My sister Brenda enjoying the company of her 4-year-old grandson, Jeremiah. Courtesy photo

As regular readers of this column can attest, pro and con, it’s almost impossible for me to avoiding lambasting someone whose many nicknames include “Agent Orange” and the “Mango Mussolini.” But this week I’m in a celebratory mood because next Thursday my older sister, Brenda, a retired teacher, Vice-Principal, and therapist, mother of two, grandmother of four, is having a milestone birthday.

I’m not sure she’d mind my mentioning the exact number of candles. But just in case, I’ll put it this way; to calculate the total, if each finger represented a decade, it would take just a bit more than one hand.

As Brenda taught me so, albeit sometimes through our misadventures, I’ll share some with you. I hope my column is coherent as with this surreal pandemic, social distancing and self-isolation, frankly often I’m not sure what day it is.

A memory from relatively early childhood is that when, on the occasion my sister couldn’t sleep, I would announce a baseball game to her. I better explain. You see our bedrooms were far enough away from our parents that we could quietly chat without waking them. Our dad was a big baseball fan and often took us to L.A. Angel Pacific Coast League games at the beautiful but long gone Wrigley Field.

For some reason my recreating a game either comforted my sister or bored her, but she was usually sawing zzz’s by the end of the second inning. “Are you still awake?” I’d whisper and if I heard nothing, I knew the game was “canceled due to drowsiness.” (Often it was just when I was hitting my “announcer stride.”)

Another example of our collective misbehaving, on a Saturday, when my father was working and my mother might be at the grocery store, my sister introduced me to the “gourmet” cuisine of roasting hot dogs on a fork over the the stove. Then we’d dip the dog into a jar of mustard and it was bon appetit.

Speaking of hot dogs, late one weekend night we sneaked out of the house as my sister drove us to Hollywood and the world famous Pink’s Hot Dogs. Loaded with chili, sauerkraut, relish and mustard, those dogs were beyond delicious and cost… 20 cents! I was also fascinated with the after midnight crowd from hip Hollywood types to others who looked like junkies.

Brenda also let me tag along on trips to a bohemian coffee house in Venice. Beatniks read poetry to the beat of bongo drums, while the audience sipped coffee and smoked pot. Given my hero was Mickey Mantle, I found this new world shocking but also mesmerizing.

I remember the first time my parents spent the weekend in Palm Springs when we didn’t need our Aunt Amelia to babysit because my sister was old enough to be in charge. Unfortunately we got in a car accident but fortunately no one was hurt. That said Brenda’s 1954 Ford was a mess. Hours later, we were pacing in the living room when, as fate would have it, there was a knock at the door. It was a ragged group of auto body repair gypsies who said they’d fix the car for $50.

Three hours later, the damage was completely gone, replaced by primer. In those days there was Earl Scheib’s chain of 1-day $19.95 paint jobs, in by 9 am., done by 5 pm. But they were closed on Sunday.

When our rested and relaxed parents arrived back home we told my father (Brenda did the talking) the car needed a paint job (which it did) and a friend did some primer work to get it ready. To this day I can’t believe my dad actually bought it.

As I write this Brenda denies it, but she’s the better wordsmith of the two of us. Years later in college, on at least a few occasions she saved me by rewriting my lame term papers. She was student teaching at the time and then got a job at Carver Junior High in South Central. There she met fellow teacher and her husband to be, David, born and raised in Iowa. To me David’s a saint except for marrying into my meshugenah family. (That said, they’ve been married 55 years!)

On the subject of marriage, when I was engaged, Brenda and Dave offered their back yard with its lush grass adjacent to the pool in their Encino Hills home for the wedding ceremony, which is still a beautiful memory. (Despite my divorce seven years later.)

So happy birthday to my wonderful big sister. As close as we’ve been these many years, unfortunately these days our biggest bond is our mutual loathing of the aforementioned Agent Orange/Mango Mussolini. (At least I got through an entire column without mentioning his name.)

Jack is at:, and

Join the Conversation


  1. As I read your column, Jack, my memory kicks into high gear, but I won’t bore you with many years of memories (but I’m a grandparent, too).

    Lest you think that you’ll get away from all those memories, I’ll just say that my younger sister is named Brenda. I’ll say only that I believe she voted for the “Orange Mussolini”.

    “Happy Easter!” Or as the Orange Mussolini will shortly be saying, “Unhappy Easter”.

  2. Thanks for another interesting column made more engaging by your wonderful way with words! Happy birthday to Brenda!

  3. Thank you for a nice relief from the usual virus news. I enjoyed your childhood adventures with your sister, Brenda.

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