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Audrey and me, ages 2 and 4 respectively

I call myself “Ornery Chick” here, but to give credit where it's due, I'd have to say my sister is probably the original ornery chick in our family. The girl was born with a twinkle in her eye and mischief on her mind, and it didn't take her real long to start bringing it. As soon as she started talking, she started stirring things up.

We're just two years apart, so we grew up close together, and were usually able to play together pretty well. That doesn't mean that we didn't pick on each other, because we most certainly did. We're sisters. That's what we do.

The first button Audrey pushed on the control panel that is my temperament was one that we might well label, “that's not my name, dammit” She decided, for whatever inscrutable toddler reason, that I should be called Gwah, and would call me nothing else. She could, when prompted, say “Mish,” but when quizzed as to what my name was, she'd cut her eyes from side to side, grin real big, and exclaim “Gwah!” Then I'd have an enormous flouncing hissyfit and exclaim that my name wasn't Gwah, but was Michelle. At least this is the story in the family legends.

A couple of weeks ago, Audrey and I were talking on the phone, comparing recent injuries. You see, she's a roller-derby girl and I'm a mishap-prone cyclist. As we catalogued our cuts, scrapes, and bruises, we got a sense of déjà vu. When we were little kids, we used to compare bruises in a slightly competitive way. There was a bit of a sense of accomplishment to having been the more reckless sister,

We were country girls, and I'm sure that fostered some of our wildness. Our mom did, too, teaching us how to make ourselves belch, how to climb doorframes, and refereeing screaming contests. We were encouraged, nay required to go outside to blow off steam, and any time we started getting rowdy in the house, mom would chuck us outdoors like a pair of rowdy bar patrons. Countless long summer days were spent riding around the property on our bikes, chasing each other around with squirt guns, and climbing around like young monkeys on the swingset. When we had the cow, we also had a haystack, which was excellent to jump off and jump into. Come wintertime, we'd practice our pro-wrestling moves, throwing each other headfirst into snowbanks. We'd arrange and choreograph circus tricks involving walking on a barrel, like lumberjacks rolling logs, and invent contraptions and conveyances using the frame on an old stroller, leftover lumber, milk crates, jump ropes, outgrown tricycles and lengths of old garden hoses.

Audrey and I grew up putting our heads together to invent games, tell stories, build things, and keep ourselves amused. Half the time, the setup for our games was as much fun as the playing thereof. We'd build elaborate dollhouses for our Barbies using cinder blocks, bookshelves, milk crates, and all manners of small rubbish to furnish them. Matchboxes made fine dressers, checkbook-boxes made adequate sofas, especially when wrapped in a colorful bandana and strewn with miniature pillows. My clumsy sewing provided soft furnishings, like those pillows, curtains made of handkerchiefs lashed to drinking straws, and patchwork quilts for tiny beds. In the wintertime, when we'd be kept home from school by a snowstorm, we'd amuse ourselves by flicking drops of water on the woodstove (to watch them sputter and dance on the hot metal), by rollerskating around the basement to Cyndi Lauper songs played on Dad's cassette player, and sending humorous-to-us notes up and down the ventilation shaft from the living room to the basement.

Of course, we squabbled plenty; we are sisters after all, and at various points in time we had to share a bedroom, which didn't always work out too well. We're very different personalities, and were frequently at different stages, developmentally, where we were perfectly set up to clash mightily. We shared a room between the ages of 7 and 11, when I got uppity and moved my crap out, into the tiny room upstairs that we'd previously used as a playroom. Mom was out working in her garden, and I took it upon myself to tote my bed, dresser, books and toys upstairs and arrange them somewhat before Mom could come inside to survey the upheaval. I was later allowed to paint my sanctum a minty shade of green, and considered it a prized retreat from the world. Two years later, however, our paternal grandmother came to live with us, and I was promptly bounced back into the bubblegum-pink abyss that was the shared downstairs bedroom. At ages 11 and 13, we were primed to fight like cats and dogs, but of course Grandma disapproved heartily of such goings-on, and would mutter in scandalized tones to our parents. The solution became silently and methodically whaling the stuffin' out of each other in our hideous basement bedroom.

Despite the fact that we had some pretty vehement, vocal, violent skirmishes, I don't think either of us ever held any lasting grudges. We'd have been shooting ourselves in the feet if we had, for we were not only adversaries, we were playmates, confidantes, and partners-in-crime. “Don't tell Mom” is a bond siblings worldwide share. Plus there are all of the in-jokes memories, and family stories. That familiarity which is instantaneous. We can meet up after not having seen each other for months and burst into ridiculous songs and reminisce about hanging upside-down from the footboard of the big iron bedstead we shared as very small children, singing “boomp-boomp diddum-daddum, waddam, shooo!” You can find the song on this website…it's “Three Little Fishies” and is totally worth a listen And for more fun, here are the lyrics.

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