Sunday, April 10, 2016

A funny story in honor of my Bubbas on National Siblings Day.

Cracked: A Sibling Conspiracy
In the fall of every year, two things re-percolate to the surface of my stream of childhood memories.  I remember Smurfs and indoor baseball. What child wouldn’t grow up to remember Smurfs?  But indoor baseball is a different story. There were originally only two people on the planet who knew the rules, and even we disagreed on our rule interpretations.
For instance, the “instant homerun” rule stated that any ball hit against the back wall without bouncing first on the playing floor was an automatic homerun. My older brother demanded that only balls that struck above the sliding glass door on the back wall were homeruns, as the rest of was sliding glass door and therefore not technically a wall at all. I contended that a ball that struck any part of the back wall, glass or otherwise, was a homerun – mostly because I had a hard time even hitting the back wall, whereas Brian could smack the wall above the door every fourth at bat.
He was an awkward gangly teenager then, but he managed to mass enough coordinated power to win most Saturday morning games. Not that beating his seven-year-old sister was a big deal. Only losing to his little sister was a big deal, unless, of course, he planned the loss to make me feel better—so I would keep playing. He thought those losses were necessary anyway to keep me from ratting him out to Mom and Dad for inventing the game, but truthfully, I wouldn’t have finked on him. We couldn’t play outside until they got home, and after cartoons were over, it was the best thing we had going in the way of entertainment.
Late one morning in autumn, after our Fruity Pebbles gorge-fest and the Smurfs were over, we decided it was indoor baseball play-off season. As the all-powerful older brother Brian was responsible for moving the minor furniture out of the base paths.  I dug the red plastic bat and slightly oversized lime Nerf baseball from their sacred hiding place in the back corner of my closet.
After a short review of rules and boundaries, Brian flipped a quarter for sides. I was the ‘visitor’ and with a cheery tap of the bat, I bounced over to home plate. Being first to bat meant that I would have at least one at bat where I wasn’t trailing by three or more runs. I could set up some padding on the scoreboard.  
As Brian readied himself to pitch, I cocked my bat ready above my shoulder, tucked in my chin, and nailed my stare to the ball in his hand.  He wound up and delivered a weaving spongy sinker. I swung the bat in a curt slice and missed.
Strike one.
I squeezed the foam ball up from the carpet backstop and tossed it back left-handed, disillusioned.
Brian wound up again. 
I focused my magic mantra on the ball, “BASEHIT. BASEHIT. BASEHIT.”
The throw was fast and straight –only fast throws with a Nerf ball can ever be straight, as the slow ones wobble around like a turkey in hunting season.
My bat swept over the plate in a long calculated arc and I pulled my hips into the swing.  The hit was a head high drive toward the long right corner of the back wall.
I thought to run, but the enormity of the ball’s perfect trajectory towards “automatic homerun” territory kept me planted two steps toward first base (the corner of the TV unit).
As the ball crossed under the air vent just before the right edge of the back wall, it took an inexplicable hard turn for the fireplace mantle along the right field wall. The ball struck Mom’s fine china vase (replica Ming Dynasty) dead center.
The ball dropped like an ancient horse-fly on a hot day and bounced from the vase to the brick below. In the following spot of time and space, the vase tottered. 
The rasping sound of ceramic wobbling over brick caused us to hold our breath, and then there was a suspended second of silence before the vase hit the base of the fireplace with a pistol crack.
We stood looking at the cracked shards of ceramic speckling the parquet floor, mottled rug, and fireplace in an exploded star shape. 
Super nova achieved. 
The big bang, Mom exploding into a super-heated rant about how she couldn’t own anything decent that we didn’t deface, was inevitable.
Brian’s posture from the mound read “game over.”
Humpty Dumpty came to mind. My eyes watered. I tightened my lips, in case that bottom lip decided to start a mutinous tremble.
I went through all seven stages of grief and back again, settling on shock and denial. I didn’t hit a homerun? I broke Mom’s vase? 
Brian jogged toward the laundry room for a broom and dustpan. 
I drug my bat over to the carnage and stared at it thoughtfully, trying to will the pieces together like a parapsychology lab subject mind-bending spoons. 
No luck.
Brian broke the reverie by commanding some mindless action—the best balm we knew for scabs of disappointment. As he swept everything into the dustpan, I nit-picked slivers from the tile. 
 “We could say the cat did it,” he suggested.
I thought about the time Dad whipped Brian, like some mutinous first-mate, for lying about feeding the cat when he didn’t. “No.”
“Yeah. You’re not so good at lying anyway,” he conceded.
“What if we just put it in the neighbor’s trash and act like it never happened? Mom probably won’t notice it’s gone, and if she does, it’s not really much of a lie to act like we don’t know what she is asking about. And even if she suspected, she couldn’t punish us or stay mad without ‘the evidence’, right?”
Brian laughed and shook his head, bangs flying. “Sure, she can. Mom will notice it is missing, and she is smart enough to figure out we are to blame.” 
He said “we” but I knew, as he did, that even if Mom thought it was only my fault she would punish him because he was “responsible” for me on Saturdays. He walked toward the kitchen trash.
“Wait…” I called.
He looked at me wearing his big-brother half-grin of enforced patience, his shoulders still facing the trash.
“Uh. Don’t throw it away. What if we glued it back together as perfectly as possible and stuck it on the mantle again? We could tell Mom we broke it, but show her how hard we worked to get it back together for her and she won’t be so mad. Maybe she’ll forget to ask how we broke it. And . . . even if she asks, she still won’t be so mad.”
Brian raised an eyebrow and coddled the dustpan. He was thinking. We both looked at the clock. Worst-case scenario, we had an hour to work, best case, three hours if they worked overtime closing up. He dumped the dustpan carefully on the kitchen table and bolted up the stairs to hunt out his model glue.
I started stacking big pieces together.
We didn’t say a word after that really. We worked heads down, hands talking for a little over two hours. Big pieces glued together first, then little pieces glued on to fill in the chinks. Brian used a wet paper towel to wipe away the excess glue before it could become hardened. I used my two smallest sharpest fingernails to cut and pick away stray strings of glue. Brian laid a piece of cardboard down to protect the table while we worked. We used the cardboard to pick up the glued vase and transfer it back to the mantle as soon as we deemed it safe to transport the goods from steady tabletop across the uncertain abyss of hall and living room toward the towering mantle.
“Maybe we should rotate it so the biggest pieces face front? The sunlight from the sliding door shows those hairline cracks too well.” He put his hands on his hips and tilted his head to one side.
“Yeah.” I nodded.  
He gave the vase a quarter turn from the bottom rim with surgeon steady hands. “Not bad, huh?” I asked.
“We’ll find out,” he grinned.
We moved the furniture back into “living” positions and I went upstairs to color something.
Mom and Dad pulled into the driveway fifteen minutes later. I applied my innocent face and floated downstairs to stand near the kitchen table toying with a grocery store flyer Dad had just put down.
Mom asked Brian to gather the dirty clothes so she could do laundry.
Brian looked hesitant, and started to say something. 
Mom interrupted, “Now, please? So I can get it started while we take a quick nap.”
Brian nodded and bolted off on assignment.
“What did you two eat for lunch?” Mom demanded.
“Cereal, I think,” I fibbed.
Mom murmured disapproval, “Well, no more junk before dinner, but I’ll make you a sandwich if you want one.” 
Dad said something about taking us to see the latest Star Wars movie after his nap.  I tore out of the kitchen and up the stairs to find the Yoda t-shirt Brian had out-grown into my wardrobe.
I came home from college for Thanksgiving my junior year to find Brian and Mom in the living room tidying things up before assorted relatives amassed at our house for turkey and dressing. Mom had made a new flower arrangement for the occassion, and during extended placement trials, she decided the flowers might look best on the mantle above the fireplace.
I noticed Mom hesitate as she lifted her Ming-imitation vase from its central post on the mantle. She tilted the vase back and forth in the dusty afternoon sunlight looking into its archeological origins.
            “It’s so strange, look at how it’s all cracked up. What caused all the cracks? Why hasn’t it broken?” Mom mused.
Caught completely unaware, Brian and I cracked up, boulder rolling on the floor, in gut-busting peals of laughter.
Mom looked on from all five feet of her height above us.  “What?”
Laughter kept us from responding, but the uncertainty was already starting to spread into recognition on Mom’s face.
“You two did this?” she smiled and raised two eyebrows with as much authority as Queen Victoria.
Brian nodded between laughing convulsions that were more fit for a five-year-old boy than a man with three kids of his own. 
I snorted, held myself still on the floor, and tried to explain, “Of course we did. We broke it about fifteen years ago playing indoor baseball while you and Dad were at work, but we glued it back together to keep from getting into trouble.”
 “You never noticed the cracks before?” Brain inquired.
“No.”  Mom laughed from her belly.

I met my siblings eyes and we smiled at each other with our whole beings.  I remembered that the winter after we cracked the vase, my younger brother was born and we shared our love of indoor baseball with him over the following years.  We never broke another vase, and no squabble ever broke us apart.  I realized that some cracks help keep a family whole.
Brian and I dance at my wedding reception
Kirby and I drink scotch

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