Never ask someone whose childhood nickname was Miss Prissy to go on a hiking trip with you. It never ends well.
My sister had never been the outdoorsy type, not even when we were kids. My favorite place to be was up a tree or wading in a creek. Hers was indoors in a make-believe classroom, where she was always the teacher, enabling her to boss the rest of us around.
When she was four and I was two years old, our parents built us a sandbox and filled it with pristine, white sand. I experienced it to the fullest. I wallowed in it, smelled it, tasted it, massaged it into my scalp and packed it into my nose. My sister Susie stood in the middle of the sandbox and cried because the sand stuck to her hands and made her outfit dirty.
When she asked to go along on a weekend trip with my hiking club, I reluctantly agreed. I reminded her of her reputation as a bossy neat-freak, but she insisted that she had changed.
I was wary, but who am I to question whether a leopard could change its spots? After all, in my youth, I had been excruciatingly shy. That is a statement met with boisterous guffaws from my friends these days.
Yet, it is true. My primary goal as a school-aged girl was to remain as innocuous as possible. To accomplish this, I seldom spoke, except to a few close friends. I sat in the back of the room and never raised my hand to answer a question. I hid behind a sweeping curtain of long, dark hair and deep, thick bangs which nearly obscured my face. I succeeded so well in my quest for anonymity that only a handful of my classmates have any memory of my attendance.
What happened to that shrinking violet? Perhaps I smothered it with too much fertilizer.
During my school days, if I had stumbled in the school hallways, I would have been so mortified that I would have burst into tears. These days I freely describe the time I time the elastic broke on my underwear in the center court at the local mall or the fact that I fainted on my first day at my current job. Yes, right in the middle of the office; felled like a mighty oak at the hands of a lumberjack, five minutes after I arrived there and was being trained by my predecessor.
I decided to give my sister the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she HAD changed. Maybe I could introduce her to the wonders of nature and make a hiker out of her.
The day before we were to leave, Susie called me to discuss her travel wardrobe, which she packed into a large steamer trunk; this in spite of the fact that we were to be gone only two days.
She said, “If I take my navy jogging suit, I’ll have to take my matching nautical earrings. But they are trimmed in silver, which won’t match my the gold trim on my beige handbag. Also, I just had my nails done for the trip in a shade called Peachy Perfection. Do you think it will clash with my lipstick, which is in the Rosey Rendezvous palette?”
“Susie,” I said through gritted teeth, “This will be a rugged hike in the backwoods. Not one of the experienced hikers is taking makeup or jewelry. What does that tell you?”
“It tells me that I will be the prettiest one there!” she answered cheerfully.
“Who are you trying to impress?” I asked with a sigh of frustration. “The squirrels? The other sweaty hikers? The fishermen, who smell like bait?”
I thought I had made my point until we got ready for bed on the first night at the cabin. I got into my worn flannel nightgown and knee socks. Susie swept dramatically out of the bathroom in a billowing, black-and-gold floral negligee, matching robe and mohair trimmed mules.
“Who are you supposed to be?” I asked wryly. “Nineteen – forties movie star Gloria Swanson?”
The next morning we hiked to the top of an 80-foot tall waterfall. We paused to gaze in silence at the scenic grandeur of it. It was inspiring.
“Just look at that!” I said to Susie. “Isn’t it amazing?”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “Let’s go. The mist is taking the curl out of my hair and spotting my espadrilles. Didn’t we pass an outlet mall on the way here? Can you drop me off there? If we hurry we can get there before it closes.”
Just one nudge, I thought as I eyed her stance at the edge of the precipice, and the body won’t wash up until the rainy season.
Back at the hotel, she whined, “Eeyew, what is this dampness under my armpits?”
“Look, Susie, isn’t that one of your earrings in the back corner of your steamer trunk?” I asked.
“Where?” she answered as she leaned into the cavernous trunk.
Bump! Slam! Click. She will be happy to know that I sent her home via Amtrak.