[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Heather Gudenkauf guest posting on the site today. She bravely asked her siblings what they found most annoying about her, and here’s what happened.]
In my new novel, This is How I Lied, central to the story is the relationship between two sisters, Eve and Nola Knox. Theirs is a relationship fraught with cruelty and manipulation (Nola) mixed in with loyalty and selflessness (Eve).
Like Eve and Nola, I grew up in a lovely Iowa town but thankfully I was raised in a very different household than the Knox sisters.
As I wrote the This is How I Lied, I began to think more deeply about my relationships with my own older siblings. I wondered what the five of them thought of me as a little sister, so I began to investigate.
First, a little background. There are six Schmida sibs and ten years between us – all born between 1960 and 1970. We’re like the Brady Bunch except we all come from the same parents and we never had a housekeeper. And we never formed a band called the Silver Platters or got lost in the Grand Canyon. We did wear some of the same unfortunate 70s fashions, but that’s an essay for another day. My eldest brother’s name is even Greg. Anyway, I digress.
So, in order: Greg, Jane, Milt, Molly, Patrick and Heather. I’m the youngest.
Putting on my researcher hat, I sent a group text to my brothers and sisters: “What was the most annoying thing I ever did to you? No holds barred.”
I spoke too soon. The texts start flooding in.
Greg: Heather, you would stare at me when mom would yell at me and it made me feel guilty!! Mom yelled at me a lot.
Patrick: The only one that I recall is when you were a freshman in high school and my friends were like, “Hey, Schmida, your kid sister has your new shirt on that you just bought!” But that’s minuscule compared to the heinous acts I committed on you! (2)
Milt: Throwing up anytime you got in the car. Loud screaming when upset. Mom saying, “fix your voice.” Both the above, in retrospect likely due to your cochlear/vestibular loss. (3) Annoying nonetheless.
Molly: I forgot about the carsickness… you sit by her, no you sit by her, I’m not sitting by her. (4)
Molly: I remember you doing whatever I told you to do. You were like a pet.
Context: We used to play old-timey school in our garage. Molly was the school marm and would make us read out loud and practice our handwriting. For lunch she would serve us mush (Saltine crackers soaked in warm water – and yes, it was as bad as it sounds).
Heather: Molly, I remember stealing your Pony (5) tennis shoes and cramming them on to my feet even though they were two sizes too small.
Jane: I don’t remember any of this! Did I grow up in this family? Heather, you did eat an entire box of my high school fundraising candy and left the wrappers under my bed. (6)
Heather: Enough about me, let’s open this up to everyone.
Molly: I was annoyed when Milt would buy snacks from Medical Arts (local pharmacy and candy counter) and sit happily in the gold chair (best seat in the house) eating and watching TV. Not sharing even one chip, saying he bought them with his own money.
Molly: Patrick waking up at the crack of dawn getting the “good spoon” to eat his breakfast.
Molly: Jane babysitting me that one summer making us clean…me making the mistake of saying you’re not the boss of me. (Hence getting dragged up a flight of stairs and lovingly tossed in my room! Pretty sure I cleaned my room).
Molly: Greg not coming home at night when he was supposed to and making mom and dad rather crabby!
Molly: Okay, I’m annoyed with you all! (7)
In reality, my siblings and I have great relationships with one another.
Greg, though ten years older than me, always took time for me and still does. When I was seven and fell off the balance beam at gymnastics practice and my tumbling career was derailed, (8) he got me a t-shirt that said Thumbody Loves You. He is truly one of the kindest men. He’s a gifted teacher and it’s no wonder why his students love him so much.
Growing up, Jane was often charged with babysitting me. She cheerfully towed me along to cheerleading practices and always made me feel like a welcomed member of her circle of friends. When I was in college she invited me into her home so I could live with her family and save some money while I did my student teaching.
Molly could be counted on to play Little House on the Prairie in our garage. She gave me egg-white facials, and organized, cast and choreographed legendary shows in our garage that the entire neighborhood came out to see – I still know all the moves to “Chantilly Lace.” Molly also did my hair and makeup for my wedding — never have I felt as beautiful as I did on that day.
Milt gave me, yes, gave me his old car when I was broke so I would have something to drive during college. He and I chat about books and Seinfeld and he always makes me laugh. He even saved my life. I was choking on a donut hole and he gave me the Heimlich maneuver. He also cracked one of my ribs in the process, but I won’t quibble about that.
Some of my best memories are of running around the neighborhood with Patrick. We were constant companions when we were younger. We rode our bikes, played kick-the-can and I pretty much followed him everywhere. I loved what he loved – his music, his baseball team, his TV shows. Patrick also saved my life. When I was ten I had to swim the length of the pool in order to prove that I could be in the deep end. I sunk and Pat jumped right in and dragged me to safety. (10)
Though I thoroughly enjoy writing thrillers about dysfunctional families like the Knox sisters in This is How I Lied, every day I count my blessings that I call the Schmida siblings mine. (11)
- This could mean one of two things. One, they couldn’t think of one annoying thing that I did, confirming my belief that I was a great little sister. Or two, there were too many examples of how I was a pest and it was hard to pick the best one.
- Example: Patrick would tease me and I’d run to the bathroom to hide. He would find my diary and read it to me through the locked door to get me to come out.
- I have a profound hearing loss. Milt became a doctor of audiology because of my experience. So, you’re welcome, Dr. Schmida!
- For the record, I blame the carsickness on being tapped in a station wagon, facing backwards, with the smell of black coffee and Pall Mall cigarette smoke swirling around my head.
- Look them up, they were cool.
- I was hungry – it was survival of the fittest with six kids and locating the good snacks before someone else got to them.
- Molly is the middle child if you couldn’t tell.
- I was no Nadia Comaneci.
- My devoutly Catholic mom took us to a KISS concert when Patrick was 12 and I was 10 because Patrick was such a big fan. She still doesn’t speak of it.
- I didn’t pass the test.
- Last footnote, I promise. All the footnotes in this essay are my homage to a great series I’m rereading by Lisa Lutz. Start with The Spellman Files – perfect, fun reading for a quarantine.
About the Author:
Heather Gudenkauf is the critically acclaimed author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller The Weight of Silence. Her new novel, This is How I Lied, is available now from Park Row Books. She lives in Iowa with her husband and children and not far from her siblings.
This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf, out now!
Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…
Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.
For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.