Unlike most Irish-American Catholic families, I do not have six sisters with names like Mary, Margaret, Mary Margaret, Margaret Mary, or Kathleen. Boy, would that have been a mess. With six sisters and a mom in the house, I would never have known we had a bathroom.
“Where are you going, honey?”
“Out in the yard, Mom.”
“My goodness, it’s fifty below zero out there!”
“Can’t help it, gotta take a dump.”
“Don’t be silly. There’s a perfectly good bathroom right upstairs.”
“You’re kidding! WHERE? You better tell Dad ’cause he’s out in the bushes trying to shave.”
My parents blessed me with just one little sister. Pootsie. That was her name, Pootsie. Not her official name, of course, the one she had to use on important documents like spelling tests and love letters to movie stars.
Actually, Dad was the only one who called Pootsie Pootsie. Mom and I called her Cathy, which was sort of her real name, but not the real real name that’s on her birth certificate. I cannot use her real real name because, even though she lives two million miles away in New York, she would poke me in the eye if I did. It is a moot point anyway, since Cathy had her real real name changed officially to Cathy ages ago, so now her real real name is Cathy.
I don’t see anything confusing about that, do you? I mean, it’s not like I had five other sisters calling themselves something different every fifteen minutes.
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Even though I’m two years older than she is, my sibling got all the good stuff—brains, looks, and personality. She even got the boobs, which really pissed me off because I wanted them. There I was, waiting and waiting, while Cathy popped ’em out just as easy as microwave popcorn.
Everything, you see, was as easy as microwave popcorn for my sister. She never had to study because she just seemed to know shit automatically. Memorizing The Baltimore Catechism? No problem. By the third grade she had all five hundred answers memorized, while I was still working on number six during my senior year in college. It was the same thing with the multiplication tables.
MOM: “Cathy, what is 1,642 times 2,928?”
CATHY: “4,807,776. Gee, Mom, that was an easy one.”
MOM: “Chuckie, what is 4 times 3?”
CHUCKIE: “Let me see now, 4 times 1 is 4, 4 times 2 is 8, 4 times 3 is 27, no, no, that’s not right, wait a minute, I’ll get it, don’t keep pestering me, I need time to think, a lot of it, and boy, is it hot in here, I really have to go to the bathroom, and don’t stare at me like I’m stupid, this stuff is hard, I’ll get it sooner or later, let me see, 4 times 1 is 4, 4 times 2 is . . .”
Cathy got all the talent, too. She can’t play the bassoon worth a shit, only because she never took bassoon lessons, but she was a child singing-and-tap-dancing sensation. Well, I don’t know if she was a sensation, but she was pretty good. She sang and tap danced in local shows, many of them at nursing homes, and I remember that she made those lonely old folks feel young again, at least for a little while.
* * * * *
Lest I make it sound like my sister was some kind of perfect child, she wasn’t. Far from it. When she was three, she had chronic tonsillitis. Either yank them, the doctor said, or else she could kiss show biz goodbye by the time she turned four. Problem is, it was her rotten tonsils that got my perfectly good ones snipped too.
DOCTOR: “Looks like Pootsie has a problem with her pipes and I’ll have to pull ’em.”
MOM: “Oh dear Lord. What about Chuckie’s?”
DOCTOR: “His are perfectly good, but I might as well rip ’em out at the same time. I’m having a big two-for-one sale down at the hospital this week, plus I give S&H Green Stamps.”
So Cathy got her singing voice back, Mom got a new toaster with the shitload of Green Stamps from the hospital, and all I got was a sore throat that has been acting up ever since.
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Other stories about my only sibling:
Singing for Salvation