When Love — and My Sister’s Boyfriend — is in the Air

So, remember in 1979 when there was one phone, in the kitchen, and it was screwed into the wall?

And then there was a second phone, usually in your parents’ room? Because, well, kids. Especially when one of those kids might have missed a curfew.

But anyway, remember when you’d be doing the dishes when that phone in the kitchen would ring? You’d answer that phone and it would be your 15-year-old sister’s boyfriend? Again?  (And yet it was never one the half-dozen or so girls you maybe had a huge crush on down there inside those hormone-encrusted walls of Talmadge Junior High?)

So you’d roll your eyes and tell your sister’s boyfriend, “hang onnnnn,” including a “jeez” whispered under your breath as you covered the receiver so you could be somewhat polite while screaming your sister’s name?

And she’d skip down the hallway to take the call in your parents’ room?

And you’d be stuck there, the receiver pressed to your ear, like some kind of unwitting and reluctant operator of the Love Hotline? And you’d stand there, dish soap dripping down your elbows, holding the phone to your ear, whispering “Come onnnnnn!” while waiting for her to pick up the receiver in your parents’ room?

And you’d hear her pick up the other end? And then she’d scream from down the hallway, “Okay, got it!” so you’d hang up your receiver and she could talk freely?

And you’d hang up?

Or maybe you’d just pretend to hang up. 😏

You’d simply cover the receiver, so neither one of those hopeless love birds could hear anything out of your receiver? And you’d listen to all the lovey dovey.

All the smooch smooch.

I missed you …

No I missed YOU.

And you’d pretty much want to puke?

Or chuckle.

Which was about the time your sister would scream, “Jeff, get off the phone!!!!!! Moooooooooommmmmm!”


It wasn’t easy being the annoying little brother. But I was damned good at it. Perhaps even a professional.

But that’s still not the best sister/boyfriend story in my time as a professional 13-year-old brother.

That story would be the one from that sweltering summer night in August 1979, while absolutely dying of heat exhaustion in my room late at night. There’s no air conditioning in the modest 3-bedroom, 2-bath ranches of 1970s working-class Oregon. Nor any fans, for that matter. Whatever fans we had would be scattered throughout the living room, their blades feverishly swirling the haze of cigarette smoke that flickered in the light of 1970s-era TV consoles that blasted above the din.

The rest of us were left to our open windows in our bedrooms — one ear tuned to my slow and painful demise, the other listening for the moment my sister’s boyfriend comes meandering along the side of the house.

That’s because earlier on that 101-degree day, my sister had announced a rather sudden and mysterious desire to camp in our back yard this evening.

In a tent.

By herself.

My mother was always was a bit preoccupied with her yard work, or her house work, or her vodka — or perhaps all three — so I simply shook my head and sipped my lemonade as I observed this conversation.

Because, like any annoying 13-year-old brother, I was highly skeptical of my sister’s motives. Yet my mother questioned exactly none of it, only stopping to snap at me, my chair, and my delicious lemonade: “Are your legs broken?” I hop up to help scoop grass clippings into the wheel barrow.

Later that evening, I’m pondering my sister’s sudden love of the outdoors as my digital alarm clock creeps toward midnight and I lay in my fresh hell of sweat-soaked sheets and adolescent angst. Finally, I hear what I had suspected all along, so I leap to my feet and press my nose against the window screen. The light of the moon illuminates the hedge that runs the length of the house, separating our property from our neighbors, who just so happen to be the grandparents of yet another junior high crush of mine — she of the occasional summer visits and polka dot bikini top and … I digress.

Anyway, he thinks he is clever, this one — slowly creeping alongside the house, part-Vietnam reconnaissance soldier, part-circus contortionist. He’s ever so careful to not brush against the hedge branches, freezing in his tracks at even the slightest crack of a weathered twig.

I wait, like a love thief in the night, pressing my lips together so tightly that they form a Hoover Dam of stifled laughter.

Finally, he stands only inches from the screen, so close that I could smell his pitiful aroma of cheap cologne and reckless fantasy as it wafted through the midnight air.


I’m not exactly sure when he came down, but when he did, it was halfway into that hedge of ours.

My laugh breaks the levee, bursting through my nose and spilling into the humid night. I scramble to contain the last of it with a hand, so as to not arouse any suspicion from the living room.

Meanwhile, he cusses and digs a briar out of his left ear.

“Gonna kick your ass,” he fires my way, through rapid bursts of stern whispers, flaring nostrils, and stiff upper lips.

“Doubt it,” I say smugly.

You little …” as he picks another briar from the inside of his thigh.

“Kick my ass?” I reply, rather proud of my plan having been executed to perfection. “Nah. I’ll tell my mom. She already doesn’t like you. She even keeps her own shotgun in the closet.”

He stares at me a second, shaking his head.

And with that agreement, Romeo continues his journey toward Juliet.

I fall back into my fresh, steamy hell — tugging at sheets, punching at hot pillows, and smiling at the moment of bliss I managed to find on an otherwise dreadful summer night.

I’m comfortable again for a moment, regardless of  how fleeting it may be, and I grin as I replay the scenario through my head. Again, then again.

There’s only a single, momentary hint of regret — and it’s an ever-so-slight, guilt-ridden inkling of remorse for my efforts earlier that afternoon to help her set up her tent.

On top of that ant hill.


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