Thursday, February 19, 2009


In response to a writing prompt at Mama’s Losin’ It:
Write about something mean you did to a sibling growing up.

        My sister Linda was a practical jokester. Being three years older than I was, she thought of clever things to do to make my life miserable. When I was very small, she pretended to eat sand from our sandbox, telling me how good it tasted. Of course, I believed her and went crying to my mother with a mouth full of the horrible grit. Once when Linda was supposed to pack my lunch for Brownie day camp, I found two pieces of paper with the words “SWISS CHEESE” and “HAM” written on them between two slices of bread in my lunch bag. She even cut round holes of varying sizes in the paper labeled “SWISS CHEESE.”
        Every day for about a week, I found my wet toothbrush lying on the sink instead of in the holder above the sink. I ignored it for a few days. But Linda was patient. She was waiting for me to say something, then told me my toothbrush had fallen into the toilet so she didn’t want to put it in the rack with the other brushes. Of course, it hadn’t fallen in the toilet. She just said that to annoy me.

        It took me a while, but I soon realized Linda was terrified of many things. All I had to do was scare her with them. She was afraid of bugs and worms--- I loved chasing her around the yard with a juicy worm dangling from my fingers. She would scream and cry if she had to get a shot or have antiseptic applied to a cut or scrape. When she was 12, an episode of “Captain Video” scared her so much that we were never allowed to watch it again.
        Click HERE to see how totally inane it would be to be afraid of this old TV show. Besides a low budget and terrible acting, to save money this futuristic outer space show was interspersed with clips of old cowboy movies which were supposed to depict Captain Video’s undercover agents on Earth.
        One week, my sister had been particularly mean to me. She claimed I was responsible for something she had done ---and of course, I was punished for it. She had also punched my arm resulting in a painful 4-inch bruise, but when I blamed her, she told my mother I had fallen and was lying to get her into trouble. I was racking my brain for a clever way to pay her back, when an idea fell right into my lap.

        We were watching an episode of “The Thin Man” with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. On the internet, I discovered that the episode “Robot Client” aired on Friday 2/28/58. I was 12 and my sister was 15. (Click on the name of the episode to watch the video of it ---about 25 minutes.)
        The plot revolved around a scientist who had invented Robby the Robot to handle radioactive materials. When military officials showed up for a demonstration, Robby entered the room carrying a dead body.
        At that point, my sister screamed and cried and wouldn’t watch the rest of the show. I was 12 and it didn’t scare me at all. “The Thin Man” was a mystery/drama, but it was also a comedy.

        But then, I knew how I was going to get back at my sister and luckily I had two things I needed to do it.
        My parents bedroom was on the first floor of our house. My sister and I had separate rooms upstairs. My bedroom had two walk-in closets. One held my clothes, but the other was used for storage ---and that is where my two props had been packed away. I found what I needed and hid them under the bed so I wouldn’t have to be digging through the closet when everyone else was sleeping.
        I waited and waited until I was sure my sister was asleep. Over my PJs, I pulled on a Halloween costume from 1956. In 1958 it didn’t fit so well, but it would do. It consisted of pants and a pullover shirt that were made from a metallic gray fabric with black outlines that were supposed to look like dials and knobs. There was also a gray hood to hide my hair. The shirt may have looked somewhat like the illustration to the left.

        It was a rather poor excuse for a robot costume, but the best part was the mask.
        The red and blue mask had a piece of plastic, like a one-way mirror, so I could see out but no one could see in. Above that were two red eyes with flashlight bulbs in them. A wire ran from the mask down my arm. In my hand I held a cardboard cylinder made of two sections, one inside of the other with a spring inside. By squeezing it, contact was made with a D battery which made the eyes light up. Releasing it turned the eyes off.
        From a box in the closet I had retrieved an old rag doll. It was huge --probably four feet long, as you can see from the photo of it on my typically unmade bed ---from when I was about 8. I laid the doll across my arms to look like the robot on TV carrying a dead body.
        I crept down the hall to Linda’s room. At her open door, I started flashing the eyes off and on and walked stiff-legged like a robot. I grunted a little and bumped against the bed to wake her. Finally, she sensed my presence. In the light from my robot eyes, I saw her eyelids flutter open, then her startled face ----and then all hell broke loose.
        Her scream could have lifted the roof from the house. She sounded like Fay Wray when she spotted King Kong through her window. And my sister wouldn’t stop screaming. I ran to my room, tore off the mask, hood and costume shirt, and threw them under the bed along with the doll. I jumped into bed and pulled the covers to my neck. By that time, my mother had flown up the stairs. My father slept like the dead, so knew nothing had happened until the next day.
        I wiggled out of the costume bottoms, leaving them under the covers and stumbled down the hall rubbing my eyes, asking what was going on. I didn’t want to miss seeing my sister turning into a blob of quivering Jello. When she calmed down enough to speak, Linda kept saying the robot from “The Thin Man” had been in her room. My mother, at first, thought she had been having a nightmare. I tried to act totally innocent, but I couldn’t keep a straight face. My mother finally figured out what I had done.
        I hadn’t thought ahead enough to realize my sister’s sonic screams in the middle of the night could have given my mother a heart attack. However, my mother had a sense of humor and laughed about it the next day. Linda, however, never found any humor in the experience.
        I don’t remember my punishment so it probably wasn’t too terrible. But, no matter. It was worth it. Besides setting my sister’s knees knocking for a few days, the incident put an end to her pathetically amateur practical jokes. Ultimately, she realized she was in the presence of a master.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)
To read about my all-time best practical joke, click here: "CARD TRICK"


Dan said...

Being the older sibling meant I didn't have much to fear. I was busy with the wires and flashlights and ... fixing up our shared bedroom for late night attacks of the willies. Left my little brother quaking until he discovered the relationship between girls and blackmail and privacy when we were in high school.

Sounds like you got you sister well. Does she speak to you now?

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Oh, I love it. I wish I could have seen it. You are not someone to cross, obviously.

Astharis said...

{Came over from Mama Kat's Workshop} :)

That was completely genius! I bow to you. Your sister is probably still completely terrified of robots, you realise? :p

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

Ouch....I have 3 siblings. Two brother who are two years older than me one younger. The 2 older are twins. I can't believe that I survived our youth :) We still fight today (well not literally TODAY). But now we love each other more than anything.
Great post and thanks for the memorie's!

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking she'll never let you forget that!

Simply AnonyMom said...

That was a well executed scare. Good job for being so resourseful. Did she bother you again?

Paige said...

This just goes to show that us older ones were not ALWAYS the only bad ones in the house.

Namine said...

I must say that was fabulous!!

Wonder if she still remembers it!

Becky said...

Awesome! AWESOME!!! Oh my word I laughed so hard while reading your story. I wish I could have heard those screams... priceless!

Becky said...

P.S. "I, Robot" is one of my favorite books and the movie with Will Smith I have seen again and again.

Maki said...

Payback time!!!! Woo Hoo!!!

Soooo clever!!!

CJ said...

At the time I wrote this, I didn't want to make those people feel bad who had asked if my sister still talked to me or if she remembered.

She did remember because the incident came up occasionally over the years. We didn't have a wonderful relationship, especially during my first year of college. She was a senior at the same school. Every time she saw me on campus, she would inform my mother that I wasn't wearing gloves or I was not in my dorm room studying when she called. But as we got older, I appreciated her more. She was the organizer who always planned ahead, had great suggestions for gifts for our parents, etc. But I still assumed she thought of me as the irresponsible kid sister.

Unfortunately, my sister died of breast cancer in 1988 at the age of 44.

At the funeral home, many of her friends introduced themselves to me. I was shocked when they told me she was proud of me for serving in the Peace Corp for two years in Brazil. She had bragged about my involvement in the early days of the women's movement and my successes as an visual artist.

I miss her.