EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, an exercise in self-flagellation we bloggers inflict upon ourselves to teach us discipline as writers and to build audience. During the month of April, I’ll be posting 26 times, once for every letter in the alphabet. Looking on the bright side, we can each be thankful this is an English language exercise and not Khmer, the language of Cambodia, which sets the world record with a 74-character alphabet! After some misgivings, I’ve decided to proceed with my initial idea of blogging about the special people in my life whose names begin with the appropriate letter. There will be difficulties, like having more than one special person whose names begin with the same letter, forcing me to choose. And then there are those letters — O, Q and X among them — where no name springs readily to mind. What will I do then? We’ll have to wait and see!
S is for Susan
Most people are grateful they had a big sister growing up. I’m lucky to have survived mine.
Okay, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but exaggeration is what it’s all about in the unique relationship I have with my sister, Susan, who is five years my senior, but infinitely my junior in everything else.
Onlookers sometimes have a hard time knowing when we’re serious and when we’re kidding. Sometimes even we have a hard time knowing, but the truth is, when we were young, Susan didn’t miss many opportunities to beat me up.
Over the years, she knocked out my tooth with a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, blackened my eye with a 5-pound can of Folgers Coffee, and shredded my hand with a thistle.
That last incident has become a permanent part of Susan & Glenn Lore.
When we were kids, I was given a green Army uniform as a play outfit, and was justly proud of it because it was one of the few things I ever received that Susan hadn’t gotten her mitts on first. Of course she was jealous, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she chose to get even by agreeing to play Army with me.
As the older sibling, she put me through a rigorous boot camp, with her being the drill sergeant and me being the new recruit. There was running, jumping, climbing, and target practice with our toy guns, but the toughest part of boot camp came at the end, when Drill Sergeant Susan devised a final test for me to demonstrate my toughness.
“See that thistle growing over there?” she purred. “Go press your hand down on it as hard as you can. Army men have to be tough, so let’s see how tough you are!” Well, being the younger brother and a mere recruit, I had to do what I was told, and so the legend of the “thistle press” was born. More than 50 years later, my hand has healed, but I still bear emotional scars.
I don’t want to give the impression that I always played the patsy. I did fight back, but my tactics were more subtle. My devious provocations were usually reserved for the backseat of the car, where I knew I’d have witnesses to any counterattack.
The seat-belt gag drove her mad. I’d roll up the excess strap material with one hand, get her attention, and say “observe” as I unrolled it with an elaborate wave of one hand. It really was that simple, quiet and elegant, but it drove her wild, especially after I’d performed the same trick about a dozen times!
My best tactic, however, was “cooking funny books.” During long vacations, we had a huge box of much-loved comic books (until our father gave away most of the best ones to some brat he met at a botanical gardens in Oregon). My game was to sneak one onto the catchall behind the rear seat to bake in the sun. When the paper and ink started to get hot, they emitted an odor that Susan found nauseating. Invariably, she’d start yelling and get in trouble, which, of course, was my goal.
It wasn’t all fighting with my only (living) sibling. Sometimes we had to work as a team to pick up dog crap. We had two tools for this, a battered old dustpan nicknamed the “doop scoop,” and the “grunt brunt,” a sycamore stick, jauntily painted with a spiraling orange stripe.
It was a miracle that Daddy even allowed us to have a dog, so we were pretty religious about picking up the crap, because failure to keep the yard clean would result in dire consequences. On any given day, we’d be out there hard at work, one of us “the scooper,” the other “the brunter.”
We usually took turns with the assignments. One of the drawbacks to being the scooper was that you had to carry around a big load of stinking dog crap until you had enough to warrant dumping it into the sack. But the biggest danger was that the brunter might flip a turd too briskly, and it would hit the scooper on the hand. The brunter, however, had the disadvantage of having to be the more “active” participant, which was especially nasty when you encountered a “cling-to-grass kind,” just one of the many different types of dog turds we had identified with special names.
Yep, picking up dog crap was a real opportunity for bonding between us. We even made up a song that we’d sing as we marched into battle. It went like this:
Listen to the doopie boys
Listen to the doopie boys
The doopie boys are callin’
All day long!
Another thing Susan and I created was our very own language, which we still use at family reunions to confound every listener, though we understand one another perfectly. The language is called Heep, and its vocabulary consists of just three words — heep, hop and hope — which are articulated using a voice like that of a strangled gnome.
Here’s an example of a typical conversation in Heep, with translation:
Heeeep! = “Hello there!”
Heep hop = “Yeah, what the hell do you want?”
Heep hop, heep hop hope = “Do we have any Fig Newtons?”
Heep hop, heep heep, heep, hop, hope = “We, did, but I ate them all, and didn’t save any for you! Ha ha!”
Heeeeeep! = “Damn you!”
See, strange though it may be, it was just everyday operating procedure for me and my sister, with whom I share a very special brand of weird, though she’s weirder by far!
Susan is now a retired librarian who still lives in Texas with her husband. She lists “dog wrangling,” photography and liberal politics among her many interests. She’s also a gourmet cook and has her own blog, which can be found HERE.
As I said at the outset, our relationship is grounded in exaggeration, but I want to say a couple of things about Susan that you can take as the rock-solid truth: I love my big sister very much, and know without a shadow of a doubt that she’ll always have my back.