My mother was forty-two when she gave birth to me. The doctor and my father had gone to the corner bar to celebrate when they received a frantic phone call from my Aunt Jule to return to the house immediately. With the lack of prenatal testing in 1947, a second child had not been predicted. Twenty minutes later, along came my twin brother, Paul. The two of us, at eight pounds each, made a robust pair. We were dubbed "Sis" and "Junior." He was able to lose the nickname when he reached six foot four; mine has stayed with me until this day.
We shared a tandem baby coach, playpen, and hand-me-down toys, and were inseparable companions. In a Catholic school classroom, I could find him through a sea of strange faces. When Sister Mary Francis decided I should be moved up a grade, she whispered, "If you pass this test, you will go on to second grade." Was that supposed to be an incentive? Leave Junior for more strangers? I was ushered to a desk in the cloakroom and given a timed test of my reading and arithmetic abilities. You can guess the outcome. That was my first experience with dumbing down.
Summers were great fun on my uncle's farm. We fed the animals, rode the tractor, played football in the fields, and picked the juiciest peaches and raspberries I've ever had. Standing on the fence to the pigpen, Paul was beating his chest in his best Tarzan imitation, when he fell in. No automatic washer and dryer in those days. The stinky, muddy clothes were washed in a tub of water and hung out the car window on a stick. Paul and I giggled as he was wrapped in my aunt's blanket for the long ride home.
Everything they say about twins is true. Even as we got older, we experienced similar trials and tribulations from thousands of miles apart and could usually sense what was going on in each other's lives. On a Friday afternoon in the spring of my senior year in college, I broke my ankle playing volleyball. Equally competitive, Paul broke the same right ankle playing basketball in Germany that day.
When he was having marital problems in Kentucky several years later, he never called to discuss them. I just knew. One day I left a message on his cell phone that said it all: "Head north." He would know what I meant.
Paul went through three marriages. Once a friend suggested that he was looking for a woman like me. Hardly. Women were drawn to him like bears to honey. He just always picked the skinny blondes with gold ankle bracelets, bearing no resemblance to me. Besides, I carry enough guilt around. I don't need that burden.
Finally, when he was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized, he confided in my husband, Charlie, his best friend. I was driving around for days thinking, "Mayo Clinic … Mayo Clinic," not understanding why it kept coming into my head. When I told Charlie, he spilled the beans.
Paul and I did have a few more good years together. We traveled with my family and played golf whenever he was able. The last time was a disaster, though, because he reprimanded me for not taking the game seriously. On the seventeenth hole of Pomona Country Club, he shouted, "Damn you, Sis! You could be half decent at this if you would pay attention to what you're doing!" I clowned even more as he did a slow boil.
Fast forward ten years.
My golf game improved and I earned a spot in the final rounds of the local country club championship. I played against my dreaded opponent many times in the league and she usually succeeded in intimidating me. Rifling through my closet to find a snazzy outfit, I heard Charlie's sarcastic mumble, "Wear strong perfume. She can smell fear."
At 7:30 AM, we were the first players on the course that day. I was wearing a brazen logo on my chest. The black T-shirt with large white letters announced, "I didn't come here to lose!"
The game was tied until I won the sixteenth hole, which meant I had to hit first on the seventeenth. This was the same hole where Paul and I had our meltdown years before. There, teed up, was a white ball sparkling in the morning sunlight. I reached down to pick it up, and it was the same brand Paul used every time he played-Wilson Square #1.
I was stunned. The tears came profusely. I couldn't hit the ball. I couldn't hit any ball. My opponent won that hole and went on to victory after the eighteenth. I walked straight into the clubhouse to show Charlie and our friend John. Simultaneously, they squealed, "That's Paul's ball!"
This warranted a trip to the cemetery. I hadn't been there since Paul was buried because I could not face his name in writing on the tombstone. But now I was wild. "Damn you, Paul. You made me lose that tournament!" With golf ball in hand and shaking fist in the air, I must have been a strange sight for passersby. I didn't care. I had to clear the air. "Thanks for your good wishes, but you made me LOSE!"
Less than a month later, two of my other brothers died within days of each other. Then I realized Paul's message: nothing as trivial as a golf match. He was giving me a heads-up that he would be there to look after them. The comfort that gave me was priceless.
But tucked away deep in my mind I have a picture of my mother and brothers reuniting. All of her chicks will soon be returning home.
Copyright © 2008 Julie McGlone
This is the first chapter in my book "Life Takes Detours" www.lifetakesdetours.com