A couple of years ago I wrote a tribute to my brother Jamie, so it’s only fair that I proffer this post about my indomitable sister Becky. To her friends—because I don’t know anyone who knows her who doesn’t find her fascinatingly fearless, funny, generous, loyal, and charming—my words will serve to reinforce their attachment to her. Those who have never met her will be clamoring to become a member of the former group.
Be forewarned: She’s quite a bit of humanity to take in.
Middle Child? Laughable.
Becky is the middle child among the three of us who grew up together, but you’d never know it. Born sixteen months after my brother (the result of a fit of passion, my Aunt Joyce remarked), Becky and Jamie operated as a formidable team of two, but it was Becky who played the role of the alpha. I came along two and a half years later (the shake of the bag, my dad remarked), and as I grew to know these two bigger people, I realized in short order that I had my work cut out for me. Both of them definitely had my number, but Becky, as the principal player of the two, used my arrival to hone her particular set of skills. In me, she had a ready-made sacrificial lamb to serve as a tool to refine her machinations.
This aptitude for dominance would serve her well in her formative years.
On being a tomboy.
Becky was considered a tomboy, which in today’s world would cause parents to assume that their little girl wanted to transition into a little boy, reality TV show and all, but in our 1960s world it just meant that she liked to play with boys and was better at them in sports. One Christmas, she sat on Santa’s lap and announced, “My name’s Joe and I want a machine gun.” So she got one. It wasn’t from Santa but from my parents who understood that being a girl was no reason to deny their daughter a weapon equal to the one my brother already had, and that playing with machine guns, footballs, baseballs, or GI Joes was a natural part of a little girl’s development. Becky was not singularly minded, though. Once I grew up enough to be of interest to her, she started to exhibit a curiosity in playtime pursuits that were more traditionally girl-like.
On playing with dolls.
Because I liked to play with dolls—especially Barbies—Becky began to show an interest in dolls. Nothing like co-opting your little sister’s passion. We each had a set of Barbies; Becky’s were mostly blonde like her and mine were the less-popular brunette versions. Her dolls remained neatly displayed on a shelf in our room, the plastic hair protectors still swaddling each Barbie’s blonde ‘do while my Barbies were the utility players—legs bent in the wrong direction and stretched akimbo as they sat astride our Johnny West horses, naked, with hair that had been inexpertly chopped with sewing scissors when Becky decided we were going to play beauty shop, and toes often chewed off because Becky dared me to. My dolls’ clothes—such as they were—were usually torn, snaps missing, threads unraveling as a result of all the wardrobe changes we made when we played beauty pageant; her dolls were left dressed their original factory-chosen outfits and for their entire lives remained unscathed by unnatural manipulation, scissors, teeth, or blue ballpoint pens used as eye shadow.
Sports and competition—no longer a man’s world.
Becky played everything well, and played to win. Basketball, volleyball, softball—her skills were unmatched; her natural talents were a coach’s dream. Fortunately, Becky began high school right about the same time that Title IX kicked in, so while the rest of the female population of our high school was just beginning to get used to the idea of wearing the boys’ old uniforms and not using two hands to dribble, Becky had perfected the art of not only taking it to the hole, but executing the pick and roll, throwing elbows, and drawing charges. She was a better athlete than most of the boys in her class. She also had more trips to the emergency room, but that’s the price you pay for being an alpha.
The relentless pursuit of glee at my expense.
Becky never missed an opportunity to make me question my self-worth or to diminish my faith in familial relationships; however, I am not bitter, nor do I hold her responsible for any adult angst that I may harbor. Instead, her endless tormenting made me the woman I am today—unwilling or otherwise immune to putting up with anyone’s shizz. I’ve suffered the indignity of being in the only grocery store in town on a Saturday with Becky while she hollered at the top of her lungs, “KELLY, DIDN’T YOU SAY YOU NEEDED TAMPONS BECAUSE YOU ARE HAVING YOUR PERIOD RIGHT NOW? PLAYTEX OR TAMPAX, KELLY? REGULAR OR SUPER, KELLY?” I’ve suffered the torment of being duped into thinking I was eating whipped cream when really it was congealed bacon grease and sugar. I’ve been locked in a room with a dog who had rolled in the carcass of a weeks’ old dead woodchuck and who smelled like a weeks’ old dead woodchuck all while I was suffering from a double ear infection and an undiagnosed case of strep throat. I’ve eaten cheese that she chewed up and spit back out. I let her talk me into piercing my own ears. I even let her cut my hair. You can’t do anything to me that she hasn’t already done. You can’t scare me. You can’t break me.
In spite of all this, and in a strange twist of irony, I truly believe that I’m a better person because I have Becky as a sister. Not only has the adult Becky grown out of her mirthful adolescent need for a whipping girl, she has surpassed all my expectations by becoming an amazing wife, mother, and grandmother. She has also become the best sister, friend, and confidant I could have ever hoped for. If being her goat was the price I had to pay for having Becky as my sister, I gladly accept that mantle, and I’d suffer through it again if I had to.
Maybe she just played me the way all older sisters do, I don’t know. I’ve nothing against which to gauge her performance. I’m fairly certain, though, that most girls of that era lacked Becky’s impressive talents and awe-inspiring imagination.
Well played, Sis. Oh, and happy birthday.