Thanksgiving at my parent’s house is what my husband and I like to call the “indigestion express.” It’s not my parents’ fault. They’re wonderful. It’s my three older siblings. They’re all loud, exceedingly annoying, opinionated and full of themselves. In other words nothing like me. I’m shy, reserved and thoughtful.
Okay, I’m none of those, but I like to think that I’m the least annoying member of my family. Not exactly, high praise, I know. One Thanksgiving many years ago, in the B.C. era, Before Children, my sister and I got into it at the dinner table. It all started with the mashed potatoes.
There I was, oh so innocently, scooping myself a second heaping helping of mashed taters when the dinner conversation turned, like I’m sure it does at most families Thanksgiving dinners, to world annihilation. My eldest brother posed the question: If the world was under attack by aliens and you could pick only two family members to help you fight the horde of space invaders who would choose?
Talk about getting my feelings hurt none of my siblings picked me. I got a little ticked off and asked why would no one would want me on their alien annihilation team? My second brother piped up and said it was because my smart mouth would result in instant death if we were captured and then my sister uttered the phrase that kicked me right in my overly full stomach. She said, “You couldn’t handle the physical exertion it would take to defeat the aliens.”
I stared at her, my mashed potato mouth wide open in shock. “Are you kidding me,” I said. “I could so take you.” She smirked at me and then shoveled a spoonful of sweet potato casserole in her mouth.
Let’s pause the tale here for a second so I can fill you in on the back story and by that I mean a brief history of the my “sister relationship”. My sister is a scant 17 months older than me. We are polar opposites in every way. She is a super smart and I’m, to be kind, let’s say not so super smart. To follow behind her in school was misery. Teachers, dismayed by my lack of upper cranium brain matter, would actually say to me, “Are you sure you’re Rebecca’s sister?”
She burns. I tan. She has black hair, I have light brown. The most glaring difference, she’s skinny. I’m well, to be kind again, not so skinny. I don’t begrudge my sister anything not even most of her naturally thin body. The only part I’m beyond envious of are her legs. Her shapely, thin, freaking legs. She’s cankle and thunder thigh free.
Many of you know that I’m a longtime cankle sufferer (see “Cankle Nation”) and to say I covet my sister’s lovely lower calves and trim, petite ankles is a gross understatement. Also, my sister is not just skinny. She’s a delicate skinny where I’m more hearty, curvy, peasant stock. Growing up she always had to buy her clothes in super slim sizes. At age 10 I was wearing women’s clothes and a women’s size 10 shoe. Talk about life not being fair.
Now, back to my Thanksgiving tale. We left off with my sister smirking at me. I wasn’t going to let that go without a comment. “Rebecca,” I said authoritatively, “who had your back all through school when kids on the bus would tease you about being four eyes or a nerd? That would be moi. I was like your mafia bodyguard. Trust me, you wouldn’t have made it through elementary school unscathed if it weren’t for me.”
She shoots back, “I didn’t say you weren’t big and (pause) scary.”
Oh no she didn’t! Those were fighting words. I was ready to pick up a turkey leg and indulge in an extreme case of poultry assault that’s if I could get to the turkey before my husband. He looked mad enough to slap her with or without the aid of a domesticated game bird. My second brother, David, always up for a good time says, “Why don’t you two have a contest to see who’s in better shape? We can do the best 3 out of 5 events.”
I didn’t care if it was a triathlon to hell I was going to do it. I eagerly said, “I’m in because you, Rebecca, are skinny/fat whereas I am fat/skinny.”
“What’s skinny fat mean, you freak?” she asks. Before I could answer my mom butts in and says we are all acting juvenile and she’s ashamed of all of us. My dad, adds, that all of this is “very uncivilized.”
I point at my sister and say in a very mature tone, “She started it” and then explain to her that skinny fat means she maybe thin because of her freakish metabolism, but she is not in shape. Then I drop this bomb in front of my parents, “And you, Rebecca, smoke!”
My parents in unison gasp and stare at my sister. They are horrified that she’s smokes. In my head, “I’m saying ha, ha, you’re in trouble now.” After my sister explains to my parents that she “barely smokes” (please, how can you barely smoke?) and only touches a cigarette when she’s stressed doing an audit. She’s a tax accountant, for God’s sake, she’s always doing an audit which pretty much means she smokes all the time.
After my parents have been calmed down with false assurances that my sister is quitting smoking for good after tax season we continue with the contest discussion. My brother proposes that the contest takes place the next morning and will feature five events. The Pumpkin Pitch, the Pool Freeze, the Wood Stacker, the Turkey Trot and the All of the Above Obstacle Course.
The winner gets bragging rights to her sister superiority. The loser has to clean up the Thanksgiving kitchen which will not be cleaned tonight and will sit and stew in it’s own grease waiting for the loser to do their duty. My mom did not like the idea of the kitchen not being cleaned right away. It took a lot of cajoling from us to convince her that the world would not end if she went to bed with dirty dishes in the sink.
The next morning I woke up ready to take my sister down a peg or two. After a hearty breakfast of pumpkin and pecan pie I couldn’t wait to get started. My brothers in an effort to make the contest “more interesting” decided it would be fun to place bets on their sisters. Everyone had their money on my sister, except my husband. He bet all he had, 20 bucks, on me. My parents declined to take part in our “childish pursuits,” although they did watch the action.
The contest began with the Pumpkin Pitch. We went to my parents backyard where each of us got six pumpkins to throw. Whomever throws the pumpkins the farthest wins. My sister, skinny/fat went first. She totally sucked. I gleefully taunted her by saying, “I guess all those hours sitting at a desk and “barely smoking” have really hurt your upper body strength.” She managed to flip me the bird without my parents seeing.
I was confident I could not only beat her at throwing pumpkins but shame her. A little known fact about being a T.V. reporter you have to carry heavy equipment. Those camera tripods – not light (especially back in the day) and not only do you get to carry heavy equipment, but you get to drag it up and down the steps of the Texas State Capitol building – in heels.
You also on a fairly regular basis, have to chase politicians, the Governor, and assorted other state officials around the Capitol all while jumping over camera cables, sprinting towards elevators to shove microphones in their faces and in your down time using your T.V. gear to do biceps curls. It was an aerobic, strength training/conditioning workout everyday.
Now, I could use my work workout to shame my sister – excellent. I picked up my first pumpkin and it soared into the neighbor’s yard, same with pumpkin 2 – 6. Winner, hands down – me! That potato smirk my sister gave me last night was wiped off her face.
I was even more excited about the next event the Pool Freeze. We had to jump in my parents non-heated pool, current temperature 61 degrees, and see who could swim the most laps in 10 minutes. I knew I had this one in the bag. My sister is big sissy about cold water. I’m more of the Polar bear persuasion. Yes, body fat can come in handy while braving cold water.
Ready, set, go and off we jumped into the water. My sister hit the pool and began screaming about how cold it is. “It’s too cold to swim. I’ll get an upper respiratory infection,” she wailed.
I shot back, “Shut up and swim” and began to do laps with flip turns just in case I got bonus points for finesse. Once again, I’m victorious.
It’s two to nothing when we begin the Wood Stacker event. The goal is to see how much wood (from my Dad’s woodpile) we can fill up a wheelbarrow with then race with the wheelbarrow to the other end of the yard, dump the wood and race back to get more wood. Whomever has the most wood on the other side of the yard in 10 minutes wins. The pressure was on. If I win this event it’s over. I’ll be up 3 – 0 and my sister is kaput.
My hearty peasant stock worked to my advantage. I grabbed wood and flung into that wheelbarrow like my life depended on it and then hauled down the yard balancing the weight of the wheelbarrow with my sturdy arms. My cankles were on fire, but I didn’t care I was going for the W!
Oh yay, 10 minutes is up and I’m the w-i-n-n-e-r! My woodpile was twice the size of my sister’s. Yes! I wipe wood bark off of me and get ready to accept my award for awesome when my skinny/fat sister starts shouting that “it’s not fair, it’s not fair!”
I yell back, “What’s not fair sore loser?”
She starts pleading her case that the first 3 events played to my strengths because I have “man hands and shoulders.” (Is it a crime that ladies gloves don’t fit me?) No one said anything. Her unkind, but perhaps accurate statement sucked the air right out of the backyard. The silence was so eerie neighbors outside hanging their Christmas lights came over to see what was going on. It was my mom shouting “Rebecca, shame on you!” that broke the silence.
I then had to put my dude size arm out to stop my husband from what I”m sure was going to death by fist on my sister. (God, I love that man.) “Okay, you immature little baby” I say. “I tell you what let’s combine the next two events the Turkey Trot and Obstacle Course into one and it’s winner take all. Plus, the loser has to do the Thanksgiving dishes for the next – decade!”
The Skinny/fat crybaby was all over it. We waited as my brothers set up the final challenge.
I, after getting a pep talk from my husband, was feeling confident, but a little scared. We had a one mile turkey trot through the neighborhood, then we had to swim 10 laps, after which we would dive to the bottom of the pool, grab 6 pumpkins, chuck them out, then pick them up, put them in a wheelbarrow and race to the back of the yard. My biggest problem would be running. I don’t like to run. I enjoying walking, skipping, dancing, but not running. To beat my sister though I could endure it.
The starting line is my parent’s driveway. My brother honks his car horn and we’re off. Damn if my skinny/fat, “barely smoking” sister doesn’t take off like the mighty wind. Crap. I had hope to pace myself, but no, now I have to full-out run to stay even with her.
Thank goodness, I had put not one, but two jog bras on it because my girls were taking a beating. I figure I can let her stay a little ahead of me because I can make up time in the pool. But then my pride kicks into overdrive. I can’t let her even win the race. I must and will vanquish her in everything.
It was as if I was being fueled by my less than perfect childhood memories. All of a sudden my man hands and shoulders, my thunder thighs and cankles, my now size 11 feet all worked in unison to make me into some kind of wonder woman. My body moved faster than it ever has before or since.
I’m flying. I zoom past her and dive into the pool fully clothed, come up for air, take off my shoes, burn through 10 laps, toss out the pumpkins, grab that wheelbarrow and haul ass to the back of the yard! I not only won, I won big. My sister hadn’t even finished her laps in the pool. My family is cheering, the neighbors are cheering and my husband is pumping his fist in the air. It was a magic moment.
I stood there soaked, cold and with a chest that felt like it was going to explode. I had never felt better in my life. My brothers rush over to announce me as the winner and to give me my award – last night’s greasy gravy ladle. My husband starts chanting, speech, speech – so I raised my gravy ladle high and say, “This my family, neighbors and friends is for big girls everywhere – never, ever underestimate the power of the cankle!”
More cheers erupt. I then give my sister the ladle and suggest, very kindly, that she get to work cleaning the kitchen for the next 10 years.