Oh, Brother(s)!

“What are they talking about now?” my sister-in-law asks.  She and I are sprawled on adjacent couches, recovering from a yoga class.  Any minute now, I tell myself, I should be able to stand upright.  Or maybe not.

“They’re patting themselves on the back,” I tell her.

“They” are our husbands, who are drinking wine in the kitchen, regaling each other with stories of their childhoods, their professional lives, their travels.  Listening to the loud bursts of laughter from the kitchen, I have to tell you I really recommend taking in a family of hurricane refugees.  For four days, we’ve cooked dinners, told stories, screamed about politics.  (It’s fortunate we’re all supporting the same presidential candidate, so no fistfights have broken out.)

The only casualty has been our cat, Lefty, who’s highly miffed about the appearance of the two Houston refugee dogs and has been slinking around the perimeter of the house for days, refusing to come inside.  I think Lefty has a lot of growing up to do.

“Remember how you used to put smoke bombs in our neighbor’s car tailpipes?” my brother-in-law asked at dinner.

“Not in their tailpipes,” my husband said.  “Just under their cars.”

“And sugar in their gasoline tank?” my brother-in-law continued.

“I never put sugar in anybody‘s gas tank,” my husband said.  “Only juvenile delinquents do things like that.”

Listening to the two of them, I can close my eyes and hear very little difference in their voices, their likes and dislikes.  They both hate carbohydrates, pomposity, too many rules, and religious ideologues.  They love their work, provoking conservatives and their own wives, playing golf in old, rumpled clothes and never keeping score.

I’ve known the two of them for the great majority of my life, I realize.  I knew them when they were young and brash and unformed, more competitive with each other.  Hell, I knew them when they both had hair.

I’ve listened to them for so many years, I can anticipate the topics that are coming up.  The stories about the impromptu balloons they used to make from plastic cleaning bags, filling them with gas from the kitchen stove.  They’d attach a lit cigarette at the end of a fuse and watch as the balloon rose into the air, then burst into flames.  One time, in an excess of excitement, they almost sent their little sister up into the air, attached to one of their balloons. Another time, they flew from Oregon to Texas with dynamite in their luggage they’d gotten from one of their crazy cousins.   Just good, clean, boyhood fun when you’re growing up in the wastelands of West Texas.

Today, after learning their house finally had power again, my brother- and sister-in-law took their refugee dogs and went back to Houston.  The house is now quiet — too quiet.  In the meantime, I can still hear the laughter and the stories and I’m thinking that Lefty will be coming back soon, once he’s punished us a little more for inviting the dogs into his house.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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