With a high-pitched scream I doubled up in agony, clutched at my belly with heavily gloved hands and then fell forward onto the grassy strip of ground that ran the length of the greenhouse. My sixteen year old sister Marsha was perched about twelve feet above me on the weathered wooden framework of the green house from where she had been launching panes of glass down hill to me, one row of glass at a time.
My job was to catch them and stack them into empty wooden tobacco seedling boxes which were then carried by my Dad or my brother Keith to my mother and her sister my Aunt Wilma. They were scrubbing them in two big washtubs of hot sudsy water to remove the mold and algae from the panes edges, and standing them up to dry on the tobacco grading table in the barn. Dad had nailed down strips of wood to form a makeshift drying rack. The dry panes were stacked and stored in boxes waiting for the day when a few months later my Uncle Fred Stephenson, my grandfather’s brother would finish scraping, sanding and repainting the entire 150 foot length of the greenhouse and they would be repositioned.
My father was a fastidious man and he had a very strong work ethic which came from his own family background. It was something he encouraged in all of his eight kids. That’s why Marsha and I were working so hard in the heat of the day, doing such a mindlessly boring task. We were cogs in the wheel of never-ending farm work and we kept our minds occupied by teasing, challenging, joking and competing with one another in any way we could think of just to keep from feeling trapped by it. I was cranky that day— I had spent the whole morning complaining to Marsha about her slowness in launching the glass panes down towards me. I just wanted to get that day’s assigned section done and take off to the pond for a swim, or sit under a tree and read. When algae or mould had clogged up the grooves that the panes were resting in they would stick, and in those places Marsha just needed to gently tap the edge of the pane nearest her with a rubber mallet to get them all moving slowly downward again to the bottom where the wooden moulding had been removed and I could catch them as they slid out. Annoyed with my constant nagging she kicked it up a notch (or maybe she kicked it down a notch) by nudging the pane forward, forcefully, with her foot. All at once it came flying down at me with lightning speed!
Suddenly, I was on the ground screaming, apparently having stopped the sharp-edged projectile— not with my leather gloved hands but with my gingham covered belly! Marsha went directly into panic mode. “Oooh noooh! Ooooh noooh! Ooooh noooooh!” she wailed, throwing herself forward in an acrobatic inclined descent. I watched for a few seconds, grimacing through half-closed eyes, as she performed a series of unchoreographed prize-winning break-dance moves— kind of a crab walking, foot sliding combination—down the slippery sliver-laden boards, with one gloved hand clinging to the narrow board to the right of her and the other gloved hand grasping the board to the left! She had just accomplished an unprecedented feat— a nearly seated, feet forward, 45* angle descent without bum-sliding assistance!
Using the ladder inside the greenhouse, running 75 feet to one of the doors at either end and then running outside 75 feet more back to where I lay was out of the question, but Marsha didn’t even take the time to turn around and face towards the framework for a safe descent! Now I was writhing on the ground, shoulders rising and falling in what appeared to be sobs, (or maybe even death spasms!) A flying pane could lead to a perfectly straight 12 inch incision across the abdomen—like the one that had me rolling on the ground… the one that I was faking.
Anything to relieve the boredom of a panefully repetitive job!
People will often pay a lot of money for the thrill of being scared out of their wits. The more screams a certain scare house or amusement park ride can evoke, the more people like it. Marsha didn’t quite see it that way when she hit the ground like a heli-dropped Marine medic and threw herself in my general direction with a near perfect barrel roll. “Roll over!” she screamed in her older sister voice of hysteria and concern. When I refused, she threw all that she had learned about first aid in grade 10 health class out the window and forcefully grabbed me on either side of my torso (which had as yet undetermined injuries in its frontal area) and threw me over onto my back with the force of a WWF wrestler.
As she yanked my gloved hands away from my stomach I couldn’t maintain the ruse any longer. The involuntary shuddering of my shoulders, in my attempts to conceal my mirth, while lying curled up in a ball, gave way to loud and audible laughter once I was rolled over. Marsha became truly unprofessional in her medical attention at this point. ”You Jerk!” she yelled, as she pulled off her sweaty grime covered gloves and pitched them in my face. “You big jerk!” Tears were rolling down my face at this point and they began to roll down her face too. For me it was sheer comedy. For her it was sheer relief.
In a moment or two her arm was over my shoulder as we both lay on the grass together. There were lots more panes of glass to remove before we were through, and dangerous moments when panes of glass shattered or shards of glass stayed embedded in the wooden grooves in the boards we were taking turns climbing— a person could sever an artery or a digit if they weren’t careful. As I think back on that day that has remained so vivid in my memory for almost fifty years I am so very thankful. I am thankful for that sisterly embrace from the one who has always been there for me since the day I was born, the one whose bond of love can never be severed, because she is my sister and because she loves me.