Act II: The Performance
Dad wasn’t kidding when he laid down the rules. We were even held to rules we didn’t know–but should have. If we transgressed and were lucky, we got “The Look.” If we were unlucky, we got a furtive pinch. I am not talking about a love pinch.
My younger sister Gwen, God bless her, was more spirited and less cautious than I; and she often got the brunt of Dad’s ministrations. My little brother was largely immune due to age, cuteness, and, quite possibly, maleness. He might have been too young to understand we weren’t supposed to say, “Ouch!” when swatted, pinched, or kicked under the table; and that could have been risky.
But Gwen seized the day. Oh, how I envied her! Whether due to intransigent joie de vivre or a failure to learn from the past, my sis lived large. Since visits were miserable anyway; since The Review (Act III) and punishment loomed inexorably; why not enjoy life instead of sitting there like a flat tire? Apparently she had decided that fun now was worth punishment later.
Gwen loved water, and wherever water was to be found, she managed to accidentally fall in. Then she proceeded to have fun. How dare she!
Gwen loved makeup. She found all kinds of interesting cosmetics in Mom’s purse and, even better, in the bathrooms of the homes we visited. After putting on her face, she’d emerge, composed and cool, in a cloud of fragrance, behaving as though she didn’t know she had lipstick all over her face and couldn’t imagine how on earth it could have gotten there.
Gwen loved animals. After being explicitly told not to go anywhere near the puppies at one house, she emerged from the dog pen with the bitch’s tooth marks in her left buttock.
During a period in the 70’s, we lived in Germany. I remember one Sunday visit to friends in Pfungstadt especially well.
It was horrible.
It was wonderful!
In the car, my father prepped us. The lecture went something like this:
Unlike rambunctious American children, German children do not guzzle juice. Furthermore, juice is expensive in Germany, and you should not burden our hosts by asking for more than the one small glass you are sure to receive with your meal. Furtherfurthermore, Germans do not drink tap water, and so a request for any drink is a request for a bottled liquid purchased with their hard-earned money.
After drinking our one tiny glass of Saft at lunch, we kids were high and dry. Unable to stand it any longer, Gwen asked for more juice. Her request was immediately followed by a loud shriek.
Hilde, our concerned and startled hostess, asked my sister what was wrong. Gwen answered evenly, “My father pinched me.” Thinking she had misheard, Hilde asked again. Gwen obligingly clarified, “My father told me I could only have one glass of juice. I asked for more. So he pinched me under the table.”
Dad tried to play dumb but he wasn’t very convincing. Gwen got her juice. We all got our juice. We got all the juice we wanted.
Gwen had just bought us a few hours of power and freedom, and we set out to make the most of them. There was no time to waste since our coup would be repaid with interest once we left the sanctuary of Hilde’s modest home.
Act III: The Review
During the ride home and beyond, we were treated to a blow-by-blow recitation of our misbehaviors and the world-altering consequences thereof.
I probably became a therapist in self defense.