Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice

A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.

-- Marion C. Garretty

'I want to make a toast," Jane said, lifting her glass, "to our guys. All of us are neurotic freaks, and we found wonderful guys, patient guys, and some of you are the fathers of our children." Eldest of the four Johnson girls at 34, Jane is by far the quirkiest and most neurotic, though any one of us could offer psychology students a classic study of idiosyncrasy.

Jane and Heather, along with their husbands, rarely get a break from their children and a chance to dress up and dine out. Tonight, Mom and Dad were watching their grandchildren in Chula Vista. So my sisters were able to leave home without worrying -- who could they trust more to watch their kids than the two people who raised them?

This was the first time we had ever been together in one room with our partners and no one else -- no kids, no parents, just my sisters and our men. I had organized the dinner to take place in a private setting so there would be no distractions. We were excited to have time with each other. For our guys, this was a chance to commiserate and to experience the overwhelming sensation one gets when dealing with my sisters and me as a group.

The night was chilly; after entering the dining room, my sisters and I flocked to chairs by the fireplace. Except for Jane, who defected to the boys' side, the sisters sat on one side of the table with our backs to the warm flames. Later, when the guys were involved in a discussion about paintball and food allergies, Jane said, "I want to sit on that side of the table with you guys; it's hard for me to hear what you're saying."

At this, Heather looked at our deserter and declared solemnly, "You made your choice."

We were served our first course, a sea scallop with corn chowder. As per usual when we're together, it didn't take long for dinner conversation to turn to childhood memories. Heather said, "Hey, Barb, remember that time you shit in the Jacuzzi?"

Using my nickname for her, I said, "Give me a break, Faye, I was four. But yes, I recall my first humiliating experience, thank you."

Wanting to take part in the revelry, Jane said, "Heather, remember when you were in the bathroom and I wouldn't give you the toilet paper?" Touché, I thought.

"No, I don't," Heather said; under her breath to our side of the table only, she whispered, "Jane's starting to have false memories."

This was doubly funny to me, because Heather is the obsessive clean freak of our clan. When having a neurotic episode, Heather will most likely disinfect her entire house before she's able to relax again.

"Remember what I remember?" Jenny's question caught our attention.

"You're not allowed to drink any more wine," Heather said to our youngest sister.

"I remember the Halloween you guys allowed me to dress like a pig," Jenny said. "Those pictures still haunt me," she groaned. As adults, we've all kept a copy of Jenny dressed as a pig taped to our refrigerators.

"That's because we like you that way," Jane said.

Wine flowed, and it seemed no time passed before we were picking through our second course, poached pears with blue cheese and greens. Jenny launched an attack on the other side of the table by telling us what Jane had said on the way to the bathroom with her. "If you listen, you'll hear more." We have a lot of fun teasing Jane. She's hypersensitive and prone to guilt. She makes it easy for us. If we run out of ideas, we can rely on the fact that she spray-painted a cat's ass.

While we girls recalled the trauma of our youth, the boys discussed boy stuff, pyrotechnics and fire trucks. Jane's husband Simon mentioned his ideas for how he plans to organize his garage.

"I want Oprah to do it!" Jane interrupted. "Barb, didn't you say you'd help me with that?" She's been convinced for years that if my friends and I videotaped her cluttered garage and helped her write a letter to her idol, Oprah would show up at her house to do the grunt work.

"When are you going to realize that Oprah is not going to clean our garage?" Simon said in exasperation.

"Jane, if Simon says Oprah is not gonna show, then she's not gonna show," said Jenny.

"Why? Oh...is it..."

"Because Simon Says!" We shouted in unison. Making fun of Simon's name has never gotten old. Jane regularly would imitate one of Mike Myers's characters from Saturday Night Live by singing, "Hello, my name is Simon, and I like to do drawings." It was a year before she learned her husband-to-be had never seen the sketch and that he had chalked up her song as further proof of her adorable insanity.

The main course and a few more bottles of wine appeared -- all four sisters had ordered chicken. Still making guy talk, Sean was telling the men about his cliff-diving experiences. During a rare silence between the ladies (most likely due to the food in our mouths), Heather overheard her husband and cut him off to offer her opinion of Sean's thrill-seeking.

"On the fifth day of our 17-day honeymoon, Sean fractured his ribs and slipped a disc because he jumped off a cliff near the Italian Riviera," she said.

"She still made me carry the luggage for the rest of the trip," Sean said.

"You're damn right I did," shot Heather.

Her desire to admonish her husband diminished at the sight of chocolate molten lava cake topped with ice cream and a fried banana. It felt as if everything slowed down while we tasted the sweets. Too somnolent to think up any more embarrassing stories about each other, we listened as Sean told us of the time he and his friends were nearly killed by a gang of tweaked-out skinheads. Sean's group had been on a long trek to find the perfect cliff-diving location and discovered the gang of skinheads at the bottom of a wooded hill. Luckily, no one was hurt. However, the following day of cliff-diving brought Sean horrifying pain and permanent deafness in one ear.

Heather is probably less understanding of her husband's antics because we did not grow up with boys.

"You ain't seen nothin' yet," I joked. "Just wait until Liam and Brian grow up." Liam, her firstborn, just turned three, and Brian is less than a year old. Heather was given a preview of her boy's future tendencies, obviously inherited from his father, when Liam first tried to fly by casting his body off of the living room couch.

It seemed as if we'd been giggling all night -- my jaw was sore from an evening of eating and talking. Once in the room, we sisters became the little girls we had been. Falling back into our familiar familial roles, Jenny and I had peeked around Heather several times and made faces at each other precisely as we did when we were in church and separated by Mom.

Both Jane and Heather, working moms, began to tucker out at 11:00 p.m. Our men had retired to chairs in the corner, seeking relaxation from the manic evening. We gathered ourselves, suppressing our immaturity before leaving the room and returning to lives as responsible women. Our wonderful guys, our patient guys, each followed his own personal neurotic freak out the door.

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