Monday, January 31, 2011

In which my sister tries to frame my brother for the Eating of the Forbidden Fruit

When I was in high school, we lived on Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone. Many of you may not know what life is like on an air force base, so I will give you a primer. The military person's family size determines the size of house he (in the late 70s, it was mostly "he") and his family get. His rank determines the location. As in, the higher the rank, the higher on the hill the house.

I had two best friends in high school, Jackie (whom I sent into babysitting hell) and Julie. Jackie's dad was a chief master sergeant, I think, and she had one brother, so they were in a three-bedroom duplex house on the flatland. My dad was a captain with three kids, so we had a full house (four bedrooms) on the rise to the hill, but very low on the rise.

Julie's dad was a colonel and the wing commander (he was the highest-ranking officer on Howard - the general lived on a different base), so they lived on the top of the hill. Even though Julie's sister was already away at college and there were just two kids at home, they got a big house because her dad had to entertain a lot. Julie's mom would pay Julie and me $5 each to clean up after the parties. Julie and I discovered that rum and Tab was an awful combination at one party. Nothing like something that tastes like crap to convince you that maybe drinking is not for you.

All the houses looked alike - white stucco with red-tile roofs, first floor open for a carport, patio, and maid's quarters. I don't know of anyone who had a live-in maid. My mom used our maid's quarters as a darkroom. We did, however, have a cleaning lady once a week, but she was not allowed to clean my room or my brother's or sister's room. My mom maintained that the cleaning lady was for her, not for us.

Four blocks away was the movie theater and the pool. Another few blocks to the base exchange, also known as the BX (PX on an army post), and the parade grounds. The parade grounds also served as the soccer practice field. Soccer practice usually ended around the time when the flag was taken down and Taps played, which meant standing still until the song was over. Traffic stopped for Taps as well. That's how we roll on a military base. The national anthem was also played before the movies. People knew to stand and to take off their darn hats and I'm talking to you, Memphis Redbird fans who don't seem to grasp that you 1. take off your hat and 2. quit talking on your darn cellphone for the anthem.

Now to the story. The point of all this background - well, just to give you a mise en scene. And to lead to this fact: on a military base, you know your neighbors. None of this going ten years without ever meeting the people who live next door. (It did take me two years to meet one of my next-door neighbors here, but not because I wasn't interested - I just never saw her.) Everyone is in the same boat. They all work for the same employer. Have the same mission. Everyone is moving in and moving out, so it's hard for feuds to develop and alliances to build. The downside is everyone knows everyone else's business.

To the story. When I was in high school, my mom opened the pantry one day to discover that her one precious can of mandarin oranges was missing.

Big deal, you shrug. So a can of fruit is gone. So what?

A couple of things.

1. It was very difficult to get certain items in the commissary, as everything had to be shipped from the US to Panama. It wasn't like now, where it's fairly easy to find what you want all over the world. It was a little bit like the old Soviet Union, I think, where scarcity ruled and you pounced on what was in stock. The irony in all this is that the oranges available from Panama's Boquete region were delicious and abundant.

2. My mother had made it clear that this item was off limits. She did not take threats to her authority lightly.

She asked which of us had eaten it.

Not I! said the first kid.

Not I! chimed the second.

And not I! claimed the third.

My mom was not satisfied with that answer. She asked again. She got the same answers again.

Fine, she seethed. Whoever ate them, leave the money on the counter and this will be over.

Nobody left the $1.32 on the counter.

My mom was angry. Must have mentioned it to her friend Sue. My sister, brother and I all babysat for Sue. Jenny was at Sue's when she casually mentioned, as she carefully studied her fingernails, that she had seen Greg with mandarin orange juice on his chin.

She whispered to me that she had seen Greg with a can opener a few days before the oranges were consumed.

I knew I hadn't eaten them. Which left my brother or my sister.

Greg protested that he had not eaten the mandarin oranges. He didn't even like mandarin oranges!

But Jenny was steadfast in her denial. Never wavered.

I don't remember what Greg's punishment was. Maybe he didn't get punished, as he maintained he had not done it. Alas, my brother had been known to bend the truth in the past, so his denial was not plausible. (He has since overcome this tendency.)

It wasn't until years later that my sister admitted that she had eaten the oranges.

She had done the crime. And then spread a vast, elaborate web of lies, all designed to take my brother down. My sister, criminal mastermind.


  1. I remember my mother wanting to know who put fingernail polish on the bathroom doorknob and giving us the silent treatment (or something) until I couldn't take it any more and confessed--even though I didn't do it. My brother just laughed at what an idiot I was, since he was the one who did it. But I was only about 9 or 10 and what my mother thought of me mattered a lot then. That was over 50 years ago. Attitudes change--now I don't give a rat's ass what she thinks, haha.

  2. I cry everytime I hear The National Anthem. I'm irritated by those who dont show proper respect. But I am biased.All the grown men in my family have served somehow and we have owr own Medal of Honor winner, Bill Lawley. My tiny, Alabama hometown has more decorated servicemen than any other of it's size. Leeds, AL City of Valorous, so The Anthem is a big deal.

    1. It wasn't until I was in the Peace Corps that I met people who had no personal connection whatsoever to the military and who assumed that people joined the military because they were too stupid to do anything else. I was absolutely baffled at that attitude. It had never occurred to me that someone might think so little of the military!

  3. LOL..."valorous" Stupid autocorrect.