Home » Language » English » No Statute Of Limitations

Our Reader Score
[Total: 11   Average: 2/5]

`No Statute Of Limitations’ is a true story. I have written it as to the best of my memory. Some historical facts or dates may be off a little as I was seven years old. When I could, I’ve tried to insert some humor into a real life story that really wasn’t funny. It is a small miracle that my sister and I didn’t turn out as homicidal serial killers. With everything that we lived through, it goes to our inner strength and fortitude and the ability to survive a dysfunctional family situation.

1968. Yes it must have been winter 1968. I remember it was December. At that time my family and I lived in Detroit.
I remember that year protests against the war in Vietnam, of which my soon to be fifteen year old sister took part, much to the chagrin of my father (he and my mother could have been the poster children for President-elect Nixon’s `Silent Majority’ that swept him into office just a little over a month before). Of course there was the `Tet Offensive’ at the beginning of the year and Uncle Walter’s (Cronkite) tabulation of deaths in Vietnam when he ended his nightly commentary. That may have been the year that he declared the war `unwinnable’, but I’m not sure. Then there was the short lived `Prague Spring’ in Czechoslovakia (they were sadly twenty years too soon). There was the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the day after my seventh birthday, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy two months later. very sad. I remember the city on fire again (after the ’67 riots) and Governor Romney (Mitt’s father) calling in the National Guard while flames erupted just a few blocks (big metropolitan city blocks) away. Chicago and tear gas, protesters and `Billy Clubs’ at the Democratic National Convention took center stage before Hubert Humphrey did.

Then again Simon & Garfunkel sang about `Mrs. Robinson while the 5th Dimension let `Aquarius’ and `The Sun [shine in]’ (okay, so much for trying to be cute). Twiggy was in the house and on the cover of the fashion magazines. Mia Farrow got sheared (Yeah! & God love her!) while having `Rosemary’s Baby’. Denny McLain won 31 and my Detroit Tigers won the World Series! Peggy Fleming won gold in Grenoble. Apollo 8 orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve, read from the Book of Genesis and `saved 1968′. Unfortunately Borman, Lovell and Anders was unable to save me from a sentence of death that hasn’t been carried out for the mere fact that I have not been named conclusively as the guilty party of a crime against my sister’s humanity. I’m old now and my sister is much older (eight years). Still there is no statute of limitations on the act that took place two days after Christmas (my dad’s birthday actually) in 1968.

Note to the readers: The names and states in this very true story have been changed to protect me. the not so innocent.
One of the gifts my sister, Mary Elizabeth Butini, received that Christmas was a set of luggage. Attached to the travel case was a paper telling her she had an appointment at a portrait studio the day after New Year’s Day. We were used to the annual trips to Olin Mills for family portraits, but this trip was for her only. Dad and Mom told my sister that she would be going to the studio to have passport photo’s made. This coming summer she would begin accompanying my Grandma to Spain to visit our relatives on my dad’s side of the family. One month was to be in Spain, while two weeks of the six week vacation would be traveling Europe (the summer of 1969 would be London and Paris) with my dad and uncle.

Needless to say, Mary Elizabeth was ecstatic to not have to go with my mom and me to spend the summer in Kentucky and West Virginia with my mom’s relatives. I was really jealous; I wanted to spend my summer in Europe rather than the same old same ol’ in Appalachia. My sister and I always thought that going down South was okay in small doses, but whole summer’s while my dad, his brother and our grandmother were in Europe. And for me, while the reigning World Champion Tiger’s are playing in Tiger Stadium and I’m in West By God Virginia? Give me (us) a break (little did I know that in a few years I would be permanently uprooted from the big city and banished to the backwoods of Appalachia, but that is another true story. One that also involved a traumatic haircut and a change in my life; please be patient as I plan to write and relate that story down the road).

As I was saying (or writing), Mary E. Lizard or just Mary lizard (my names for her) was ecstatic and was ready to do anything to go to Europe. Dad and Mom not being as stupid as we thought saw an opportunity to use this to their advantage. The deal was, that to earn her right to go to Spain, she would have to re-dedicate herself to doing all the little and not so little chores my parents assigned her as well as stop complaining about `babysitting’ (pleeeease!) her little brother (me), begging to wear jeans, bell bottoms, tunics and other up to date and `groovy’ clothes (hippy, Commie and subversive clothes to our parents) and to generally be on her best behavior.

I HAVE TO INCLUDE A SIDEBAR HERE: As I mentioned, our parents were very conservative and true to their southern, Appalachian roots. They were Nixon people, dad worked for the Federal Government, officially assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers, but did stuff overseas a lot of the time traveling with a red passport instead of the forest green that everyone else was issued (all kinds of possibilities for stories there). Dad always wore suits and tie, even to go shopping on the weekends or to go to the movies or dinner on family night. At least he broke away from the Ozzie Nelson template and didn’t mow the lawn while wearing a tie. Mom always wore dresses or skirts to work at one of Detroit’s preeminent department stores doing key punch operating (okay.. younger readers under say thirty think data entry on a desktop PC). After dinner she would slip into a house dress. My sister and I never owned a pair of Levi’s or anything denim until we were much older. She wore dreaded skirts, dresses and pantyhose to school and when I started school it was cotton and Polyester type slacks and shirts that buttoned up. I swear, I had so much Polyester that if my pants caught on fire, they wouldn’t burn, they would melt. On weekends I got to wear polo type shirts with my dress slacks. Also when it was dinner time, sis and I had to change into clean clothes before sitting down to eat. Our hair. my sister had long straight coal black hair more about that in just a few. My dark brown hair (in a few years, my hair would also darken to black and become very curly when there was any length long enough to reveal a curl) was a traditional and a very out of style short back and side’s haircut that was maintained like clockwork once a month. I was seven, what could I do? END OF SIDE BAR.

So Mary lizard became something like a `Stepford’ sister/daughter for the most part. She kept a pair of jeans in her school locker and at the house of her best friend. In addition to being a sneaky little shit, hippy wannabe and closet wild child she was a `Grade A’ bully when it came to her little brother. One of her favorite TV show’s had to be `Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’, because when the parents weren’t around or watching she loved to `Sock-It-To-Me’, knowing that I couldn’t hit back or I would be faced with a sentence of death. Back then, as it still should be, boy’s never hit girl’s. even if they deserved it.

On my dad’s birthday, we were still on Christmas vacation from school, sis decided to get most of the Christmas decorations down, give the house a good dusting and vacuuming and start dinner (suck up). The parents were back to work and I was being (ugh) `babysat’. Part of her `authority’ over me was to turn on the TV to one of my favorite programs and then make me sit in a chair in the next room. I was able to hear `Batman’ or `Gilligan’s Island’ but not able to watch! Why not just stick needles in my eyes? It would have been less painful. If I got out o
f the chair, I would get a slap on the back of the head or a smack to my rear. She made sure to not leave marks. Our Grandma lived upstairs as our house was a duplex. Sometimes I could make a break for freedom and get to Grandma’s part of the house. That was the Safe Zone and my sister couldn’t defy our Grandma. More often than not, Mary E. Lizard would catch me and make me more miserable. She would also tell Dad and Mom that I was some kind of monster child (she would later compare me to Charles Manson, but he wouldn’t become known until the next year). Of course the parents took sis at her word and I would end up getting a spanking or dad’s belt. I was turning into one pissed off little brother.

Anyway, sis was dusting and cleaning up a storm, basically sucking up to the parents. All the sudden I heard a crashing sound from the dining room and jumped out of my punishment chair. Mary lizard was shrieking, as the hutch that had all of mom and dad’s imported and etched liquor bottles and decanters in it was dislodged and its contents smashed, shattered and scattered on the dining room floor. While dusting a cobweb from the corner of the ceiling, the broom handle hit the hutch and sent everything tumbling. I saw what had happened and said something like “Mary lizard, you are going to get it. You are toast when Mom and Dad get home”. About that time our 72 year old Grandma came downstairs from her part of the house. She heard the crash. When she said “¿qué pasado?”(What happened?), my sister said that I hit the hutch when I was bouncing a tennis ball against the wall! I had been busted for that a few weeks before. I didn’t know what to do or say except “No, she did it. Mary is lying. I didn’t do nothing.” My grandmother knew that sis was going to spank or do something dreadful to me if I had done it. I really don’t think she believed I had done it, so she told my sister that she was taking me upstairs and that I would wait up there until Mom and Dad came home. My sister knew that you don’t disrespect Grandma or dad would make sure that there was hell to pay. I had found a reprieve, a safe haven from the long arm of Mary E. lizard. While she cleaned up the broken glass and mopped up the liquor’s and wine’s, I was being treated to boneless sardine sandwich’s and a bag of Frito’s corn chips (don’t knock it, the boneless and skinless sardines were imported from the old country and bathed in olive oil. yummy).

My reprieve lasted for only a few hours. Sis intercepted Dad and Mom before they got in the front door and got their coats off. After they surveyed the carnage, dad stormed up stairs and was ready to send me to the execution chamber. I have to say that my Grandma, tried to tell him she didn’t think I was totally guilty. Because when I was busted and then busted in the rear for bouncing the ball a few weeks ago, she head the bonks and boings against the wall. This time she didn’t. But that was not incontrovertible proof of my innocence. I was dead meat. I was marched down stairs and confronted with the aftermath. I swore that I didn’t do anything and that Mary Elizabeth was lying and covering up what she did.

The seven year old ball bouncer didn’t have much in the way of credibility on this. What angered dad and mom more was not the fact that I did it, but the fact that I was lying about it. Lying was a big no-no in our house.

Without a trial or anything, I went straight to the execution of sentence. I was placed over my dad’s knee, my cords (corduroy’s) were pulled down along with my underpants, and dad took off his belt and started trashing my rear. After about six hits, I was asked to tell the truth. I did tell the truth and I received five or six more swats with the belt. I was asked again, and again I told the truth, by this time (actually at about hit four or five) I was bawling and quivering. Again I was told to tell the truth and I did. I was bent back over and as dad started to unleash round three, I gave in and lied. I told him I did it and to please stop. I got three or four more licks for the last act of supposed lying. I didn’t see dinner that night; all I remember was being led by my mom to my bedroom and being stripped down and having one of dad’s undershirts dropped over me. My butt could not have stood the touch of my PJs on what had to be raw and welted cheeks. I laid face down on my bed and cried myself to sleep, while my mom came in on two or three occasions that night and applied wet cold towels and lotion to my rear end. Each time, I hoped for some ounce of materialistic sympathy from mom, only to get lectured about how I brought this on myself and to not forget the belting was for my repeated acts of lying. I would be punished later for the act of breaking the liquor and wine flasks, decanters and bottles. While I laid with my face in my pillow, I thought back to the belting and I saw my sister’s face turn from a sly smirk after the first round of beltings to sadness and finally to sheer terror. I think that if my dad had raised the belt once more sis was on the verge of confessing to what happened, but she couldn’t after she saw what was happening to me. Spain, her summer dreams and her ass would be gone. My sister actually snuck in to my bedroom on the next night and tried to offer some sort of contrition. I was deaf to her words but I knew she now really felt bad for what had been done to me. Unfortunately not bad enough to do the right thing and come clean, but the guilt from that night did lead to her not torturing me the way she used to when I was being babysat.

At this point, you may be asking, is he ever going to get to it? Or perhaps this is pure child abuse. I agree to a point. The thing is my folks (parents) may have left Appalachia, but they didn’t leave the teachings and values of Appalachia. Most families maintained strict codes of conduct; at least they did back then. I admit, our family was way to the right of the discipline bell curve and there was a rather skewed since of honor. I think it would have been okay and maybe even tolerated for you to kill somebody so long as you didn’t lie about it. My eyes were opened to this value system several years later when I found myself permanently up-rooted to the South. The truth be told after the shell shock and culture shock wore off, I grew to love living or I should say livin’ in the South. That is a whole different story, now to get back on track.
The next two days, I was sent each morning to spend my days with Grandma (spoiled rotten. yeah me) and not have contact with Mary lizard. That first night and each night after, I was determined to seek my revenge, and justice. There’s nothing worse than a pissed off and sore assed seven year old little brother.

I guess at this point I should say that Mary Elizabeth was not the perfect daughter. Besides sometimes secretly wearing her `hippy’ clothes at school and at her girlfriend’s house she was known to sneak a cigarette or two. scandalous! That contraband substance found its way into her lungs when she would slip off with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s older sister to listen to subversive rock music (our parents idea of radical music was Sinatra) and do the occasional war protest. God help you if you came to our house wearing anything with the peace sign on it. better to wear an upside down cross or pentagram. While generally staying out of trouble, she did have an issue that drove my mother nuts. She loved to chew and smack bubble gum and blow huge bubbles. On two or three occasions the bubble was so large when it burst; it would cover a good portion of her face. Most of the time she was sure to keep her long hair in a pony tail when blowing bubbles. A couple of times she forgot or just neglected and mom would spend an hour or two pulling gum off her hair, using ice cubes, oil, peanut butter and even WD-40. After the first time she got a spanking from mom and then dad would mete out his punishment with the belt. The rule was, if mom spanked us, we would get the same or worse from dad.

My sister also had a habit of falling asleep with gum in her mouth
. Again after a time or two of mom picking and digging gum out, she was spanked and dad gave her his belt. The last time that this happened, about four or five months before Christmas ’68, mom got so frustrated after spending an hour on her hair, she just took a pair of scissors and hacked the gum off. Mary was lucky that the gum was towards the bottom of her long hair. It was reaching passed her butt. She was actually able to sit on her own hair. When mom finished cutting the gum out, her hair was only reaching to her waist and Mary lizard thought she had been scalped. It was then that mom drew the proverbial line in the sand with Mary Elizabeth. She was told that from now on, if there is gum in the hair, it is getting cut at that spot. If she fell asleep and it got high up in her hair, she would be looking at losing about two feet of hair if she was lucky and it was just cut off at the top of the shoulders or chin.

Sis was very good after that about spiting her gum out at night. She kept an ashtray on her night stand for depositing the chewed gum. The ritual was to mark her spot in the book she would be reading, take off her eye glasses and spit out the gum. She even tried to go to sleep with her hair piled up on top of her head in a tight bun or braid to make sure. After awhile complacency set in and she was going to bed with her hair down and by Christmas, it was almost back to where she could sit on it again.

On New Year’s Eve, I had my opportunity for payback. It was going to be sweet. Being that it was New Year’s Eve, dad and I got dressed up in our best suits and my mom and sister would have new dresses to wear when we went out to a really fancy dinner usually at a posh restaurant downtown. Then we would go to a movie that was just being released. Back then people really did dress up to go to a big movie release. Mom, Mary lizard, and Grandma looked elegant. My dad and I had our best suits and fresh haircuts (ugh). Mine would be extra short with the back and side’s tapered to almost nothing. Mom and sis were coifed to perfection. I think mom had like ten cans of hairspray in her bee-hive/up-do sort of hair and Mary lizard just looked great. Her hair was brushed so that it looked like polished onyx and she would have some kind of ridiculously expensive barrette in it. Grandma was known to bring back home expensive jewelry of gold, silver or precious stones when coming back from seeing her family each summer. I think Mary Elizabeth had a barrette from Spain with gold and pearls in it. What can I say, she cleaned up well. She looked so good that I almost decided to not go through with my plan of mass destruction.

We got home late like past midnight (yeah, now the year was 69)?. Yin and yang were in the house ?. Armstrong and Aldrin took a `small step for man’ and a `giant leap for mankind’, Andretti won at Indy. Sorry, as I’m typing I’m hearing Babs Streisand sing `Memories’. Staying focused here. Mary had a long night and went straight to bed. I forced myself to stay awake until I knew mom and dad were asleep. Earlier in the day, I had swiped a couple of pieces of Mary lizard’s `Juicy Fruit’ gum and at like 1:30 in the morning I was going to town it. Doing my best Jim Phelps or James Bond, I snuck into Mary’s room and I was ready. I saw her glasses and a wad of gum in the ashtray. Had to remember to get rid of the evidence, because I was a sneaky little shit too. I knew right away God loved me as sis was turned on her side facing away from me with all of her still shiny black onyx hair loose and splayed all over her pillow and down her back and the mattress.
I remember one brief moment when I had a crisis of conscience and wavered. Then spite took control and the weapon had left my mouth and was being ever so carefully placed in her hair. Not just on, mind you; but, deep and high into her silken mass. I almost got busted as she started to turn around. I hit the floor (hard wood. ouch) and waited for her to finish mumbling something. Maybe it was John, Paul or Ringo. I don’t know. I wasn’t able to keep track. A minute or two later she was silently back in dreamland and I started out the door only to remember the gum in the ashtray. So I’m sneaking back into my room, holding her used `Juicy Fruit’ wondering should I or shouldn’t I? I’m ashamed to say it; but, yes I put it in my mouth and finished it off (it still had flavor! That Mr. Wrigley sure knew how to make gum and I was seven! So give me a break). After a few minutes I gulped and the evidence of innocence was buried in my stomach and colon. Surprisingly I had no problem going to sleep.

That next morning I was not awakened by my mother’s usual gentle shake and nudge, nor by the rays of sunlight tickling my face. Instead my eardrums commanded me and everyone else awake at like six in the morning. The screaming coming from my sister’s room could have curdled your blood. It was like Manson (remember Charlie from page four or there `bouts?) was in the house and he had brought Tex, Susan, Patricia and Leslie with him. Mom and Dad leaped out of bed and into her room, while I staggered behind. I was really exhausted and still out of it. The scene was like that Nazi guy from `Raider’s of the Lost Ark’ after the lid had been opened. We are talking total melt down. To borrow a line from Flounder in `Animal House’, “This was going to be great”. Mom and Dad had no idea what was happening, because of the steady stream of screams and shrieks. I tried to wiggle in to see what all the commotion was about and trying to feign innocence. My life depended on it. When she turned around the cause was evident. In her hair, actually much closer to her scalp than I intended was a big wad of gum. Dad said something like “Oh no Mary”. I stood in my PJs (was able to wear them by this time) with my mouth open and said “Oh my gosh” or something along that line. Mom on the other hand didn’t say a word (that was never a good sign). She simply turned around and opened the linen closet and dug through her sewing kit. She came away with a long pair of shears and a towel. Mom without saying a word still, took Mary Elizabeth by the arm and walked her to the kitchen and pulled out a chair with her leg (wish I could do that without tripping or dropping everything in my hands). Sis was then plopped down to the chair when mom draped the towel over her shoulders.

By this time, the shrieks and screams had turned into sobs and plea’s to not do the unthinkable. Mary was like “Mom, I didn’t do it. I swear I took my gum out last night. Please don’t do this, don’t cut my hair.” While dad was at a loss for words, “He tried to intervene with something along the lines of Helen, please think about what you are doing. She has to go to school.” Anyway you get the picture. I was like a frightened church mouse, silent and now getting scared.
Mom, ever being true to her word, said something like “you were warned; now you pay young lady”. I remember no emotion in Mom’s eyes; she just took the silver plated dress shears and planted them actually well above the area where the gum was stuck, maybe an inch or so above. Then with one deliberate scrunch of the scissor’s a thick lock of black hair fell to land on the towel and on my sister’s shoulder. I don’t remember if it was the left or right. It wouldn’t matter in just a few more seconds. My sister saw the lock and screamed at the top of her lungs. By now Grandma had been woken up and was making her way down the stairs as quickly as a septuagenarian could. She saw the scene and said in Spanish “¡Maria, su pelo!” and then I think “Madre del dios”. Again my dad said “Helen please stop, you’ll ruin her”. Mom shot him a glance that screamed “back off”. Then another long lock was severed and another. By this time, mom had turned into a robot, a cutting machine. I started to say an emotionless cutting machine, but I could see a line of tears coming from my mom’s eye. Whoa! She was human after all. Yes, I have mother issues as does my sister (no wonder). Lock after lock after lock was being sheared without mercy. By now I too was crying, yes fear
had a part to play in it, but I never meant for this to happen. I was supposed to be a good haircut not a denuding (at seven years old, I wish I knew words like that. But hey, live and learn and go to school). I had never intended for the gum to get that close to her head (I could say oops! But it wasn’t funny then or now. Hindsight can be a bitch.).

After about five minutes of endless cutting and snipping, it stopped. What was left was a sister with very short uneven patches of hair where a few moments before a long, lovely, shinny curtain of onyx tresses had been. Those broken relics of my sister’s beauty and vanity now lay strewn and splayed about the kitchen floor, in the lap and front of my sister’s nightgown and on the towel covering her limp and shaking shoulders and body. I could not stop crying, because no matter how much I disliked or sometimes hated Mary Elizabeth, I never ever wanted this. I guess it is like the adage of “I can hit my sister or brother, but no one else can.” Although mom shed a tear during the shearing, she showed no mercy toward Mary’s feelings, by commanding her to gather and sweep up all the hair and throw it in the trash can we kept under the kitchen sink. I could take no more. I went to the broom closet and got the dust pan and broom and started to sweep up what I now considered to be my sister’s precious locks of hair. The broom seemed twice as big as I was, but I did it. Dad did manage to intervene when mom insisted that Mary sweep up her own hair. It was one of the few times that I can remember that she gave in after issuing a command. My sister ran to her room and stayed there all of New Year’s Day. What was supposed to be a happy relaxing day remained full of both sadness and tension or on the part of my mother, indifference to what had happened. The only thing she said about it hours later was something to the effect that “Mary Elizabeth knew the consequences of her actions. She ignored it and now she has paid for it.” The `60s version of the `Queen of Mean’ could have taught Leona Helmsley and Martha Stewart at thing or two. I wonder if mom ever slipped off to Hollywood to compare parenting notes with Joan Crawford the original `Mommy Dearest’.

That afternoon, I slipped into Mary Elizabeth’s room, strangely Mary lizard or Mary E. lizard didn’t have quite the same ring to it that it had before, to give her a hug and tell her how sorry I was for what happened. I was still a weasel and didn’t offer full disclosure of what happened. She thought I was coming in to make fun of her and I thought she was going to pummel me or worse, for I was sure that she saw me as an unindicted coconspirator of this crime. Maybe she was still feeling the guilt of the belting I had received in her place not so long ago. I do know that on that New Year’s Day, our relationship turned a page for the better.

When I did see the devastation of her scalp and realized I wasn’t going to die at her hand, what was left was a total catastrophe. Most of sis’s remaining thatches (you couldn’t really call them locks anymore) of hair was less than two inches in length. A good deal was cut less than an inch in length. What survived was cut in blunt unsymmetrical patterns. There was no way that a hair style no matter how short could come from this. I didn’t think that Mia’s or Twiggy’s hair style could come from what my sister had left.

The next day, mom and dad had scheduled days off from work. That morning, mom woke up early and (God forbid) tenderly got Mary Elizabeth up and out of bed. Once dressed she took my sister for a walk to her hair stylist who’s shop was at the end of the block. About an hour and a half later, they came home and I couldn’t believe what I saw. My sister’s hair was as short as mine was on top, an inch or a little more maximum. The back and sides were tapered into the hair on top, starting from just fuzz and stubble at the nape and around the hair line gradually building to about a quarter to half inch at the crown and temples. The stylist did try to do the Mia/Twiggy cut, but too much damage had been done in the back and around the ears. It was still better than what I anticipated; I thought she would come home completely buzzed like an escapee from Parris Island. I was glad she didn’t.

To keep with the tradition of storytelling I could say that she looked horrible or that she looked fabulous with her new haircut. She didn’t, she fell somewhere in between – not ugly (a big complement from a seven year old brother) but not Demi Moore or Natalie Portman (to use a modern analogy) either. I remember big brown eyes (like mine), ears that stuck out just a bit too much but not hideously (again much like mine), her neck was slender and just short of being considered long (definitely not like my short and thick neck), I saw for the first time the curvature of her head and it was basically smooth rounded and dare I say nice looking or even elegant if I must fess up. If she had come home smooth shaved, it think she could have pulled off that look with the help of makeup and the right clothes. Her `60s Vogue/Goldwater Girl Uniform’s would not have done it. Now she was screaming for bell bottoms and fringe laden tunic’s and jacket vests. I thank God that this happened before the Manson killings later that year. By the time he and his girls’ went to trial and introduced the shaved head on a female, my sister at least had a short bob.

My sister did grow her hair to the Mia/Twiggy style for a little while. Then let it get longer to the short bob; that she wore to our oldest half-sister’s wedding in early 1970 (Jennifer Lee never cared much for the big city and was allowed to go back to West Virginia to live with our other grandmother and our great aunts even though dad begged her to stay and to the point that he was willing to formally adopt her as his daughter. This was a few years before Mary Elizabeth and way before me). Our mother insisted that Mary Elizabeth not grow her hair out passed that short bob or else. It stayed at jaw length with bangs that came and went at our mother’s whim or discretion, just covering her ear lobes and off the nape of her neck that was clipper cut at the hair line every month when our mother went to her salon to have her hair set, colored or permed. Mary Elizabeth kept this mandated style until she left home to get married in ’74.

Years have now passed. Our parents divorced in the spring of ’74 and mom chose to return to Appalachia with me, a new teenager of thirteen, in tow kicking and screaming the entire way. Mary Elizabeth and her husband Brian remained in Michigan as did my father, Uncle José, and Grandma.

When we returned to school a few days after the shearing, Mary Elizabeth was once more devastated when she found out that she would not be considered a friend to a good portion of the kids (hippy’s) that she went to school with. With her hair gone and the conservative clothes she (we) were forced to wear, she didn’t fit in and was “too square” they said.
Shallow bastards.

Her best friend stayed as close as she could, but the older sister came to the house one evening and brought a paper bag that had her contraband clothes hippy sandals and yikes cigarettes in it. Mary Elizabeth paid dearly for that, as she encountered the corporal punishment of my mother and my father’s belt. It wasn’t as bad as my last belting, but she for once didn’t mind standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes or standing up at the dinner table for a day or two. It turned out that the belting was for not so much the clothes but for the cigarettes. If there was an upside to that, it was mom and dad saw her `model’ her bell bottoms, tunics and sandals. They had to agree that she was not a hippy, Commie or a subversive. By springtime, they actually let her buy clothes that she liked, with the provision that they only be worn at home in the evenings and on the weekends. Wearing them to school was still verboten.

Personally, when she wore her bells, fringe tunics and sandal’s along with a tie dyed bandana, she really looked cool. or as we said back
then groovy man, really groovy.

You probably want to know about Spain and the passport photos. That summer Mary Elizabeth did get to go to Spain, London and Paris for six glorious weeks (her words). Dad let her sneak some of her more `moderate’ casual clothes for the trip and she looked very Euro. Bell bottoms, strappy and thong sandals of leather, some tee shirts to wear under her vests. While in Spain, Grandma got her some neat real gold and real silver jewelry to accessorize with, she got more leather sandals and moccasins and some really cute ethnic Spanish wear. Mary Elizabeth didn’t even mind the long brightly colored Gypsy skirts that Spanish women wore. She also came away with a pair of fabulous patent leather black heels, an authentic Flamenco dress and ivory castanets. It turns out that a cousin a few years older than her taught dance and for just a few weeks of instruction, Mary Elizabeth wasn’t bad. Mary Elizabeth was a hit during Halloween ’69. Wearing a red wig, she was the quintessential Spanish Flamenco muse. When we saw the pictures from the summer of ’69, mom said nothing which spoke volumes and all I could say was wow! I had a sister who was hot. She didn’t need long hair to fit in over there or over here. I still have a framed picture of her standing in front of the Eifel Tower wearing bell bottoms, a tee shirt with a Union Jack (no doubt from the trip to London), under a brown beaded fringe vest, thong sandals and a cute little French style pink beret. Before leaving for Europe her short hair had started to cover her ears, but mom took Mary Elizabeth to the salon just a day or two before they left for Europe and had her reduced to a super short Mia/Twiggy style haircut. Hair would not be touching her ears for at least a couple of months. Some gold dangly earrings with jewels from our Grandma made her super short crop-top haircut look perfect.

Ah, the passport photo appointment. Mom and Dad had a real argument over that one. Dad wanted to buy her a wig to wear for the photo’s as her first shearing at the salon was just a couple of hours old. Mom would have nothing of it. Mom was determined that her punishment would include not being allowed to cover her head at school or in public. So for several years when she went through immigration or passport check stations, the agents did a double take when they saw a short bobbed headed girl in front of them and a severely crew cut nearly bald girl on the passport photo.

To bring this to an end, I jump to 1996. That May our mother passed away. Dad passed on a few years before. I was the lucky (really unlucky) one to be named executor in her will. She had no estate to speak of, just sixty-six years worth of junk and belongings. Sorting through that stuff, I came across an old cigar box. When I opened it, I just about fell backwards. In it was a thirty inch long, thick lock of still shinny black onyx hair being held together by that barrette with the gold and pearls. For several years, my sister looked for that barrette because it was from our beloved late Grandma Butini. Eventually it was given up as lost. When I found that, I made a trip to the Detroit suburbs, to deliver this long lost and now found treasure. I went because I still had some paper work that needed Mary Elizabeth’s signature to finalize the estate.

I gave her the cigar box that I had wrapped with a big red and black ribbon and bow (the traditional colors of the Spanish Flamenco dress and dance). When she opened it I heard a shriek that I had not heard since New Year’s morning 1969. Tears came to her eyes and Brian and her sixteen year old daughter, Anna Maria Elizabeth, came running wondering what was wrong. She got up and gave me a bear hug and just kept saying “Thank you, Thank you”. I thought she wanted to show Brian and Anna Maria how long and how black her now short and graying hair had once been. In one swift motion the barrette came out of the cigar box as she unclipped it and the box and thirty inch lock of hair hit the floor. Anna Maria was spun around not knowing what was going on as Mary Elizabeth pulled a scrunchie out of her daughter’s hair and in no time flat and without a preamble of explanation, had the gold and pearl hair barrette fastened to her daughter’s long mane of equally black elbow length hair. She looked up and said to no one in particular, “Grandma, its home.” Once the explanation for my sister’s erratic act of hair grooming was given, Anna Maria fell in love with the priceless heirloom from a very great and loving Great-Grandmother, she never knew. Looking at Anna Maria with her black hair and the barrette made me think back to Mary Elizabeth and how beautiful she looked on that New Year’s Eve in 1968. I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the long lock of hair was shown to Brian and Anna Maria. I wonder because when I got up the next morning to make a pot of coffee before I had to leave for my flight, just as I was about to empty the old coffee grounds, there in their kitchen trash container rested a huge lock of thirty inch black onyx hair.

It turns out that as the years go by, you figure out what is important and what is not. The long hair wasn’t. The barrette was. The negative memories we had of a rather traumatic childhood wasn’t. The understanding that no matter what, there is an unbreakable bond, between a little brother and a big sister was and still is.

I’ve never been good at verbalizing feelings, but can put them to paper or I guess now days to silicon chip. Someday this story that I’ve shared will be read by my sister, most likely after I’m gone. I may be the little brother, but I am not a well little brother. The fact is the odds aren’t in my favor. It most likely will be years, at least I hope so. But forty-six and fifty-three really aren’t that old. It may have been in the day of pen and paper, data punch cards and the Silent Majority. not so much today in the day of PCs, the Internet and reality TV.

Mary Elizabeth, someday when you do read this, know that even though I did perpetrate an unspeakable act against you in the last millennia, I never meant for it to go as far as it did, as I also know you never meant for the broken bottles and decanters to go as far as it did. I also never knew that that very traumatic episode would be the catalyst for bonding an unspoken bond of love and admiration between what was so long ago a warring and contemptuous brother/sister relationship and is now and has been for decades a tender, loving sibling relationship with just a small touch of rivalry here and there, just to keep things interesting. Oh and yes the statute of limitations did finally run out. I hope or else I’m still dead meat if you’re reading this and I’m still breathing.

I am so sorry for the gum.

Te quiero con todo mi corazón y alma.
Su hermano,

If you would like to comment (positive or negative) on this true story, please contact me at juanbutini001@yahoo.com Doing so ultimately leads to better writing and reading. Thank you again for taking the time to read this story. It has been a cathartic experience. J.B.

Author: Juan Butini Copyright protected c 2008 MAJF r 2008. This story is for personal use only. Please do not download or copy this story without getting a “heads up” from the author. I would not do it to you without asking. It just ain’t right. Thanks and enjoy (hopefully).

Leave a Reply