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Volume 9, Issue 3: Pictura

Little Sister

Douglas Wilson

The Thompson clan was a jolly bunch. The family was large--six children--and when everyone was home for the holidays the hilarity, especially around the dinner table, would often reach the familial equivalent of critical mass. Robert was a software engineer in Tacoma, and had the driest sense of humor in the family. Susan had married a goof just like her brothers--his name was Ed --and was doing little to retard his development of those peculiar gifts. She was a homemaker in Pennsylvania. Mindy was still at home while finishing up her college work, and generally served the important role of providing raw material for her siblings, and then laughed at them when they shaped and sculpted it.

Jonathan was next. He was an electronics technician on a destroyer homeported in Japan. His persona was to assume an indulgent avuncular role, and when confronted with the parade of human nature as his family marched it by him frequently, he would lament the frailty of our species and the laxity of today's youth. The youngest of the clan, loud and forthright, was George. He was an eight-year-old, and would constantly maintain in a bellicose voice that he did not see what it was that was so funny. He would, of course, do this whenever doing so would be hilarious.
A family this size, with more good humor than that well-known entrepreneur in the white truck, would of course need some point of release. Emily was this release valve. She was in between Jonathan and George, and was an eighteen-year-old college freshman. She was the foremost wit, and had the deadliest aim. If Natty Bumpo had been a cute girl, and if muskets shot feminine mirth and sarcasm, then he would have been a lot like Emily, only different.
One Sunday after church, having been severely provoked yet again, Emily ventured forth. "Hey Mindy, did you notice Randy at church this morning? He was looking over at our row again!"
Mindy shook her head. "Are you still on that kick? And why weren't you paying attention to the service?"
Emily's dark hair shook, and her laughter shot back. "I'm not kidding! Mr. Subtle is pretty hard to miss, even for those who were busy worshiping the Lord, as was I. I noticed him in the middle of How Firm a Foundation--though his foundations looked none too firm at the time. While I didn't actually see his hands trembling. . . ."
"Oh, puh leese," Mindy laughed. "He is not interested in me. And even if he were, I can't say I would return his affections. In fact I can firmly say that I wouldn't. And you are being the quintessential little sister, Emily--a textbook case. You ought to leave whatever makes you act this way to Harvard Medical School. They could put it in a jar and show it to visitors."
"I'll go get my Philip's screwdriver," Emily said.
Mindy shook her head, nonplussed. Phillip's screwdriver?
Emily grinned her eighteen-year-old smile and headed off. This thing was developing into a regular entertainment center, albeit made out of that kind of plastic with the look of real wood. Nevertheless, she saw a good month's worth of fun coming from all this. But just as with any furniture purchased at Wal-Mart, she saw that she would have to assemble a bunch of the fun herself.
Older brother Jonathan phoned home later that night. Whenever he was in port, he would call once a month and the family would spend exactly twenty minutes talking over news and events. This particular night Mindy and Emily spent their time relating their difference of opinion over this whole Randy debacle, with Mindy hotly denying that the debacle even was a debacle. Emily stoutly maintained the affirmative, cheerfully accepted the burden of proof, and observed that if Randy were smitten any more deeply he would have to start receiving radiation therapy. "If his love goes unrequited for one more day," she said, "he will fall to the ground and commence biting sticks."
Jonathan then told them to grow up and dry up respectively. "And besides," he said, "even if Emily is right, and if it is the same Randy I remember from church, he's a zit-faced toad who is not good enough for my sister. So forget it."
Without thinking, Mindy started to reply. "No, he's not bad that way . . . at least not any more."
Emily interrupted. "Are you kidding? Last year I almost had to encourage him to enter one of his zits in the fair. It had blue ribbon all over it. Or at least it should have had one all over it. Would have been better for everyone concerned."
Jonathan signed off in despair. "Crayzee vimmin. Catch you next month."
Around Wednesday, Emily found herself looking forward to church a little more than she usually did. She didn't even have to examine her motives. She knew exactly why. She hunted Mindy down in the laundry room to tell her that she would be looking out for her sister's best interests this coming Sunday. "I will be sure to let you know if he decides to come. One if by land. Two if by sea."
"Goodbye, Emily," Mindy said, and folded another shirt.
Sunday came around, just as it always did, and the service passed without major incident. Emily did catch Randy glancing over at their row again several times, but discreetly enough not to excite any admonitions from the pulpit. In the midst of one such glance, she nudged Mindy, and whispered. "Very important not to turn red at this particular point in time."
Mindy did turn red, but her head was safely down. "Oh, Emily!"
All these various percolations of merriment began to make their way to their father's ear. Snatches of conversation here and there began to add up in his mind over the course of a few days, and one evening during the following week at dinner he asked, "What's all this about Randy?"
Two voices answered in unison. "Randy?"
"Yes. Randy."
"Randy Bennett? The one at church?"
"I suppose. I'm the one who's asking."
Emily grinned. "Mindy is starting to like Randy. She talks about him all the time."
Mindy looked down the length of her nose at Emily, much the same way that Marie Antoinette might have looked upon an unwashed peasant walking with cheerful expectancy alongside her tumbril. "Father, Emily is off amusing herself with alternative realities. She has been living in her very own interactive comic book. I am not interested in this Randy, as she calls him, and he, for his part, has done nothing more than glance innocently over at our row during church a few times. For all we know, his motivations are purely spiritual. He might be concerned for the edification of all those in our part of the church. He might be wondering why Georgie sings the way he does." George had recently developed the conviction that any hymn worth singing was worth singing loudly.
"Looking a few times!" Emily chortled. "This is where sayings like if I only had a nickel could prove themselves genuine moneymakers. I could be issuing a glossy prospectus and lining up investors. I could be listed on the NASDAQ. The man is like Belshazzar and wobbly in the knees. The man is like Pyramus and Thisbe, whichever one was the guy. I forget. The man is agog."
"Whatever," Father said. "Just remember, if there is anything to it, he needs to come to me first."
"Yes, father," said Emily. "I think that it is very wise of you to prepare us for such things now. That way. . . ."
"No worry, father," Mindy interrupted. "If he comes round, I'll send him to you." Mindy then smiled. The best strategy she thought, was to rise above it all. She would conquer Emily with nonresistance. If Ghandi could take on the British Empire that way, it might work with Emily. Still Mindy found herself shrinking from the prospects of next Sunday. Randy was very nice, but she knew him from school, and knew that he was far too brash for her. He was quiet at church, and quiet around her, but culturally speaking, in other settings he was fully capable of going off on a major antinomian toot. He was not wicked, nor malicious. It was just that he had a highly developed sense of humor, and Mindy had determined a few years before that what her parents needed were grandchildren with some ballast and decorum, and Randy did not look to be able to provide the kind of genetic material necessary. He would be a great husband for someone.
After the service, Mindy and Emily were standing with a few of their friends, just visiting, and a group of five young men came up. Mindy gulped. Randy was one of them. They talked for about fifteen minutes.
General hilarity erupted in the car on the way home. Mindy put her face in her hands. "I just died into the ground!" Mother turned and looked into the back seat. "What? What are you talking about?"
"First, you all know how insufferable Emily has been at home. And so then Randy comes over to visit us!"
"What's wrong with that?" Mother asked.
Emily was chortling to herself, and quietly assembling numerous observations for use later.
Mindy replied. "Well, that would have been fine. He's done it before. But guess what subject Emily brings up!"
"The sermon? Or is that expecting too much?"
"No--dating standards!"
Mother looked quizzical. "What could be wrong with that?"
Mindy groaned. "Oh, nothing . . . only William then asked what sort of standards our family had for dating, and Emily, with a sincerity you would scarcely credit, told him all about how Ed had to come to dad about Susan. Randy just stood there smiling. You could just see him taking mental notes."
"Frankly, I saw that too," Emily said. "Lots and lots of mental notes. He could probably get our phone number out of the church directory. I wouldn't worry about that."
The next few days Mindy was like a cat on hot bricks. She knew her father knew that she didn't like Randy, and so she had no worries on that score. But she just hated it when young men had to be told no, even if her father were the one doing the telling.
Sure enough, three evenings later, her father took Mindy aside. "Mindy, I wanted you to be the first to know about this." Mindy sat down, and said a little prayer.
"Randy and I went out for lunch today."
"What did you tell him?"
"Mindy, there is something I would like you to pray about. Will you do that for me?"
Oh no, she thought. Oh, no. Oh, no.
She nodded glumly.
"Would you be willing to go tell your sister Emily that Randy Bennet has expressed an interest in her?"
Mindy sat stunned for a moment, and then laughed out loud. "Anything you say, father."

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