My brother Paul and I were close in age, just fifteen months apart. Although he was a bit older, we were placed in the same grade level in school, and there, had each other’s backs completely.

At home though, we bickered over many things that seemed of paramount importance at the time—especially baseball card trades and Monopoly deals—but still, we maintained a great and loving friendship—just not always. One summer day, after our constant squabbling nearly drove our mother mad, she finally broke, and told us to go out to the lilac bush and cut switches, which she intended to use on our backsides. She never actually did use corporal punishment on us, but the threat was real, at least it sounded like it this time.

Paul and I went out to the large purple lilac bush at the corner of our front yard, where Paul proceeded to cut a huge, heavy branch off the shrub. Obviously one of us demonstrated a little remorse for our misbehavior. I, on the other hand, cut a twig, maybe five inches, probably more like three.

Paul shook his head at me and warned, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Mom’s pretty mad at us, and rightfully so.”

“But it’s funny,” I responded, “and Mom has a sense of humor.” I laughed, and he did too.

“All right, Helen, it’s your butt.”

We walked back into the house and found our mother in the family room, folding clothes with her back to us. Paul and I stood there, side by side, he with his towering branch of flagellation, still loaded with lilacs, which practically shielded him from view of our mother’s wrath, and me with my twig, fully exposed as the unrepentant sinner that I was.  She turned around and looked at us.

I wish I could capture in print the many phases of facial expressions that crossed Mom’s lovely face: shock, anger, disbelief, and finally, amusement. Fortunately for me, once she expressed the last of her emotions, Mom burst out laughing so hard that she had to sit down at the table. She covered her forehead with her hand, glanced up again briefly, then another gale of laughter began. I glanced at Paul and he smiled. Then we started to giggle, too.

“Put those outside,” Mom said, gesturing to our branches, or at least to Paul’s branch and my stick.

I turned to Paul and said, “On guard,” I challenged him with my twig, and took the stance with my pathetic little weapon, as if to engage him in a sword fight. He just laughed and his looming branch scraped the floor.

“Now, missy,” Mom said to me. Clearly, her humor had passed, and I respected the moment.

“Okay, Mom!” I shouted as I ran out the door, while Paul picked up his branch and followed.

We did get along a little better after that, at least for the rest of the day.