My mother died when I was a little kid and life went on. Well, our lives, and life was good back in the day. My family lived complacently in an orange house within the Portland-area. I was the kid sister to a brother who doesn’t really care for public recognition, so I’ll just share that he was once known as “Eddie Spaghetti, Are Your Meatballs Ready?” at our childhood bus stop.
Our childhood was part Banquet Salisbury Steak TV Dinners, part Hong Kong Phooey and Superfriends. We jumped our bikes over garbage cans and toilet papered the neighbor’s homes. We played Mad Libs, Red Rover, and Kick the Can with our friends. But our life in the mid-1970s wasn’t all rich Corinthian leather and disco.
I suffered some slight angst. My sibling rivalry turned on my jealousy of Eddie’s super cool toys. I had Baby Beans, Silly Putty, and a Lemon Twist, but he had stuff worth popping a wheelie for.
My brother had an Erector Set in a red metal case, and for some reason, that red metal box was very desirable to me. I remember carrying it while strutting my stuff up and down our cul-de-sac in my Bee Gees t-shirt. I always hoped someone would ask what important things I was up to. No one ever asked, and I frustrating knowing I couldn’t pass the set off as my own since I was just a “stupid” girl.
My brother could build countless creations with all those metal parts: 6V motor, tools, instructions, and more.
The words on the side of the box were so tempting. It read: Choking Hazard- Small Parts. Not for children under 3 yrs. I cleverly swallowed a rubber pulley just to see if the warning was a bluff. I washed it down with a warm Fresca and waited to wrap up the experiment.
My brother let me join him and his Erector Set sometimes and we always seemed to be building a bridge. The bridge had no name, no destination, or purpose, it was just a bridge on my brother’s floor surrounded by sunshine yellow walls. We didn’t care about the 1976 Montreal Olympics blaring downstairs; we played our Jaws soundtrack louder as we worked the girders and gears.
There were hundreds of pieces, painstakingly screwed together into a sturdy structure. When we finished for the day I was told to “go away and leave it alone.” So of course I felt the urge always to pop in for a slight tinker and adjustment while he was gone to Boy Scouts that night.
One morning my brother was intensely contemplative at the breakfast table. I was sure this would be the day that the bridge would finally lead somewhere. We downed our second bowls of Post Super Sugar Smacks cereal then he announced that he had other plans for the day and I was not allowed in his room. He had a new playmate, more muscular than most.
Stretch Armstrong had arrived! For several post-bicentennial summers, boys everywhere were testing the endurance of Stretch and his enemies. Stretches limbs would harden though or get small cracks in them, and the miracle stretch-enabling goop would leak out. He had failed to live up to his name. I thought he looked like a sissy and was more drawn to his brother, Evil X-ray Wretch Armstrong. But he wasn’t too evil for our Catholic household.
He also had GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip. Joe’s soft, pliable hand was formed perfectly for holding a pair of binoculars, or something fierce like a bayonet. I couldn’t resist and snuck a dainty, glittery Barbie clutch purse into his grip. That really cheesed my brother’s crackers.
I was in Eddie’s shadow growing up, even with my Cindy Brady pigtails. So I resorted to sabotage. I would slip into the garage and sandpaper his sleek-shaped Pinewood Derby car that he had been working on with our father. But I would also throw his football around in the backyard and hope that he’d notice. I’d eat the Twinkies instead of the cupcakes because that was his favorite choice in the Hostess Snack Pack which we kept in the Crock-pot.
My favorite memories of living in that orange house are from the first summer we moved in. It was a carefree time and all seemed okay. My brother did not know how much I admired and adored him, and it wasn’t just about his toys. He wasn’t silly nilly. He was just a great brother.