My sister and I don’t see each other often. She lives in South Carolina, in a town where we grew up in a big, crazy family, not much crazier than most.
I live in Las Vegas, a place our mother, rest her soul, called “Las Vegas of all places.”
It’s a long way from Landrum, S.C., to Las Vegas of All Places. In more ways than just miles.
We often talk on the phone, but it’s not the same as talking face to face, heart to heart.
When we’re together, we do lots of things: Eat in. Eat out. Buy groceries. Eat some more. But most of all, we talk. If you share a history with someone, you can’t help comparing notes, filling in gaps, fitting together the pieces of the stories of your lives.
Especially those you can’t recall.
I remind her she lost her wig in the bumper car arena. She says it didn’t happen. It did.
She tells me I supposedly hid our Aunt Hazel’s crutches and wouldn’t give them back. I don’t recall it. Besides, I was a child.
Yesterday, on the third day of my sister’s two-week visit, we were floating in the pool in my backyard, exhausted from the effort of hoisting our bodies onto two large rubber rafts.
It’s funny how things that once seemed so easy become such an effort, not to mention, a pain.
I was half asleep when her raft bumped mine. Suddenly I sat up and said, “Sissy? Whatever became of that monkey?”
It’s a long story. The summer I was 6 and she was 12, Bobbie got to go to Florida, of all places, with Aunt Jane, Uncle Leroy, their five boys and a neighbor named Allen. I didn’t go because they said there wasn’t room in the pickup for one more. (Bobbie says it was a car, not a pickup. Fine. The rest is true.) Somehow, they came home with a monkey. It was little, but not much smaller than I was. Apparently, they didn’t mind making room for a monkey.
They named it Terry. Why? Who knows? Bobbie says they were probably running out of names for offspring and such.
Anyhow. When they got home, the monkey had a run-in with Uncle Leroy’s hounds, and the dogs were never the same.
That’s how the monkey ended up at our grandparents’ place. Maybe Granddaddy paid them for it. Who knows how much.
My Aunt Clara, the shortest and feistiest and last to wed of my mother’s eight sisters, was still living at home at the time.
She hated that monkey. The feeling was clearly mutual. I wish you could’ve seen them.
Poor Terry would do some minor misdeed that any monkey might do — toss a banana peel on the floor or relieve himself on Aunt Clara’s shoe — and she’d launch herself across the room to deliver a blistering tongue-lashing, shaking her short finger in his furry white face.
Terry would let her finish. Then he would calmly turn his rump in her direction and start to pat it just so, as if to say — well, never mind, you get the picture.
Talk about formative events. I’ll never forget it. Where did a monkey learn such behavior? Maybe from our grandmother.
“So, Sissy,” I said again, “Whatever became of that monkey?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe Aunt Clara killed it.”
We floated awhile, feeling a little sad. Then we moved on to other more familiar topics: Our mother’s depression. Our stepfather’s drinking. Our father’s suicide. So many stories, funny and sad, with so many missing pieces.
Finally, we gave up and went back inside to eat.
I told you all of that to tell you this: All families, I believe, are crazy in their own special ways. Most of us have some kind of monkey in our past, patting its rump, begging to be explained.
It helps to compare memories with someone you love. Even if she is often wrong and you are always right.
The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. But how will you find it if you never bother to look?
Tony Norman is off today.
Sharon Randall is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune News Service (www.sharonrandall.com).