Buttons and Brat

“Hi, Baby, what’s new?  How’s Brat doing?”

It didn’t matter that I was already into my second marriage and my own child nearly grown.  I was Baby; the caring, smiling, timid and sensitive one; the little mother for young and old.  Three decades had passed; I was running back and forth to the house on Rubberneck, either before or after work; very often, I was the one to answer the front door and greet this old friend with hugs and kisses; nothing sophisticated in any of this, just pure, childlike delight at seeing an old, friendly face.  In his eyes, I would always be Baby.

He understood it didn’t take much effort to push my buttons, especially about my little sister.  To his delight, my report was consistent and heartfelt each time…

“Brat is fine; and, STILL DRIVING ME NUTS!”

I could finally get away with this remark, as I was too old to spank and (just) smart enough to stay out of earshot from Mom’s natural, honing tendencies to lash at anyone who would dare suggest there was anything amiss with the youngest one. My vain attempts to exert some measure of control over my strong-willed, obnoxious, little sister ended many years before, when I’d wanted to play Teacher and had expected Brat at the very least to oblige me by playing the student.  She was not interested.  The first button had been pushed.

“Now, you KNOW your mother doesn’t like to hear you talk like that about your baby sister, Annette.” Daddy would chime in, pretending to admonish me while chuckling in amusement at my response.  Daddy understood how easily Brat could still push my buttons.

Brat had also matured, but as with most who watched her grow, it didn’t matter.  Despite her talents in the corporate world, her proven sophistication and professional demeanor in the hotel industry, Brat’s adult accomplishments weren’t necessarily the first visions that came to an old family friend’s mind.  Brat had long ago left her mark on some of the neighbors and family friends.  Literally.

Brat was the one who would kick or bite a family visitor, then stomp off in a fit, once she’d had her fill of adult company!   Punishment didn’t seem to affect her. No one, not even Mom, could make her do anything she didn’t want to.  At an early age, Brat was comfortable with herself and being herself among the kids around the block; not even the boys intimidated her.  She could out rope, outrun, and out jump all of them.

Curious and fearlessly so, Brat was a quick study on poodles and their breeding; she’d hop over the neighbor’s fence to assist with the pups, returning home that evening with more than enough data about “the birds and the bees” to fully shock and intimidate me, the older sister; I early on decided not to ask the obnoxious younger one for any further details.  This was a decision that I would sorely regret years later.

Dramatic didn’t even begin to describe Brat.  She had talents aplenty, theatrical not the least of them. Why, she could arrive home and, looking Mom straight in the eye, answer NO. Understood and left unspoken was the rest of the sentence: I’m not wearing any makeup. Truth be told, she had carried mascara and liner to school that day, applying it at school as did most girls her age.  Truly obnoxious, especially so since she was much braver than I.  Mentally, I added another button with Brat’s name on it.

Within my narrowed view, Brat had one endearing talent: she possessed a wonderful ear for harmony.  I played the instrument and sang lead, and Brat willingly conformed to the rhythm and rules. To be one in harmony, we all had to be in sync.   Singing with Daddy, we learned timing and tempos.  Blends came almost naturally to Brat; her intuitive ability for harmony made the family’s musical repertoire complete.

Daddy was overjoyed to sing barbershop again.  I loved these times; as long as we were singing, my mind was on the music; even Brat seemed less obnoxious.