TRAVEL BUG TALES: HOW SUSAN STOLE BACK THE LIMELIGHT
In 1967 my sister and I are in Houston visiting family. For a few stolen hours I quit being a sensitive twerp and felt like a valuable, validated person. Then Susan trumps my musical enlightenment with a medical emergency.
My Leg Itches
The day before we headed home, Susan complained of her leg. I figured it was a chigger or mosquito bite, but when she showed it to me, I knew it was something else. I got the adults involved and my music lessons were over.
By the time my parents arrived to take us home, things had worsened. Susan had a huge swollen mass behind her knee and a fever to match. I think my parents arrived on a Saturday night and drove us home the next day. We were in the doctor’s office shortly after that and Susan was sent to a surgeon for an emergency procedure.
We never knew what bit Susan, but they assumed it was a spider. The fact that it was not treated until several days after it manifested itself made things worse. I know Aunt Sis was devastated by the situation, but somehow I felt like it was more my fault than hers. Mother had made it clear that I was in charge and I had failed to keep Susan safe.
The procedure to lance Susan’s wound was just the first step on her journey to recovery. There was a regimen of dressing changes, hot packs, medication and doctor visits that went on for a long time. The stuff coming out of Susan’s leg was the most sickening thing Mom had ever seen and over the years she saw some pretty yucky stuff. Susan has a scar from it until today.
The mystery bite was just another chapter in my history of being overshadowed by my younger sibling. Shortly after we arrived home, Uncle Ralph sent Susan a “medical kit.” It was a similar to a wooden tool box he made for my dad, but Susan’s kit was Susan-sized. The accompanying note didn’t even mention me.
What Followed for Me
I was used to getting upstaged by my little red-headed sister, but a change was coming. I began to be less worried about comparing myself to Susan and started sorting out who I was on my own.
I began to let my hair grow out of the short bobs my mother preferred. I’ll admit that it looked awful a few years later when I insisted on parting it down the middle, but it was my hair and I wore it the way I wanted to, just like my Cousin Gene Alton. (Hair was a big issue in the Sixties and Seventies.)
When my taste in clothes differed from my mother’s, I began to make her aware of it. Mother had great taste and always looked like a million dollars, but I had my own style. I liked fussier clothing than my mom. I adored ruffles, frills, embroidery, prints and stripes, while mom preferred clean lines. I liked bright colors, while Mom advised the practicality of solids in neutral colors. I eventually convinced her to allow me my differences.
I am product of my upbringing, but I am also very different from my parents. I’m more adventurous and creative. I’m more tolerant of people who are different from me. I’m more spontaneous. Not all the differences are so noble. I’m also noisier and more likely to waste money on something frivolous.
Did I become who I am because Gene Alton actually saw me and talked to me about Grace Slick? I can’t say for sure. He wasn’t a constant influence on me, because he was way down there in Houston and he would soon be wrapped up in his own life. However, I can say that he made a difference. Thanks cuz!