My two younger sisters and I grew up down a winding gravel road on the outskirts of a small south Louisiana town in the 1960’s. Spaced out two years apart, we shared our clothes, our secrets, and our hot and spicy tempers. Without nearby neighbors we were each other’s everyday friends, especially in summers. As the oldest, I’d often hold my sisters close and tight before sending them off and away on a long yo-yo string. We were pros at hair-pulling, hitting, and biting, yet we also shared a tight connection and learned how to balance our differences.
On a July afternoon in 1964 after some predictable kitten races and boring inside hide-and-seek games with my sisters, I wanted some alone time. So I decided to test our new green hammock that stretched stiffly between two live oak trees on the side of our home. I crawled up in the “lounger” with a paperback between my teeth, but my sixty-three pounds could not make the weaved nylon bend and dip. I was in no way cocooned the way magazine pictures of hammocks told me I should be. I stretched out and put the small round blue accent pillow I’d borrowed from our living room couch under my head. The hammock was as tight as Aunt Fanny who clutched her change purse like a Cajun guarding the last bowl of gumbo. I opened Pippi Longstocking to my bookmarked chapter and told my body to relax.
The sun’s rays peaked behind hundreds of small green oak leaves and gave my book’s pages a dappled look. I repositioned my pillow and held the book above my head long enough to read two pages. Feeling a stitch in my neck, I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the hammock. My ankles extended two inches over the edge, the blue pillow slid down to my lower back, and my weight still failed to create an indentation. My eight year-old self-awareness told me that I looked ridiculous. Then I heard my little sisters’ voices.
“My turn! My turn!” yelled Kelly as she ran toward the hammock wearing a new lime green seersucker two-piece short set. As the baby of the family and with dimples deep as a mother’s love, she grew up thinking all should bow to her charms. Gayle, wearing one of my hand-me-down t-shirts and elastic waisted shorts, followed carrying three library books of different sizes. As the middle girl she fought the unfairness of life with the determination of a seasoned Mardi Gras parade-goer grabbing beads.
“I just got here,” I said pretending that sitting on the unyielding fabric was comfortable. I cleared my throat and wiggled my hips as my round pillow fell to the ground. “I ‘m reading,” I said. With her hands above her head, Kelly pushed the hammock back and forth.
“I got books,” said Gayle as she dropped two books next to my pillow on the ground and held the remaining book over her head. “I have Alice in Wonderland.”
Kelly stopped pushing the hammock to beat the area under my butt with her fists. “Read it! Read it! Read it!” she said. The kid had excellent rhythm for a four-year-old.
I loved reading to my sisters, but I also loved bossing them around. “Pick up the pillow, Gayle. Quit messing with the hammock, Kelly!”
My youngest sister continued pushing the hammock and made me drop my paperback book while my middle sister struggled to join me in my position of power. “Lookit what you did, couillon!” I said to the former and, “I didn’t say you could get up here,” to the latter.
Gayle tossed her hardcover library book up towards me hitting my left cheek and knocking my brand new glasses askew. Kelly’s strength matched her stubbornness, and the hammock moved enough to keep her sister from climbing in. Then Gayle’s sideways hip bump landed Kelly on her skinny bottom and gave my middle sister confidence to believe she could join me in the hammock. She extended her arms and tried clawing her way onto the slick green lounger. Her clear blue eyes framed by black pixie-cut bangs peeked up at me. From her seat in the dirt, Kelly kicked at Gayle’s legs.
To avoid an all-out fight, I decided to give in and help my siblings join me. I pulled Gayle’s right arm hard enough to dislocate her shoulder, but her determination to be first in the hammock kept her from yelling “Owww!” Kelly had scrambled to her feet and went back to moving the hammock back and forth.
“Stupid face!” said Gayle as she settled in next to me and set the library book in her lap and looked down on Kelly. Now with two sisters seated, the baby of our family had trouble rocking the hammock. She stuck out her tongue and bit down to concentrate on annoying us.
“If you stop pushing, you can get up here,” I said and reached out a hand. Kelly smirked and lifted two dusty arms. I succeeded in pulling her about three inches off the ground. “Help me,” I told my hammock companion.
“Poopee!” Gayle said to the sister below us before I grabbed her elastic waist band and Gayle pulled both of Kelly’s shoulders up and over. Our combined weight made the hammock finally relax a bit in the middle. Three small butts settled next to each other. We all gave our attention to the book now in my lap. Kelly leaned her head on my shoulder and Gayle popped the thumb of her right hand into her mouth as I opened the classic story. I straightened my blue cat-eyed glasses, and with a sister to my right and a sister to her left, I ironically began, “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister…”