August 15, 2013: Taking Mains

Gwen still liked me in this picture
My Aunt Gwen was born in 1960. She was the youngest of seven by a long shot. My dad, who was second in line, was sixteen when she was born. Being "the baby" Gwen held court as the spoiled one in the family until I came along. I was born when Gwen was seven and I no doubt upset her apple cart.

Although the eldest of the Wagner grand kids were born before me, they lived across the country in sunny Arizona. Following the birth of my brothers, my entry into the world gave me the advantage to the coveted spot as cutest tot dressed in pink. I was the apple of my grandma's eye and she wasn't afraid to say it. This eventually did not sit well with my older family counterpart, Aunt Gwen.

Based on past photos and distant memories, I believe Gwen enjoyed me up until the age of five. I am sure the mixture of her hitting the teen years along with my size grown too big to carry like a doll resulted in her moving on from playing with me to resenting me. There were expectations of her as a growing teen that were not reflective of my adoring grandmother's coddling towards me.

The honeymoon is over.  Gwen is squeezing my cheek
(and laughing about it!)
Here is where Gwen and I started our power struggle and female game playing. To my advantage was a younger age and the perception of my innocence by my grandma. When Gwen knit my younger cousins tie purses and not me, I only needed to give my grandma a forlorn look. A knit bag soon followed.

"Gwen, how could you not include Sandy? The next one you make should be for her in green. Sandy loves green."

I distinctly remember being presented with the cute green bag by it being launched in my face when Grandma's head was turned. As Grandma looked back to admire Gwen's handiwork, she smiled with pride on our purported sharing of this special moment together. I knew better than to tell on Gwen. She gave me a glare and the stink eye to reinforce my decision. I had learned young how not to push the envelope too far; knowing well the result of being pummeled. No doubt my experience with older brothers helped develop this skill.

The games between us continued. I remember purposely making annoying noises by swirling spit in my mouth. On this particular occasion I was holding grandma's hand on a shopping trip. Gwen, too old to hold hands, walked alone and was visibly annoyed with my childish antics. Since Grandma didn't seem to mind and Gwen did, I kept doing it and increased the volume of my swirling sounds as we went about our walk. In the end I won the battle of my baiting by pushing Gwen to the point of blowing her gasket.

"Mom, MAKE HER STOP!!!  She is soooo annoying!"  

Grandma stopped dead in her tracks; appalled at the outburst. As I tightly held on to Grandma's hand with a sheepish look on my face, she reprimanded Gwen for her bullying ways. "Sandy is only being a little girl. Do not talk to her like that!" After a look of death from Gwen and my responding smile back, we silently continued our walk down Main Street.

A favorite story that Gwen likes to tell involves another shopping day with Grandma. On this particular day, the three of us traveled nine miles to LeMars for a Saturday full of shopping. Following our many stops that afternoon with bags filling the back seat, Grandma needed to make a final stop at the Remsen grocery store. The additional grocery purchases were added to our car and left no sitting room in the back. As the three of us prepared to squeeze in the front, a masterful idea came upon me.

"Grandma, can I sit next to the window so I can look out?"  I asked.

"Yous <grandma beams>...always the one to enjoy the scenery. Yes, you sit next to the window and look out."

The look of shock on the delivery of my antics quickly penetrated Gwen's face. "NO!!!  Mom, I am not sitting in the middle!"

"Gwen, yes, you are sitting in the middle! It's just a short ride home and you have to stop being so selfish. Let Sandy sit there and look out the window." We both knew by the tone of her voice that the conversation was over.  I am sure there was a smirk on my face that entire short ride home. Pleased with my spot and enjoying the scenery, I asked grandma if we could go all the way around Main Street so I could see my dad's barber shop on the opposite end of downtown. Grandma willingly complied with a smile on her face as Gwen fumed in the middle.

To give you a little background on Gwen's visible discomfort, note that it was an early Saturday evening in broad daylight. The gathering spot for every teenager in Remsen was Main Street. Taking mains was a means of showing off your new Grand Prix or your latest boyfriend. The universal coming out party for girlfriend/boyfriend units was the girl snuggled in next to her man while taking mains together. Even bucket seats could be bypassed by a creative and determined female mate.

As the teens congregated to discuss the gathering spot of the evening and the whereabouts of the cool kids, Gwen took a Main perched in the middle seat next to her mother. At a mere seven years old, I sat next to the window with my small frame not visible to the onlooker as we drove down Main Street that sunny Saturday. My head barely hit the bottom of the window. Gwen spewed a mix of venom and embarrassment. I was pleased and smugly took in what I could see of the outside.

Don't feel too badly for Gwen, she got me back once I reached my pre-teen years. By this time  she had moved on from taking mains to having gatherings at Grandma's house. My brothers and I would often stay the night. Gwen was left in charge in Grandma and Grandpa's absence. Gwen adored my older brothers and found them funny and charming. As I would be banished to bed early, my brothers were always invited to join Gwen's posse downstairs.  You know what they say about pay backs...

Rest assured that with age and life experiences, Gwen and I are now great friends and have shared much joy together in our adult years. As was the case with Gwen's spot in the birth order, she also had "trail-ender" kids.  Gwen and I gave birth to sons who are thirteen days apart and her youngest is of similar age and great buds with my youngest.  Our family's have spent vacations, holidays and many, many laughs together.

As I have never had a sister, I have come to believe that my relationship with Aunt Gwen best mirrors the sister relationship that never came to be. Our age span is just enough to have the feel of a big sister/little sister rivalry.  With age, our playful jabbing continues with more fun and less rivalry.  In Grandma's final days, we happily shared her affections. I am sure Grandma is now looking down on us with a smile; watching her girls enjoy life and family the way she taught us.

My Grant with Gwen and her youngest, Gabbie enjoying Lake Okoboji together.



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