I’ll never forget the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz. It was also the first time I met two new friends, the son, and daughter of my mom’s new friend, a man I liked a lot because he usually brought mom a box of candy whenever he visited. Little did I know these two kids were about to become my stepbrother and sister.
We were having a sleepover (no, not with my step-dad! Are you crazy? It was the 50s! We were Presbyterian!), conveniently scheduled on a night The Wizard of Oz was airing on TV. My mother and stepdad-to-be hoped it would be a bonding experience for us.
Turns out, they were right. I still remember all four of us kids bunched up on the couch in front of that 13-inch black-and-white TV, eating popcorn and drinking Pepsi, watching Dorothy and Toto and the Munchkins.
I was three, maybe four years old, and the movie both fascinated and horrified me.
To distract me from the scary parts, my new friend and step-sister-to-be Susan taught me a neat trick: take a hollowed-out piece of popcorn, dunk it in your Pepsi and drink from it like a little Munchkin cup.
Cool! Consider me bonded! It’s still my favorite way to eat popcorn. To this day, when Wizard pops up on TCM or TNT and I don’t pop up a bag of popcorn and crack open a Pepsi, something is missing.
That 50s sleepover weekend long ago was significant for another reason. It was the first time I remember having a sense of attraction to a boy. I hesitate to call it romantic attraction because, c’mon. I was only four, for crying out loud. Plus, remember: We were Presbyterian.
Nonetheless, I found myself attracted to my stepbrother, David. My first Valentine. He was an older man — seven, maybe eight years old. Likely wiser, too. He was tall, I thought, and oh-so-handsome. Dark hair, dark eyes. Italian. He was quick to laugh, and, if I recall correctly, liked popcorn — even the burned kernels. I think I tried to hold his hand, but I was a yucky girl and he was having none of that.
Fast forward, about a year. My mother did indeed marry that man with the daughter and son. We moved into their house in the country. It had a big front yard where we could play croquet, an even bigger backyard where we could play softball, and a garage with a hoop affixed to it so we could play basketball in the drive. Heaven.
Obviously, when my tall, dark, and handsome new boyfriend David became my goofy, stinky older brother Dave, our budding romance died on the vine. But he was always there for me when I needed him.
Fast-forward even further, about 60 years, to last month when Dave and his wonderful wife of almost that long came to Houston to visit my wonderful partner and me. He’s more bald than dark now, but still tall and handsome.
We did touristy things while they were here. Ate all the food at all the restaurants. Laughed. Cried. Told stories on each other, and then repeated it all, many, many times. He remembered things that I didn’t, and vice versa.
One of those things he remembered that I didn’t was the time I took a big, black Magic Marker and wrote “Nancy + David” with a heart around it, right on the inside wall of our garage. This, of course, was before “we all got married to each other,” as we used to say as children.
What I did remember after “we all got married to each other” was feeling like everything about my previous existence had been blown away, changed almost beyond recognition. I was a post-tornadic Dorothy Gale, plunked down by forces into an unfamiliar, unpredictable place that I didn’t completely understand—a place with vastly more colorful surroundings. I was living in a new world with a new dad and brother and sister, and what a world it was. It was simultaneously overwhelming and exhilarating and would take all the brains, heart, and courage I could muster to navigate it. Lacking a Glinda, the Good Witch, it was reasonable to want a boyfriend to help me navigate this new world.
It wasn’t long before I realized that having a big brother was much better than having a boyfriend — a sentiment that holds true all these years later. He is still there for me, just like he was when we were kids.
Guess what else is still there? That heart on the inside of our garage wall. Memories may fade, but Magic Marker is forever.