Poking the Chocolates and Trashing the Tree

My mother was an elementary school teacher, now newly retired. And as an elementary teacher she received many, many gifts at Christmas time from her students. It was so much fun every year on the last day of school before the holiday break to sort through all of her loot with her.

She would drag what seemed like countless cardboard boxes into the house and my sister and I would help her dig through the stuff looking for buried treasure. Which, to us, was usually candy.

Every year we could count on at least two items being among the goodies: a box of high-quality chocolates and a glass Christmas tree full of Hershey Kisses. Finding these thrilled my sister and me, as we realized we could comfortably ride a chocolate wave all the way till Santa came.

However, along with the arrival of these treats came some… shall we say… behaviors that drove my parents nuts. The first one being that the box of chocolates, though stocked full of creamy, chewy goodness, was also full of a bunch of weird crap that neither my sister or I cared to ingest.

The fruity ones, nutty ones, coconut ones and bitter ones were all flavors that we’d just as soon gone without… but who the hell could tell what was what just by looking? There was only one way to separate the good from the bad. And that was to poke them. So we did. Or at least I did. I don’t know about my sister as she still—as of this writing—denies ever having done it.

When no one was around I would tiptoe over to “the box” (that usually sat in some communal area of the house) and carefully select a chocolate that looked promising. I dared not bite into it for fear of it being one of the aforementioned nasty-flavored ones. Instead, I took my thumb and poked the bottom of it until its guts began to squish out, indeed revealing what was hidden inside.

If I liked it, I ate it. If not… I returned it to the box and no one was the wiser. At first glance they still looked the same and when someone picked one up only to discover the horror that lay beneath, well… that was a risk I was willing to take. Besides, for all anyone else knew… my sister had done it.

The other “behavior” was not revealed until all of the ornaments were removed from our real, live tree and my father would drag the tired tree through the house to the back door and outside where he would throw it away.

Feeling like a couple of princesses as we lounged around in our new fuzzy pajamas for two weeks eating Hershey Kisses in front of Christmas movies, my sister and I developed this habit of using the tree as our own private trash receptacle. It all began one particular day when we just didn’t feel like getting up to throw our Hershey wrappers away. She looked at me and then looked at the tree and launched the little balls of red and green tinfoil directly into its branches.

Forget that this caused a giggling fit that would last well into the New Year… we thought this was an absolutely brilliant solution to our ever-having-to-get-up-off-the-couch-during-The-Sound-of-Music-again dilemma. Brilliant, that is until my father noticed a trail of tree trash that consisted largely of Kiss wrappers, empty chocolate cups and napkins following him all the way out the back door.

Needless to say, our cover was blown. Until Christmas rolled around again… and one of us took the initiative to say to the other—with a twinkle in our eye and a tinfoil wrapper in our hand… aimed squarely at the tree—“Hey! Watch this!”


Saints and Spaghetti Throwers

No one knows you quite like your sister does. Especially if she’s the big sis’ and you’re the lil’ one. Older sisters not only know you but with their level-headed sensibility, they somehow manage to love you despite all of your crazy-little-sister, attention-seeking idiosyncrasies anyway.

My sister and I could not be more different. She is only three years my senior but the age gap may as well be 30. She is far more mature and “grown-up” than I am. She is raising seven children and acting out the part of the dutiful, loving wife and little-league-wrestling-basketball-band-choir-soccer-mom like a champ.

My sister is also a saint. She assists in the day-to-day operation of my brother-in-law’s business, works a part-time job, does the laundry, cooks the meals, drives random neighborhood kids (as well as her own) all over God’s green earth, does the household shopping, plants flowers in her yard, hangs little, cutesy, seasonal, artsy-craftsy things on her front door and runs the church nursery. I honestly do not know how she does it. As far as I know… she does not take drugs… So I’m just assuming that she is some sort of non-human, pod-person. It’s either that or she never sleeps.

I, on the other hand, am a spoiled brat. I become completely overwhelmed at the thought of feeding myself, emptying the dishwasher and doing laundry in the same evening. When I’m not at the office, I like to sleep or lounge around watching countless hours of Seinfeld re-runs, Hoarders, cheesy rom-coms or mafia movies while eating food that I did not make.

I enjoy being “Crazy and Fun Aunt JoJo” to my nieces and nephews, getting HER kids so riled up that she has trouble getting them to go to bed. They are teenagers… yes, I said teenagersS-E-V-E-N of them. In fact, she has more kids than there are letters in the WORD “seven.” I know. It is mind-blowing. And I—having no children of my own and even less responsibility—love to teach them things that will annoy her.

Once when she and my brother-in-law were going out for the evening and she asked me to come by and “help” the kids with their dinner, I thought it would be much more fun to teach them how to tell when the spaghetti was done by throwing it against the walls of her kitchen. We had a blast. And the kids, in turn, thought it would be fun to teach me the “Target Denim Song” in order to further irritate their mother because they of course knew that I would sing it… incessantly. You know the song… the one that goes: Denim. Graphic Tees, leggings and tunics. Well denim, backpacks, headphones, hair-ge-e-el. Denim. Shaun White hoodies and denim… Something like that anyway.

Good times.

But here’s the kicker… I am the one who is an emotional mess. I am the nervous wreck. I always have been. I am the one with all kinds of time and freedom and zero tax-deductions and I’m the one taking meds! It boggles the mind how two people, born of the same parents and raised under the very same roof could wind up so completely different. But what I love, what I LOVE about my sister more than anything is that even though we could not be more different… she GETS me. She gets me and she loves me anyway.

The sign hanging above my stove is a recent gift from my sister “just because.” Does she know me or what?

The “But” of Consequence

Life gets a whole lot less interesting the moment you’re able to comprehend consequence.

When I was about 2 or 3 I was in the tub with my sister who was 3 years older. My mom trusted my sister with me because she knew that a responsible big sis wouldn’t hold her little sister’s head underwater or smear soap in her eyes. What my mother didn’t foresee was the potential threat that this arrangement posed for my sister.

I distinctly remember my sister lying on her stomach in the tub and me looking down at her little peach bum sticking up out of the water. Now I don’t know what possessed me to do this, but I do know that I still laugh hysterically when I think about it.

I very intentionally laid my washcloth across her butt and then proceeded to bite her as hard as I could. Like I said, I can’t tell you why because I have absolutely NO idea what was running through my mind. But, I CAN tell you that for some reason, I thought it was necessary to place a washcloth over her first so as to bite her THROUGH the fabric. I’m not sure if that cloth barrier was for her or for me. But that’s the way it went down.

My sister yelped and cried and my mom pulled me out of the tub. And our whole family has laughed about it for years … save for my sister, who I suspect is still harboring some bitterness over the whole thing. To my knowledge, I never got in trouble for that. I think my parents probably thought I was just an innocent child who was “exploring her world” by biting her sister’s butt. I never did it again. And that’s all I remember. So you see, no consequences = pure, unbridled joy and fun!

My first exposure to suffering consequences for my less-than-stellar behavior came in kindergarten. It was a day just like any other day as I carried my lunch tray to my spot at the table and sat down. I saw my friend Kristi coming to sit next to me and I remember that in a split second a brilliant idea flashed through my deviant, little mind…

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Kristi—with her tray of steaming-hot food—comes to sit down next to me, fully expecting a chair on which to rest her butt, and it isn’t THERE? That would be kind of a funny and unexpected surprise! I think I’ll yank her chair out from under her as soon as she tries to sit down.

So I did.

And she fell.


I remember the visual like it was yesterday. Not because it was funny, but because I hadn’t thought my actions through. I didn’t connect the dots that my friend might get hurt or feel embarrassment or have hot food spill all down the front of her. Nor did I connect the dots that within 15 minutes of the “incident,” I’d be sitting in “time-out” in the kindergarten room while the rest of the kids frolicked on the playground and my teacher paced back and forth in a state of utter shock and confusion at my violent disruption and my parents searched frantically for child psychologists and clergy to help make some sense of their crazed, demon-possessed daughter.

OK, I made up the part about my parents searching for psychologists and clergy. But the rest is genuine fact. You can ask Kristi. She is somehow, by the sheer grace of God, still my friend. BTW… Thanks for still being my friend, Kristi!

I learned that day that an impulsive, ill-conceived action on my part had the ability to cause some rather large ripples afterward—like throwing a boulder into a tiny, shallow pond. Sometimes people get wet. But the other valuable thing that I learned was that because of “consequences” and “ripple effects” life would never be the same.

It would NEVER be as much fun as it was “pre-chair-incident.”