We fought like warriors - no prisoners…
or shared our deepest secrets
until life turned you one way
and me the other
putting distance between our lives
but not our memories.
For many years I have referred to Dode as my ‘little sister’ even though she is 13 months older than I.
Perhaps it is a way to avoid being called the baby of the family, with all the attendant cheek pinching and rolling eyes at how spoiled I must have been (I was). More likely it was my way of teasing the heck out of Dode all the years we were growing up (I can imagine her nodding her head in agreement right now and shaking a fist at the screen).
Dode is a wee person; the kind who wears platform shoes to reach that magical 5′4″ average for women. In her sock feet she just grazes the bar at 5′ even. But not to say she is a petite, birdlike creature. Inside that little frame lives one of the feistiest persons I have come across in the past 53 years.
As kids we played together, generally amicably, until about the age of 8. After that it was open season. Our house echoed with “I’M TELLING MOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM…” from dawn to dusk as we both tried to one up each other. As long as no broken limbs were involved the game came without rules.
As soon as I was school age my mother returned to work as a bookeeper at the local lumberyard. Every morning Dode and I would trudge next door to Gran’s and she would roar us off to Maple Elementary in her smoke belching, backfiring Anglia. Perhaps this is why I had such an affection for ‘The Bomb’ when I was living on Cape Cod.
After school Dode and I would once again return to Gran’s, just to check in, then it was off to explore the beach or whatever mayhem we could get into. As we only had an hour or so before my older siblings arrived, off the high school bus, Dode and I tried to make the most of our time.
Dode loves to draw and paint; or at least she used to. She has a talent for art, something I think she keeps well hidden these days. But as a child she would spend hours in her room drawing pictures of horses and princesses – all those girlie things young boys like to snicker at. I on the other hand was your typical crayon outside the lines type.
D-Day for Dode and I started like most sunny May days on the west coast. About 6 a.m. the first shafts of sunlight began to tickle at the foot of my bed. As I rolled over I could hear Mom downstairs making lunches for ‘the gang’. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear my father shuffling about getting ready for work. As a rule my father kept to himself in the mornings, barely speaking as he went about his morning constitutional.
From across the hall I could see light coming from under Dode’s bedroom door. Tiptoeing across the landing I peered in the window (for some reason our bedroom doors had windows). There she sat at her desk, pencil in hand, sketching away happily.
I slunk back to my room, hatching a plan.
A few minutes later Dode’s door squeaked open and I heard her pad softly down the stairs to the kitchen. Like a jackrabbit I sprang out of bed, slipping silently across the hall into her room. There on her desk lay her sketchpad, a half done horse on the top sheet. Sliding her pencil off the pad I snatched it up. Now what to do with it… hmmm… I spun around slowly looking for a place to hide the pad.
Then a lightbulb went off in my head… *PING*
Gently lifting up Dode’s mattress I slide the sketchpad deep into the recess between the mattress and her iron bedstead. From below the sketchpad would be easily visible, but I was counting on this being the last place she would look. Smiling to myself I slipped across the hall and began to dress.
By 7:30 the house was empty, my older siblings off to catch the bus and Mom and Dad on their way to work. Until 8:15 when we trudged over to Gran’s Dode and I would have the run of the house. I settled comfortably into the big couch and began to watch Butternut Square on CBC. Dode went off somewhere by herself.
A few minutes later I realized it was much too quiet in the house. I cocked my head to one side… then the other… nothing… not a peep of sound anywhere. Slowly I began to get up off the couch, just as a red and white blur shot past my head with a mighty crack.
Instant pain roared through my left ear and tears welled up in my eyes.
“OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW” I yelled at the laughing figure disappearing around the corner of the kitchen; limp red and white tea towel dragging behind.
“I WANT MY SKETCHPAD BACK!” she yelled over her shoulder as she shot past the end of the counter.
Bellowing like a bull (well, like a 9 year old bull) I raced after her, careening off the dining room table as she slipped past the sink and around the corner to the living room. I chased after, noticing that she had hidden all the tea towels in the kitchen as I looked madly from side to side for a weapon. Skidding to a stop at the counter I looked into the sink. There in the bottom lay a sodden dish rag, still crusted with bits of macaroni from last evening. As I picked it up, it streamed a snot-like streamer of viscuous clear gunk. I smiled eevily to myself.
Hiding the dishrag behind my back I sauntered into the living room. At the far end Dode was practising the piano, oblivious to me, with that ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’ smile she is famous for.
“Ohhhh Dodieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…” I yelled as I lifted the rag into firing position.
Dode squealed just as I let fly, ducking quickly down off the piano stool as the rag sailed over her head.
Now it is at times like this that Murphy’s Law kicks in with a vengeance. Our piano was quite old, a Heintzman upright that had come from New York City to northern Saskatchewan and then retired to the West Coast with my Grandad. The piano had seen better days – several of the keys were missing their ivory caps and the lower register was just a tad flat.But it was a pride and joy in our family, everyone but myself taking piano lessons or simply trying to bash a tune to wile away a boring afternoon. My father was an accomplished pianist, but rarely played; usually saving a selection of ’shaw-teeses’ for stormy nights when the power and Ed Sullivan went off.
The rag erupted over the top ledge of the piano, sliding across the top toward my mother’s favourite hurricane lamps. These were no hurricane lamps. Made from fine MerinoWare they came with slim wooden pedestals of various heights. A vision of bowling flashed through my mind as the rag slid into the first pedestal. Like a shot I raced for the piano, hoping to catch the lamp before it hit the hardwood living room floor.
Dode must have had the same idea.
As it was we collided about 3 feet from the piano, her smaller size bowling me over and sending me flying into my parent’s bedroom. My knee caught her shoulder, spinning her like a top to end up in the middle of the living room floor.
Both of us looked in horror as Mom’s favourite green hurricane lamp clanged once off the keyboard and shattered on the floor.
“I’m telling MOM!” she said, half-heartedly, knowing full well there would be hell to pay for both of us.
Quickly we raced into the kitchen to grab the broom and dustpan. In a flash we had cleared all the fragments of glass off the floor and hidden the now headless pedestal. Dode even rearranged the lamps so that the missing green one would be less visible. Then looking at each other we zipped into jackets, grabbed our lunches and sailed over to Gran’s.
That evening it appeared our crime would go undiscovered. My mom walked past the piano several times without commenting. Dode and I looked at each with conspiratorial smiles, nodding our heads towards the piano and snickering when no-one was looking.
But appearances can be deceiving.
Dinner completed, Dode and I jumped up to help clear the table. This done we both headed for the beach. As we crossed the living room to the front door, Mom spoke from the kitchen.
“Has anyone seen the dish rag?”
My father, sitting in his favourite chair reading The Sun,looked over the top of the newspaper at Dode and I, one eyebrow arched slightly.
“It’s behind the piano.” he said matter of factly.
“…Along with the pedestal off your green hurricane lamp…”