A favorite family memory of ours (besides the sock story) that gets retold over and over happened on a Sunday late in spring when Mom made fried chicken. That particular battle over washing the dishes was between my sister, Jeannie, and me.
Dad and brother, Sean, left the table to work in the barn. “Make sure you get the skillet, too,” Mom said to Jeannie and me as she walked out of the kitchen.
“Okay, you’re washing this time,” I said to Jeannie.
“No way! You always wash. You’re the oldest,” my sister protested. Despite being five years younger than me, she was the strongest and the scrappiest. She could cause serious bruises if she wanted to, and we both knew it. But I stood my ground.
“Not today. Today you have to be the washer.”
“I am not going to wash these dishes by myself,” she said. She put her hands on her hips and put on her bully face. “And you aren’t going to make me.”
I looked at the iron skillet Mom cooked the chicken in and knew it would be a mess to clean. I also knew I wasn’t going to make my little sister wash the dishes, either, no matter how much I tried to pull the older-sister card. An idea formed in my head.
“Okay, I got an idea. Wanna hear it?”
“What is it?” Her brown eyes looked at me suspiciously.
“We can make a game out of it, and whoever loses has to do the dishes all by themselves. Wash, dry, put away, the whole bit.”
“What kinda game?”
“Tug-o-war! We could play tug-o-war and whoever wins can do whatever they want. We’ll put the rug sideways and pretend it’s the mud pit, use the dishtowel as our rope, and then we’ll tug. Whoever steps on the rug first will have to clean the kitchen by themselves,” I explained.
Her eyes sparkled with expected victory. “Yes, I think that’d be great. Let’s do it.”
Each of us stood on either side of the rug. Jeannie’s brown eyes met my green ones. We flexed our fingers and wrists, and my sister even flexed her neck and shoulders. She planted one foot in front of the other, and I did the same. It was like the showdown at the O.K. Corral, as she handed me my end of the towel and firmly grabbed hers.
“Ready. Set. Go!”
There was a strong pull on the towel and I realized I needed to put my all into it pretty darn quick. I pulled with all my might and was getting nowhere. I heard my sister make a sound between a grunt and a karate “ya-ha” and felt her grow even stronger. It didn’t take long to realize I had made a big mistake. I was the underdog. I felt the tug on the towel and my feet give way. In the next second or so, I would be stepping on that rug and those dishes would be all mine.
It was a reflex, seriously, it was, and I was later sorry for it. I let go just as my sister was giving it her final victory pull. I watched in horror as she tumbled backwards in what seemed like slow motion. She was on her feet for a while, doing that slipping-on-ice dance with her arms flailing in the air. I thought she was going to make it. The next thing I knew, she went through the window of our old farmhouse kitchen with a loud crash of breaking glass and an earth-shattering squeal. Her knees and feet were bent over the windowsill in the kitchen, and her bottom landed firmly on the back porch. I ran to the broken window and our eyes mirrored the shock of the moment, which got worse as we heard Dad running in from the barn and Mom from the living room.
“You are in trouble now,” my sister whispered just before she conjured up some big tears.
“It was all her fault, Daddy! She wanted to play tug-o-war, but I was winning and she let go,” my sister cried. I decided being quiet was the best course of action at the time, so I didn’t even try to defend myself.
After inspecting my sister for injuries, of which there were none, not even a scratch, my dad pulled us both inside. His finger pointed at me first and he used my middle name, always a bad sign. “Dawn Ja’net, you are going to clean this kitchen alone.”
My sister grinned at me and stuck out her tongue. Dad caught her and said, “And you, Jeannie Renee, are going to clean up all the glass and help me put plastic on the window until a new one comes in.”
It seemed we both lost, but I still had to do the dishes by myself.