Last week was National Siblings Day. Facebook made me aware of this special day, in addition to the many other special days I never knew existed. I enjoyed the photos posted by friends of themselves with siblings, but I was suspicious that National Siblings Day was merely an invention of social media. I learned from Wikipedia, however, that National Siblings Day was created in 1997 (before Facebook), that there is a nonprofit organization to promote it, and “the holiday is intended to be a celebration of the relationship of brothers and sisters.” Unfortunately, no further guidance is given on appropriate means of celebration.
Since National Siblings Day seems to be legit, and proper observance and customs are rather vague, I thought I would celebrate (a week late) by recounting one of my favorite sibling stories. This is a story I have told for years, but just recently learned (from my sibling) a heretofore-unknown and shocking plot twist.
To set the stage, I have two older brothers, Tom (the oldest) and Jim. This particular story involves Tom, who is seven years older than me. During much of my childhood, Tom served two main roles in my life. One was as my protector. If anyone in the neighborhood was bullying me or giving me any problems, all it took was a word to Tom and he’d be off to “talk” to the perpetrator and I was usually never bothered again. However, his other, more problematic role, was that of my tormentor. Tom loved to scare me, for sport, usually through the telling of terrifying tall tales.
One evening, when I was around five, Tom was helping me get ready for bed, and the story he chose to tell me was The Lip Story. Now, Tom had a mole right over his lip, and there was some discussion in our household at the time as to whether he should have the mole removed now that he was getting close to shaving age. So, Tom asked me if I’d like to hear the completely true story of how he got the mole. Intrigued, I of course said yes.
Tom began by saying that, on a day before I was born, he was outside during the winter in Michigan (where my family was from originally). It was very cold, and Tom, in defiance of specific instructions from our mother, decided to see what would happen if he put his lips on a car door. What happened, he recounted, was that his lips froze to the door. Our mother then frantically called for an ambulance. The men in the ambulance, he said, were forced to cut Tom’s lips off his face. Thankfully, they took Tom and his lips to the hospital and sewed them back on. The mole, Tom explained, was connected by a thread to his lips and served as an anchor, holding them in place.
Finishing his story, Tom paused for dramatic effect, looked at me and declared, with all sincerity, “So, its very important that they don’t cut off my mole. [Another dramatic pause] Because, if they do, [pause] my lips will fall off.”
At this point, I ran screaming to my mother. When I found her, I was a bawling mess. She calmed me down and asked what was wrong. When I finally recovered, I spit out “Please, [sob] don’t cut off Tom’s mole!!!!!” [More sobbing] After calming me down again, she asked why. “Because, [sob] [sob] his [sob] LIPS WILL FALL OFF!” [Loud wailing]
At which point, as I recalled, my mother dismissed me and yelled “THOMAS ROBERT, COME HERE!” After which, as I also recalled, he received a very long, very stern lecture behind closed doors. And after which, Tom reappeared and sheepishly told me he was sorry he told me this untrue story and that his lips would not fall off if his mole was removed.
This is how I told this story for years, and the telling got more and more dramatic. It even became one of my son’s favorite stories. So, at a family reunion in July 2014, with both of my brothers and their children present, my son asked if I would tell The Lip Story. I of course obliged, and even acted out the more dramatic parts. It was perhaps one of my greatest performances ever. The entire family, young and old, was laughing hysterically.
And then, when I was finished, my brother Tom, who was very amused and still proud of The Lip Story after all these years, asked if he could add further details on the very long, very stern lecture our mother gave him. This being new information to me, I urged him to continue. I couldn’t wait to hear the details of how, exactly, my mother lowered the boom on him.
Tom picked up the story where he was called into a room with our mother for his very stern lecture. He said that Mom looked at him, tried for a moment to keep her composure, then burst out laughing. She laughed and laughed, silently, until tears were streaming down her face. Then Tom began laughing, silently, and the two of them rocked back and forth, giggling and weeping until they laughed themselves out. Then Tom left my mom, found me and apologized and then went to his room and laughed some more with my other brother.
I was stunned. Then I was indignant. This new slant put my sacred story in a completely different light. How could she?! All these years I thought my brother had paid dearly for his cruel joke. Instead, my mother and brother were in the next room yucking it up.
But, I’ve come to love The Lip Story even more, because my brother’s postscript sheds light on another, cherished, part of our childhood. Our new joint story reveals a mother who delighted in us all, who had a great sense of humor, and who was able to make each of us feel understood in the midst of this skirmish.
A wonderful gift from siblings is the insight they can provide about our parents. So, Happy Siblings Day to my two cherished brothers, and thank you for making my stories even better.