“Aunt Janet, watch Dad. See how he’s gulping down his Slurpee? Wait a second. It’s funny.”
I sat on the bleachers surrounded by young nieces and nephews and watched my brother down his icy concoction. Almost immediately, he clutched his temples and moaned, “Wow, brain freeze. Ooh! Why’d I do it?” He then looked woebegone as we laughed.
His oldest daughter didn’t participate in the fun. Instead, full of self-righteous scorn, she leaned toward me and complained: “No matter where we are, he always does that. I hate it. He can be so dumb.”
She was 14, and the follies of family weigh heavily on teenagers.
My dad’s unrestrained emotions, colorful language and lack of guile wreaked havoc with my youthful notions of appropriate behavior. I remember refusing to go into the local bakery with him because he insisted on asking for stale bread, rather than day-old, as I thought proper.
I also cringed at the idiocies of my siblings. I’d have denied our relationship without hesitation, but we were the only Brays in town, so I was stuck with their boorishness.
In sixth grade, the year I anointed myself queen of the Lake Shore Elementary campus, a snickering classmate approached me with a handful of penny candy, “Look what your crazy little sister just gave me.”
He pointed at Barbara. She stood near the swings, grinning like Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman as she judiciously distributed candy from a bulging paper sack to those she deemed worthy.
I descended, flinging aside her second-grade buddies. “Where’d you get all that candy? Give it to me. Right now.”
Crazed by sugar consumption, she hugged her loot to her chest, replied, “No, and you can’t make me, big stupid,” then cackled with laugher.
Dare a queen pummel a court jester in public?
“You wait until we get home,” I hissed in her ear, seething with anger and embarrassment. I then forced myself to saunter away, too important to do battle with a baby.
At home, Barbara admitted to Mom that she funded her spree with babysitting money Carolyn kept in a vase on our bedroom dresser. But when she added a detailed description of my viciousness toward her after we exited the bus, I was the one chastised: I was old enough to know better, and she was cute.
When I was 14, my oldest brother returned to Spanish Fork to play basketball with a team of high school all-stars against a squad of local law enforcement personnel as a fundraiser for the senior class.
My self-consciousness kicked into overdrive when he took the floor wearing black high-top shoes. Every other player wore white low-cuts.
What was he thinking?
My hope that no one else would notice his fashion faux pas ended with a hoot from the balcony: “Hey, Janet, where’d your brother get his spiffy shoes?” followed by derisive laughter.
I wanted to die on the spot, uttering my last words: “Tell Eddie Holtz I hate his ugly gross guts.”
Fortunately, adolescence ends.
At my class reunion last summer, a former friend and neighbor, David, told me how much he had enjoyed knowing my “big, noisy, happy family,” especially my dad.
He’d worked with Dad for several days putting up hay for an injured neighbor.
“I was lucky to be paired with him. He worked harder than anyone, even those much younger, and sang or told stories the entire time. He treated me like I was worthwhile. I liked and respected him.”
David’s words reaffirmed what I always knew, but temporarily forgot as a snooty teenager: there are attributes more important than asking a baker for stale bread.
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