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I love my sisters. And despite their penchant for occasionally ripping the armpits out of my sweaters with wild bar room dancing, or the fact that one of them rear-ended me once in a mall parking lot and then laughed so hard she nearly wet her pants....I know they love me back. As Pam Brown once said, “Sisters annoy, interfere, criticize. Indulge in monumental sulks, in huffs, in snide remarks. Borrow. Break. Monopolize the bathroom. Are always underfoot. But if catastrophe should strike, sisters are there. Defending you against all comers.”  

It sounds as if Ms. Brown has some great sisters. But she ain’t seen nothing compared to mine. Yes, they have annoyed and criticized me. And they have defended me. They have also held me while I cried, helped me buy bras and maternity pants, held my children in their arms with as much love as I do, cut a rug with me on dance floors from London to Myrtle Beach, and they have never failed me. They are my freedom and my anchor. They are the source of some of my fondest memories, one of which I am writing about today.  

One summer Dad decided to surprise Mom by re-painting our old picnic table with redwood stain. More accurately, he decided to surprise Mom by having Sister Darci and I re-paint the table. This was during the era when redwood stain was all the rage, and Dad knew Mom would want to remain at the tiptop of patio fashion. In order to maintain the element of surprise, he decided that Darci and I should be hidden away while we created our masterpiece, so he hauled the picnic table into our (un-ventilated) garage, rolled the doors shut and opened up a can of stain. I was five years old at the time, and Darci was a wise and wicked seven. Dad left her in charge and disappeared to “mow the lawn“...code for smoking a cigarette behind the garage.  

I staggered towards the table with my dripping brush in hand, ready to work. Darci, however, had other ideas. She leaned in closely with a buck-toothed smirk and simpered, “Wouldn’t you like to look like an INDIAN????” Perhaps it was the age advantage, perhaps it was the fact that I weighed about 32 pounds and was instantly gorked on stain fumes....but for some reason it seemed like a wickedly clever idea. Of course I realize now that I should have run screaming in my hand-me-down Keds into the house, but I didn’t. I dumbly nodded. And a story was born.  

About 20 minutes later, Dad emerged from a cloud of cigarette smoke and whipped the garage door open to check our progress. Even though I often forget my commute to the office, and sometimes have trouble recollecting my social security number...I am certain that I will never forget the look on my fathers face at that moment. Never. Ever. There I stood, in the middle of the garage, wearing nothing but a sad pair of blue flowered undies. Except for the two white circles Darci had kindly left around my eyes, every inch of my skin was covered in redwood stain.  

And for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of being painted with a dangerous chemical...let me tell burns. I did the only thing my five-year old self could do. I moaned and cried and may have even gnashed my teeth. And I ratted Sister Darci out without a moment of hesitation.  

Let me pause for a moment to explain that my Dad really does love children, even his own. I am confident that it never occurred to him that shutting two young girls in a garage with a can of paint was a bad, if not potentially dangerous, idea. This is the same man who burned railroad ties in the furnace to save money, and who was kicked out of a junior high school skating party for initiating the worlds’ largest skating chain. He didn’t MEAN to poison us, or deplete the ozone layer, or cause little Kimmy Van Genderen to knock out her front teeth....those things just happened. His heart has always been in the right place. His head...not so much.  

On that fateful day, Dad realized that he needed to remedy the situation - and quickly. My mother was inside putting a final coat of “Luck Be A Lady” on her nails, and she would soon wonder why all was silent in the backyard. After attempting to spray off the stain with a garden hose and realizing that it was impossible....thus the word stain, Dad reached for his trusty gasoline can with a grim look on his face. I can only imagine that wild animals caught in traps must bear a similar expression, seconds before they begin gnawing off their own appendages. The next ten minutes were filled with Scrubbing (Dad), Swearing (Dad), and Screeching (All Me). By the time I wearily climbed back into my Garanimals Ensemble of the Day, I resembled a small, hopelessly depressed orange pygmie covered with a nasty rash. Dad picked me up and said, by way of encouragement, “Well, kiddo, you don’t look nearly as bad as you smell.”  

They say that if life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade. To that I can only say Pffffffffffttt. In my world, if life hands you a can of redwood stain, you should make the most of the situation to get your sisters’ new hairbrush, a trip to Rite Aid for glittery lip gloss, and your choice of Disney movies every Sunday night...for as long as you smell. Cheers.

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