I love this photo, taken the day after a chaotic drama at home when Lisa and I were little. I’d forgotten entirely about the ‘bubble gum incident’ until I found this pic a few weeks ago. It’s a ‘sister love’ story worth sharing. I promise. ❤
Lisa is my older sister with developmental and physical disabilities. Growing up, we knew how to take care of each other – even when, or especially when our mom was on the warpath. Through thick and thin…we stuck together. (Oh – that will become funny in a minute…read on…”stuck”…that’s perfect!)
Mom often wanted to blame me for mishaps because she assumed I was unkind or thoughtless with Lisa. Maybe I was, on occasion, but mostly I looked out for her. The extent of Lisa’s disabilities unfolded over time but I always knew she needed me. As she grew, we learned she was legally blind in one eye and her challenges with mobility became obvious. The combination made her wobbly, even on good days.
When mom wanted to assume the worst in me, Lisa tried to come to my defense, but she also knew when to back down for her own safety. Taking on our mom in an argument never ended well.
I don’t recall the year of the bubble gum incident, but using the photo as a guide, I’d guess I was five or six which would mean Lisa was about seven. The striking thing in the photo is Lisa’s hair. The day before, she had shoulder length, dark blonde curls – thick and full. Twenty-four hours later? A buzz cut that made her look more like a little boy than a sweet girl.
Mom hated it when we chewed bubble gum, so Lisa and I were sneaky. We’d enjoy gum only when we watched tv and knew how to shove a big wad to the side of our mouths to avoid detection. I taught Lisa how. Mom’s hardline stance? Not about dental worries. No, she hated gum because it was a pisser to remove from furniture and pillows and Lisa and I had habits of leaving wads of chewed-up gum on nightstands and bedposts, instead of using garbage cans. Fair enough. One point for the mom.
But on the summer day in question, Lisa was a dare devil as she practiced stretching and swirling maneuvers with her gum. After chewing several pieces, she began whipping long strands around her fingers, feeling like she’d accomplished something magical. I’m not sure why, but Lisa could never master the art of blowing bubbles and it drove her crazy because she couldn’t copy my monster-sized efforts. The next best thing in Lisa’s mind? Twirl, baby, twirl. And she did. And then it got stuck in her hair.
I don’t know where I’d gone but when I returned to the tv and Lisa that day, she was crying as she tried to extricate sticky pink gum from her hair. The more she struggled, the more mangled the mess. My sweet sister started to tremble – not just about the predicament but the rage that would follow from mom. I tried to help, but poor Lisa’s curls sucked up the sticky, rubbery gum with a vengeance.
I knew Lisa. She wasn’t worried about her hair. She was trembling as she anticipated mom’s rage. So, I did what made sense. I told Lisa it wasn’t her fault. We’d tell mom I was playing around, and MY gum got in LISA’s hair. MY GUM. Lisa nodded and through her tears, she understood. “Are you sure?”, she asked. “Yep. You didn’t do anything. It’s my fault and I’ll go tell mom.”
I did – tell our mom – and the punishment wasn’t great for me, but Lisa was spared and that was good. Mom grabbed kitchen shears and began chopping off hunks of Lisa’s hair, all while screaming at me…which was unpleasant, but better than having her take it out on Lisa.
By the time mom was done, Lisa’s hair looked like it was shorn by a weed-wacker. Evidence in the photo. For good measure, I guess, a few inches were lopped off my hair and my bangs were hacked a bit, but the more mom cut, the less angry she was, so I didn’t complain.
The next day mom took us to a beauty parlor and Lisa got her hair trimmed a little more. I don’t think Lisa needed to go, but mom wanted an audience to tell the horror story of what ‘awful little Vicki did’. Fine, whatever. I remember sulking in order to fit the description mom spewed to the gossip gals in the ugly pink palace…the ‘salon’.
Playing the part of demon child, I stared out the window and noticed one of those fun, pint-sized photo booths on the sidewalk. As mom paid and finished blathering about how hard it was to raise ‘little hellions”, I told Lisa she looked pretty with her short hair, and we should take a picture together. Her vision was poor because she wasn’t wearing glasses yet, so the picture of us became a memento she loved…about a bad time that turned sister sunny.
Lisa still remembers the ‘bubble gum day’ as a feel-good but she never chewed gum after. Ever. Most important? It’s what you can’t see in the photo — Lisa squeezing my hand. She did that a lot that summer and I didn’t mind one bit.
Love to you, from me and big sis Lisa!
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