cry; he led the other boys in coming into her room in the middle of the night and putting her hand in warm water to see if he could make her wet the bed; he would then balance a pitcher of ice cold water on the top of her door so when she opened the door to run to the bathroom she got soaked! And whenever they were about to be caught by Mom or Dad the boys would back each other up with made up stories that made Little Sister look like a ding-dong.
Little Sister was getting more and more frustrated. Being a picture of sisterly sainthood she could not perceive why she would be tortured thus. Those rumors about tattling on every single thing the boys did were merely exaggeration. Haunting their footsteps in hopes of being allowed to play with them? That was just because she loved them so much. And the very idea that it was her, and not one of them, that coated the top pole of the chain link fence with Vaseline so that when the boys held onto that pole as they jumped the fence they would go flying into the gravel alley – well, she was a little girl! She would never do such a mean thing (and there was never any proof that she did). Boy’s hidden treats missing? Can’t find your loose change? That would be fellow mean brothers, not Little Sister. She was far too perfect to stoop to such behavior.
MaryKate gasped in shock, “Mom, your brothers were mean to you?” This boggled her young mind as she thought of her goofy uncles. “Who said we were talking about me? Pipe down.” I feigned anger. She smiled and let me continue.
Little Sister could not wait for Shawn to go to college and be out of the house forever! Life would be more peaceful with just three or four brothers to deal with and surely Shawn did not want to be near Little Sister either. Finally, the last few months before Shawn’s departure arrived. Their parents needed help to put on a new roof on a cabin they were restoring in the mountains. They asked most of the boys to help out. Older sister, Maureen, and her husband came into town to help as well.
The boys did the heavy work of carrying up plywood pieces, nailing down tar paper and shingles while she held ladders as they came up and down. When her brother in-law was carrying a large piece of plywood up the ladder a gust of wind hit him. Thinking she had moved, he had one choice: drop the board or fall with it. He dropped it… but she had not moved as she should have and it landed on her head.
The next thing she remembered her mother was putting ice on her head and it hurt a LOT! She reached up and felt the growing lump on her head — it was like something out of Looney Tunes when a cartoon character gets hit on the head with a frying pan! Little Sister was in a great deal of pain.
Doctors confirmed she had a concussion. One solid week of sleeping was prescribed. Little Sister lay in bed trying to sleep between fits of vomiting and dealing with the incredible headache that would not go away. A few days into her week of rest one of the brothers was banging on her door (oh, her poor head!) and demanding she get up and do her share of the chores. (Those big ‘ol mean brothers, again!) Before she could reply she saw Shawn in the open doorway confronting the other brother.
“In case you didn’t hear she has a head concussion! Unless you want one too you will shut up and leave her alone!” Was it the drugs or the head injury for surely she did not just see the brother she was convinced hated her defend her to the brother who only mildly annoyed her? It got weirder. The delusion continued as Shawn came to her bedside and gently offered to go and buy her some Coke and a frozen pizza (both being elegant cuisine in their eyes) for when she felt better. The boy who busted his backside to put together enough money to go off to college was now offering what little he had for himself to the Little Sister he despised. Why would he do that?
“MOM! Because he loved you! Uncle Shawn loves you!!” She yelled excitedly.
Enjoying this story time very much I said, “It gets even better, MaryKate.”
Shawn went off to college and Little Sister found she missed him very much. A few years went by and Little Sister was not so little anymore. When Shawn returned home for Christmas one year it turned out that he had picked Little Sister’s name in annual family name drawing. He bought her a beautiful pair of mittens (highly necessary for winters in Colorado back when kids were allowed to walk to school in sub-zero weather). As she slipped on the gloves something was stuck inside one of them. She pulled out a long slim box and opened it. There inside was a lovely gold ladies wrist watch; it had a small diamond on 12 and 6. She waited for someone to tell her she had received the wrong gift but Shawn came over, took it out and wrapped it around her wrist. “Always wear a watch on the opposite arm. You are right handed so this goes on the left.” He said this as he clasped it shut. Little Sister was speechless.
At midnight Mass that evening she realized she had not even thanked him for the gift. She knew he was on a tight budget and had a car that could die at any moment. Why would he save money for such lovely gift for her? Little Sister decided to thank him at the sign of peace. When the time came and all those kids had high fived, hugged or shaken hands Shawn reached over to Little Sister and kissed her on the cheek. She blushed and thanked him for the thoughtful gift. “It looks beautiful on you, Little Sister. I am glad you like it.”
Little Sister saved that watch for special occasions, always fearing something might happen to it. She accidentally wore it to school once but remembered to take it off before gym class, tucking it safely into her jacket pocket.
She came home from school one day to find her mom had decided to wash all the coats in the house. Horrified she ran up the stairs to her room to find her jacket was missing! Her mother had just washed it. Little Sister ran to the washing machine, yanked out her dripping jacket and plunged her hand into the pocket – it was gone! She pulled everything out of the machine and at the very bottom saw something gold. Reaching in, she felt the slim, smooth gold band and eagerly brought it out. There was the watch, with an empty timepiece. The only thing left was the gold band. And Little Sister wept. She clasped the gold band for the last time and placed it in her special keepsake box where it has stayed ever since. A reminder of the love of a big brother for his little sister.
“MOM! Do you still have the watch band?” MaryKate wanted to know.
“Who said this was about me?” I asked just to tease her some more. Grabbing her hand we walked into my bedroom to search for the special keepsake box. As we pulled it from the back of my top dresser drawer the fourteen-year-old brother appeared.
“Mom, whatever she said is not true! You have any idea what it is like to deal with a little sister?” He complained.
“Jimmy, what say we walk down to your room for one of Mom’s fabulous story times?” And MaryKate could be heard giggling as I began…..
Once upon a time in Colorado….