|Spider-Man 174, Nov. 1977 - My first encounter with The Punisher!|
I can't actually remember what had been done. But, kids being kids, we had done something that deserved punishment. Perhaps not the punishment that was meted out, but I am sure we deserved something. Or, rather ... the guilty party deserved something.
The problem was that Chuck didn't know who had committed the crime. He knew that he hadn't done it, and that my mom hadn't done it. That left one of us, kids. Chuck decided to take the King Salomon approach to solving the riddle, he produced a "hog-paddle" and proceeded to inform us that if one child did not confess to the crime, that all would be punished.
In this case, I was not the guilty party and I didn't know who was. The party in question remained silent and we were in fact, all punished. Now, in a surprise twist, Chuck repeated the ultimatum, and the subsequent punishment. When the guilty party still had not come forth, the punishment was repeated again ... and so on.
In retrospect, if I had been a proper and heroic big brother, or even just a little bit smart, I would have simply confessed to the crime and taken my lumps to end the cycle. It would have been better for everyone. But, I didn't think about that then. Neither did my sister, Sally. We each knew that we didn't do it, and that was all we could hold on to.
The guilty party was my bratty little sister, Karla, and never had a more stubborn child been born ... well, except maybe for Chuck. Because his plan did work ... eventually. Karla confessed to the crime. And, when she did the punishments ended immediately.
But, Chuck felt that justice had not been satisfied. He handed the paddle over and instructed Sally and myself that we were allowed to "use it" on Karla in payback for the punishment that we had suffered.
I will pause here to mention that this wasn't the first trouble Sally and I had assumed because of our bratty little sister. Karla was the champion of self preservation, any allegiance she might feel towards her siblings was only entertained after the "every man for himself" strategy had failed her.
That's just the way that she was. But, she was younger, and I am not sure that she could even remember a time when there wasn't a Chuck in our lives. So, it wasn't a big deal. As a sister, Karla may have been bratty, but she was OUR bratty sister and we were protective of her.
This baffled Chuck. Karla had remained silent while we were punished along with her. Surely, we desired vengeance!
We were just happy it was over. Chuck allowed our decision to stand. When I think now about how truly bewildered Chuck was at our choice NOT to enact revenge upon our little sister, it makes me wonder what Chuck's childhood must have been like. I wish that I had allowed myself to understand him better when I was younger.
But, understanding Chuck wasn't why I told this little story. I told this story so that you might know my little sister Karla a little better, at least how she was as a child. She is still a strong willed, fearless woman with a focused determination which I believe has served her well in her life much more often than it might have worked against her.
In the late windy autumn of 1977, my "bratty" little sister, Karla and I had an adventure together.
It starts out innocently enough. We were playing outside. (When I was young, "browsing the web" was called, "playing outside.") It was probably some form of tag, or hide and seek or something equally physical at which I was absolutely terrible. (I am much better at browsing the web.) The actual activity isn't important, what is important is that we were outside and that it was a very windy day.
And on this windy day, what should blow across my path as I was playing, but a bit of a newspaper. (When I was young, "web pages" were called, "newspapers.") This wouldn't have been significant under normal circumstances. I was playing outside and having my fun. News and newspapers weren't anything to concern myself with. So, imagine then, my surprise when I saw my little sister, Karla, a full five years my junior with a piece of said newspaper in hand ... reading it!
"What are you doing?" I asked her in exactly the tone of voice an older brother uses when talking to his little sister so as to say, "It doesn't matter how you answer, because what you're doing has to be ridiculous."
Undaunted by my tone, Karla didn't even bother looking up. "Reading comics ... " was her simple 'matter of fact' reply.
"Comics?" I asked, suddenly interested. Big brother tone was gone in an instant. This child wasn't ridiculous. She was miraculous ... a newspaper savant. "Let me see." I demanded.
Now normally the best way to get my sister to absolutely NOT do something was to demand that she do it. I perhaps should have been more tactful. But today was a special magical day and my abrupt tone did not immediately spark the ignition of sibling conflict. Karla obligingly strode to my side and handed me the paper.
I had my expectations in check. I had seen newspaper comics before. I had read Family Circus and Charlie Brown. This is what she was reading. I knew it would be. And that was fine. I liked those comics too. It was bound to be way better than whatever "outside" game we had been playing.
Imagine my surprise when I looked at the newspaper comic page my sister had been reading and discovered, "The Amazing Spider-man!" Surely, this was a trick! It must be some newspaper knock-off intended for kids, like Spidey Super Stories and that Spider-man from the Electric Company. But, no ... this was a proper Spider-man. Spider-man in new adventures not chronicled in the pages of a comic book; written by Stan Lee himself, and drawn by John Romita. This was the real deal!
Karla was anxious to share in my enthusiasm. She ran from the yard across to the neighboring field to snatch up another piece of newspaper. "Darn! No comic!" she cursed in her harshest 7 year old vocabulary. Of course there wouldn't be. We had already found the comics pages.
I tried to explain to her that a newspaper was made up of many, many pages, but that only a few of these were comics pages and that we had found them all already (or at least, the only one that mattered ... the one that featured, Spider-man!) "You don't know that!" she countered stubbornly as she ran across the field to snatch up another piece of the newspaper that had been blowing towards our front yard. "Darn!" she cursed with a venom that would melt diamonds. And she took off in search of another fluttering scrap of "hopeless waste of time."
I was calling for her to come back and struggling to keep up with her. I knew that I would get in trouble if I allowed her to run off alone, so I had to keep an eye on her. We lived in a farm house out in the middle of nowhere on the distant outskirts of an abandoned ghost town called, "Dilapidated Corn-Cob" Iowa ... Or, something equally desolate sounding. (It's possible that names have been changed to avoid the boring.)
We were across the road from our house, which itself was a fair distance from the road, and in the middle of a cornfield. The cornfield was barren as this was late November or early December, the only notable feature was an old gray barn in the distance. I called out again to Karla, who continued to actively ignore me. I was beginning to get angry, when Karla cried out unexpectedly.
"What? ... Another one?" I was astonished. "Impossible!"
If the Princess Bride had been a thing in 1977, I would have thought, "Inconceivable!" but that wasn't a word back then.
I finally caught up to Karla who thrust out the new piece of newspaper in triumph. It was indeed another installment of the Spider-Man strip from a different newspaper! How could this be?
Karla smirked at me with a smugness of Trumpian proportions. "Told you!" she trumpeted as pleased with the object of her quest as she was with being right. I was pleased, too! If there was two ... there could be more! Scanning the distance, it appeared the trail of paper was coming from that old gray barn at the far side of the cornfield.
"Come on!" I exclaimed, suddenly very excited by this recent turn of events. Karla had gone from "pain in the neck, bratty little sister" to "faithful sidekick" in a instant. We ran with youthful vigor toward the barn together, matching one another step for step like Batman and Robin in that episode where the Batmobile ran out of gas!
We reached the barn, but it was locked up. There was a chain on the door. Up high on one side of the barn was a large window, but no glass ... just a framed aperture and old wooden shutters that must have been unfurled by the ferocious winds. Newspapers were being blown out through the opening, but we couldn't get up there ... or so one would assume.
There was a tree next to the barn, and Karla was certain that she could reach the window from the tree and climb in. As her big brother, I was responsible for Karla's safety, and I objected strongly.
"Good idea!" I said, but Karla was already halfway up the tree.
Karla made it up the tree and into the loft of the barn successfully. I waited anxiously as she disappeared inside.
"There's a jillion of them!" Karla called out as she looked down at me from the loft. Within moments she was pushing tied bundles of newspapers that she could barely manage to lift, out of the window to me on the ground below. Once on the ground, I struggled to free the newspapers from their bindings and began to dig through them in search of Spider-man. I was met with success after success and each discovery inflamed our dedication to our quest!
Once again, as in a previous tale, the wind was our enemy. Comic collecting is not an outdoor sport. Karla to the rescue! Fearlessly, she was down the tree and running back to the house to get my school binder (the contents of which she helpfully emptied on the floor of my room) and a pair of scissors so that we could clip and store the strips safely. She was met by my sister, Sally who asked her what was going on. "I have to hurry!" Karla proclaimed without pausing to give her big sister a single glance. "We're collecting Spider-man!" she spouted as she ran off back out into the cornfield.
Karla delivered to me the tools needed to complete our task and was back up the tree and into the barn before I'd even begun to get things properly organized. Her single-minded dedication to our goal was a credit to side-kicks everywhere. She was brave, efficient, focused ... amazing. I couldn't believe that I once thought of this paragon of Spider-man comic strip, detection, location, and collection as my "bratty little sister!" She was a hero! We both were! She was Robin to my Batman, Falcon to my Captain America! We were a team!!
Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice ...
Mom was driving home from work.
I mentioned that we lived in the middle of nowhere ... so the last leg of the drive home from work, for my mom, was an unremarkable five mile stretch of lonely country road. Uh, normally unremarkable.
Mom encountered the first in a trail of newspapers as soon as she turned down the road towards home. The trail quickly grew thicker and created a path down the side of the road that accompanied my mother as she drove along, puzzled at the spectacle. A spectacle that accompanied her for every one of the last five miles of her journey.
When she got home, she asked Sally what was going on. Sally pointed to the barn in the distance. "Jeff's collecting Spider-man comics. Karla's helping." She reported simply.
Breaking and entering, vandalism, trespassing, theft, littering ... these were but a few of our crimes. The newspapers in our landlord's barn were being stored there for a Boy Scout paper drive for charity. We had made a shambles of them. A shambles that would take many many people, many many days to clean up.
In an aforementioned previous post, I had spoken of seeing my mom at various stages of anger ... this would be the time that my mom's anger reached atomic elevations.
As my fiancée, Julie is fond of saying, "It was the 70's. Life was cheap."
Life was cheap ... and whippings happened. Well, they did.
And they were about to again.
Mom cut a switch from a tree in our front yard and proceeded to thunder like a Sherman Tank across the road towards the barn.
Karla was the first to see mom coming from her vantage point in the loft. There was no mistaking the nature of mom's gait as she marched our direction. We were in big trouble. Karla spared me only a word, "Mom!" and she was down the tree and already on her way home before I knew what was happening.
Now, we come to the reason I told that first story. I believe it's important to know about my sister Karla's fearless demeanor and stubborn defiance in the face of disciplinary action. She is and has always been unflappable. If she were a horse she would be one of those that could never be broken; always wild; always free. Discipline ... phhtt! Fear? Ha! These things didn't impact Karla's world at all.
So it was, that as little 7 year old Karla was running towards home, prepared with her youthful agility to dodge right past our mother heedless of the consequences, that her eyes came to fixate on the knife in my mom's hand. The knife that mom had used to cut a switch with which to punish us.
Mom in her anger had forgotten to put the knife down. Karla in her haste to return to the safety of home, wasn't prepared for the sight of an angry mother with knife in hand.
Karla turned white and fell defeated to her knees. "Please, don't KILL us, mom!" came her desperate plea.
This stopped mom dead in her tracks. For a moment nothing happened. Everything froze. Then mom's face contorted into a knot of visible struggle, like Bill Bizby's as he was about to transform into the Hulk.
Would she scream out in anger, at the thoughtlessness of our crimes? Cry at the sight of her youngest child begging for her life at the hands of her own mother? Or, laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all? In the end, her face passed out from the strain of this turmoil and fell lax. Mom let out a sigh.
"Get back to the house!" she barked. Karla was off like a rocket. I had never seen anyone run so fast.
I ... got the switch.
But, that didn't really matter. The whipping I got wasn't the real punishment, not to me. The real punishment was that I didn't get to keep the newspaper strips.
Karla and I were closer after that. She was never my "bratty" little sister again.