Thursday, February 12, 2015



My first memory of Lisa was riding our tricycles around the kitchen table while my mother howled with laughter, then playing in the sandbox, and later that day, inexplicably and for no apparent reason, breaking one of her toys on purpose.
I guess that’s the kind of brother I was.

As we got older I remember being at home with the measles -- we both had the measles—waiting for the soundtrack to Mary Poppins to be delivered so we could sing along to it. Then a year later giving her an album for her birthday. It was “The Monkees” and we sang to that one as well.

We lived in Detroit, and during the winter when it snowed, the snowplows would come by and leave a huge mound of snow on either side of the road. When kids walked during these times, we walked on top of these mountains everywhere we went, as though we were traversing the south ridge of Everest.­­­ One day after school I had beat her home. I went in the garage and got a shovel. I went to the end of the driveway where there was a mountain of snow. I was sure she would come this way. So I dug from the top, straight down, and made a 4 foot deep hole for her to fall in. I covered it with a piece of cardboard, and covered that with snow.
My trap now laid, I went across the street to get my buddy Pete, that we might hide and spy her as she fell in the trap. But once at Pete's, his mother brought hot chocolate and cookies, and soon we were playing Monopoly, and I had forgotten all about my trap and my little sister Lisa.
When I finally left Pete's and got home, a distraught and freezing Lisa had been rescued from my trap by my mother, who had heard her cries for help from inside the house.
Dad wore me out that night. I guess that’s just the kind of brother I was.

Back in Texas, when she was a 5th grader and would have her friends spend the night, they would gather around her phonograph. In strange cabaret-esque voices they would sing:
“Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we'd choose
We’d fight and never lose
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days”
In my minds I can hear them now, just as you might be hearing them too.
I would think to myself  “OK, they are in the 5th grade right? What do they think they are singing about? ”

Then the next song would be Cher’s big hit “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and I would wonder “Is it possible they  really know what they are singing about?” and the thought occurs to me now and I have to wonder did I really know what they were singing about?
That’s the kind of brother I was I suppose, and the fact is Lisa was way more hip and way more popular than I. It was Lisa who talked to me for hours and finally convinced me I should wear bell bottoms, something this son of a Republican  wasn’t too sure was a good thing to do.

Later in High School we had drifted apart. She was Partridge Family, and I was Black Sabbath. She was Pep Squad and I was Parking lot. I shared a bathroom with her for 17 years, and it had got to where when we passed in the hall in the morning there was a two word greeting we had for each other.
“Hello Face” I would say
“Hi Freak” she would reply .
It was like our Pet name for each other. I guess that just the kind of brothers and sisters we were.

I never really knew what to get her for Christmas or Birthdays. Her tastes were so much more refined than my own. But in 1985 at Christmas I found something I thought was nice. It was a ceramic goose head, with a long elegant neck. It hung on the wall in the kitchen, and you could hang a kitchen towel on it.
She hated it. She hated it the second she opened it up. And since I liked it so well, she let me keep it. I was delighted. And so in 1986 when I was Christmas shopping for Lisa, I bought another one. She hated that one too. So now I had two goose heads in my kitchen and when  Christmas 1987 rolled around, I also had a ceramic pigs butt to hang towels from in my kitchen.
Because that’s just the kind of brother I was.

Despite all this, sometime in the last 20 years Lisa confided to me that I was her hero. I never figured out what I could have done to achieve that status. For me Lisa had always been someone to play with, someone to tease, someone to set traps for. Maybe it wasn’t 20 years ago. Maybe it was 6 years ago when I finally got clean and sober that she said I was her hero, but  don’t think that’s when.

Then two years ago Lisa had a neck surgery. I went to see her in the Rehabilitation Center.
“They are kicking me out of rehab” she said. ‘Why?” I ask. “Because they are a bunch of horses asses here. They are not taking care of me. This bed is uncomfortable. The pillows are like bricks. They locked me into the bed last night without telling me. They keep changing my medicine without telling me. They made me eat broth because they said I was constipated. The broth was cold. I asked for water, and they won’t bring me any. I can’t get any rest here, so I can’t do the therapy exercises.”

I’m thinking what a tough patient she must be, but then she says: The doctor ordered a soft neck brace for me three days ago, and they haven’t brought that to me yet. He said it would be more comfortable for sleeping than the one I have now, but they haven’t brought it for me because they are idiots and just don’t care, and I can’t get any rest in this Frankenstein neck brace”

My ears kind of prick up at this. Three days?
I looked at this neck brace she is wearing.
Its huge!
It looks like something you would put on a mule getting ready to plow the back forty.

So I go to the nurses station.
“My sister needs her soft collar neck brace”
“We don’t have one”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know.”
“It was ordered Monday right, yes?”
“Yes, but they keep them in storage downstairs, and no one is here with a key tonight.”
"But its Thursday today. What happened to Tuesday and Wednesday?"
"They didn't get the brace."
I look around over my shoulder. "They? Who is they?"
"The day shift."
“Is this some specialty item?”
“No, Mr. Renfro, you can get them at CVS.”
Holy crap! Now the short hairs on the back of my neck are going “woo-woo-woo” and I say: “So if I go get one of these, you can put it on her, and she will experience some relief, and get some rest?”

So off I go to CVS to furnish the million dollar hospital with rehabilitation supplies they have, but just can’t seem to deliver to my sister. And the whole way there and back, the old chef, the crazy killer intolerant son-of-a –bitch that resides in a shallow grave in my head, he starts to rise up.
 What I don’t want to do is go all Hells Kitchen on them. I’m thinking to myself “Don’t stop at the nurses’ station, just walk on by.”

I was almost past the nurses station when I hear “Oh, you got it! You got the neck brace! You are such a good brother!”
And that’s all it took.
I wheeled around and slammed the new brace down on the nurses station counter.
“No. I’m not a good brother. I suck as a brother. But she has laid there for three days waiting to get this brace the doctor ordered for her. There must be thousands of these in your little neck-brace closet downstairs that nobody has a key to, and all I did was show a little empathy and take a 5 minute drive around the corner to get a medical device a doctor ordered 3 days ago for YOUR patient that cost a whopping big 14 bucks, and I think that is ridiculous. This is a Rehabilitation Hospital right? That’s what it says on the sign out front. I'm sure I saw a sign that said it was a Rehabilitation Something.”

She gulped, but another nurse in the station turns and tries to help. She says “You know, you sound just like your sister.” And she laughed.

Holy shit. I got two of them now. So I said:

“I know my sister is difficult. But I love her, and if ya’ll here at the Texas Rehabilitation Hospital can’t supply her with the medical rehabilitation supplies that a doctor has prescribed for her to help her with her recovery, even after three days, then you incompetent dumb-asses deserve everything you get from her. I don’t think it’s fucking funny at all.”

They didn't even flinch, but went back to staring at their computer screens. I said all this outside the earshot of my sister, but I said it plenty loud.

I opened the door to Lisa’s room. Her face lit up when she saw the bag. “Oh Stevie, thank you” she said, almost in tears “You are the best brother in the whole world”
“Well Face, I guess thats just the kind of brother I am!”


Low Rider said...

So sorry to read about your sister. May she rest in peace.

Regardless of what you write, you are obviously a good brother. That's the kind of brother you are.

Another great read Steve. Thank you.

SL said...

So sweet, sad and funny. You have written a lovely tribute to your sister, but that's just the kind of man you are.

AnitaNH said...

Steve, I felt very sad when I read this and could not think of what to write. I still don't, really, except to say that it is probably very hard to lose someone who loves you and thinks you are a hero. You are still a hero.

Cathey said...

Made me cry all over again. I sang the same songs, along with I've Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates and had no clue what any of them meant. Lovely tribute to Lisa. You were a good big brother, you just didn't know it.