Sisterly Compassion Trumps Brotherly Mischief
Life is never boring when my younger brother Frank is around. And, while sometimes a tad rough around his burly edges, he has never been without an edge. I admire that about Frank.
For a living, my LaSalle business grad sibling hauls steel around all day long but not in a truck – he drags it behind him with one hand. With his free hand he could break concrete wearing a grin. Seriously, even if you think you’re a tough guy, let me offer a nota bene: You don’t mess around with Frank - unless, of course, you are his big sister, Mary Jane.
When we were kids, my brother did things his own way. In parochial school there can be consequences with that kind of mindset. For example, at our grammar school, St. John’s, the student body left for the day marching past the principal’s office to John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” blasting out over an old 45 record player. Even now, I can still see Frank sitting in Sister Marceline’s office with his head down and writing a composition whose first line began, “I will never do this or that again.” On these occasions of reprimand, whenever I caught my brother’s eye, I mimed, “I’m going to tell Mom.” I don’t know what made Frank madder: Sister Marceline giving him the writing assignment or me moving my lips in a nonverbal threat to tell on him.
Frank and I often helped around the house. One of ways we were useful was gathering up fallen apples. One early autumn, as the fermenting Winesaps enticed wasps and bees into our backyard, my brother and I picked up the first twenty-five apples. On apple number twenty-six Frank eyed a clothes prop lying on the ground which seemed more exciting. Since boys his age were into swords, soldiers, and mischief, he picked up the clothes prop and started swinging it around me. I raised my arms over my head, crouched and yelled, “Don’t kill me!” That’s when I saw him shift his eyes over to the bottom of the apple tree where we both knew a wasp’s nest was buried. That’s also when I had a premonition of what he was about to do; I screamed, “Frank, don’t do it, that nest is full of yellow jackets!”
There were hundreds of them flying out as he poked that prop into the hole for what reason I will never understand. They flew out in a dark cloud that looked like a Rorschach inkblot test. Had the wasp formation been a real psych test, believe me; my reaction would have recorded “TERRIFIED!”
Initially, the wasps came at me but only one stung my lip. Somehow those stinging devils knew I wasn’t the real enemy. Abruptly, this mass of wasps suspended in mid air, quickly spun around, and then fixated on my little brother.
Up his pant legs they flew, STING! STING! They stung him repeatedly and aggressively on his nose, his eyelids and all over his face. My poor brother swatted, screamed and whirled around like an over caffeinated shaman. Suddenly, our mother stood at the back screen door and pleaded, “Come here!”
We tore up the back porch steps into the mud room which was right outside the kitchen door. “Everything off!” Mom commanded. Man, she was great in a crisis. Our clothes hit the floor like we had rocks in our pockets. I stood next to Mom holding my breath as some thirty or forty yellow jackets flew out of Frank’s shorts. I thought he must have hidden a jar of honey inside those pants to attract so many wasps.
Wearing nothing but our birthday suits we slammed the mud room door behind us and dashed inside. While Mom methodically removed the wasps’ stingers she remarked, “There were thousands of them chasing you; and they were really mad.” Then Mom looked at me more intensely than at Frank. “What exactly happened out there?
This was my moment. Oh, I really wanted to get even for how just the day before Frank accidently knocked my tooth out playing tag and even though I begged him, he wouldn’t help me to find it. I was so frustrated because I really thought he found it then hid it. I didn’t give a hoot about the tooth except that I wanted to put it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy to leave me twenty-five cents! I thought of that shiny quarter I could have had. I thought of all the Popsicles that quarter could bought. I patted my swollen lip in consternation. I gently licked those same lips, too, tasting the possibility of fresh sibling revenge.
Then I watched my mother gently dry my brother’s tears. Moved by a sudden and unexpected compassion, I sighed and surrendered my “fresh sibling revenge” to “the better angel of my nature” and vowed to myself to let the loss of twenty-five cents go and instead hold my kind, wonderful, and forgiving attitude over him for the rest of his life.
Published in The SandPaper, October 28, 2015
Aronimink & Greene Countrie Living Magazine Oct. 2016