At about age 5, I went with my mother and sister to run some errands at a store in Wichita called Gessler’s. I loved going to Gessler’s. They had a massive candy section, toys, and all kinds of gadgets to explore. Most important (this was a different time period) was that we had a house account, meaning I could load up on candy and toss it on the account. Well…the lady at the counter would always shoot me a look and say, “Ryan Gates…would your mother approve of all this candy?!” Then she’d work out what she thought my mother would approve of and send me on my way. On this particular day my sister and mother were going as well so there was an outside chance that if I threw a temper tantrum in the front aisle I might be able to get a new toy to shut me up. The game was afoot!
Alas, my mom had a plan. She pulled up next door at Nu Way, a restaurant known for their crumbly old-fashioned burgers and root beer floats. She dropped me and my sister Lindsey off and told us she would be back in half hour to pick us up. She gave Lindsey (who was about 10) money, and put her in charge. “Rooooooot beeeeeeer floooooat!” I sounded off like a hungry fog horn. Lindsey looked to Mom, Mom nodded, and off we went. “Make sure he eats some real food too!” My mother exclaimed as she walked into Gessler’s next door.
I sat at the counter and immediately began spinning on the stool as the waitress in a 50’s skirt walked up to us and asked how we were doing and called me “Shoog” or “Hon” or something of that nature. I sounded, “I’ll have a rooooot beeeeeer flooooat!” My feet dangled above the black and white checkerboard floor with anticipation and excitement! “Anything for you Hon?” The waitress asked my sister. Lindsey ordered up a float of her own and two burgers…one for her and one for me. I gave Lindsey the stink-eye. “I don’t want a burger!” I insisted. Lindsey shot back at me in her best angsty pre-teen voice, “Mom said you have to eat real food so you have to eat a burger.” I shot her a look. She dead-panned me and chewed her gum. I replied, “Fine! Order it! But I’m not going to eat it!” Lindsey continued chewing her gum and very nonchalantly replied, “Fine…but then you won’t get to try the special ketchup.”
Special ketchup? Wait…no one said anything about special ketchup! I mean, I LOOOVE regular ketchup so special ketchup must be…well…special! I must try this special ketchup!
“There’s no such thing as special ketchup!” I exclaimed. Lindsey looked surprised. “Wait, are you telling me Mom has never let you have the special ketchup?” All of a sudden my world was busted open…not only was there some kind of special ketchup in the world but my mother was keeping it from me! “No I’ve never had the special ketchup! Do they have it here?” Lindsey smiled and leaned in closer, “Of course they do…every restaurant has special ketchup, you’re just too young to eat it.” This angered me, “No I’m not! I’m five!” The waitress brought over our root beer floats, “Here you go kids, those burgers will be right up.” Suddenly I didn’t care about the frothy amazingness in a frozen glass sitting before me with a mound of ice cream balancing on top. “Where is the special ketchup?” I asked Lindsey. She pondered a minute as if to ask herself if I was ready to be brought into a secret society, then she reached into the condiment caddy and extracted the special ketchup. It didn’t look so special. I had seen it before in other restaurants and been told I wouldn’t like it…but no one had ever told me it was special ketchup. It was red, like ketchup. It came in a bottle like ketchup…but this bottle was much smaller than the ketchup bottle. Much smaller. Much, much smaller. My eyes grew wide!
“Why is it so small?” I asked. Lindsey replied without thinking, “Because it’s so good.” She handed me the tiny glass bottle and I tried to sound out the words on the label. “T.” There was definitely a “T.” “Tab…tab…tabsco…tabsco?” My sister took the bottle from me, “Tabasco…and you are probably still too young to try it.” The fish-hook was now embedded in my cheek. “Let me try it! Just a little! Quick…before Mom gets back!” At that moment in time two burgers were placed in front of us by our waitress…it was special ketchup time! As soon as the waitress left Lindsey popped the top bun of my burger off and started pouring the special tabsco ketchup all over it. She grinned to me, “If you are going to have special ketchup, you might as well have a bunch!” This was sound logic and we mutually decided to empty a second bottle onto my burger.
After the fourth bottle I could no longer contain my excitement and needed to eat that burger! “Here,” said Lindsey. “Let me hold it for you.” She held the burger up to my face. Special tabsco ketchup oozed over every inch of the bun as she smiled and urged me to eat. I went in for a taste and the burger was taken back. “No.” Lindsey said. “You don’t taste special ketchup…you take as big a bite as you can!” How could you argue with that? I opened my mouth as far as it would go, possibly even unhinging my jaw, to make room for the pile of ground beef and special tabsco ketchup. As I took the largest bite I could, I saw my sister’s smile turned slightly evil.
When my mother came to retrieve us I was in tears while clutching a large plastic cup of ice water which I would periodically sip through a straw. The waitress was consoling me while Lindsey stared off into space with a look of glee as she devoured her burger. The waitress informed my mother of what had happened while Lindsey strolled outside and climbed into the front seat of my mother’s car. A few minutes later my mother and I came out with a new burger and a root beer float to go. I opened the passenger door where Linz was sitting. She motioned with her right thumb over her shoulder that the back seat was where I was going. I climbed in and whimpered. We drove home in silence.
Back home I ate my burger and drank my float as the fire in my mouth subsided. Lindsey was sent to her room at the front of the hall. I’m not sure the conversation that transpired between them but I think Lindsey won. Soon after, I got my hands on one of her Barbie dolls and pulled the head off. Lindsey gave me a wicked Indian burn, I decked her, and we were both sent to our rooms. I pounded my fists on the floor in anger till I heard my sister’s voice…soft and distant. “Rye? Ry-boo? You okay?” Her voice was coming from the air vent in the floor, our main channel of communication when grounded. “Yeah.” I whimpered back. “Check your door knob.” Lindsey whispered. I went to my door where a piece of string was looped around the knob and then went back down the hall to Lindsey’s door, on the bottom loop of the string sat a Crayola Crayon box, and there was Lindsey cranking the string like a cable car – sending the crayon box to my room. This was our second form of communication when grounded. The box arrived at my door knob. I opened the lid and found a folded up piece of paper inside. I unfolded the paper to reveal my sister’s epic apology:
I looked down the hall at my sister. Lindsey smiled and shrugged. I smiled back at her…and that was that.
Years later Lindsey shoved a kid to the ground that was bullying me. In middle school she’d come over from the high school to have lunch with me. When I got into a fight with a few kids after school she pinned the leader against his locker and asked if he wanted a fist sandwich. She gave me my first beer. She taught me how to sing. She taught me how to be myself. She taught me how to not get caught smoking. She gave me my first CD in a world of tape decks…Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Violent Femmes. She gave me her car. She held my hand when she went in for surgery from Crohn’s Disease. She was my first call when I got expelled from high school senior year. She helped me get my first job in New York. She gave me a place to crash anytime I needed it. She made me the “Man of Honor” in her wedding. She let me help take care of her baby, Jake, when he was a newborn and she needed someone to watch him while she went to work. She called me when turmoil hit her life and I drove 8 hours through the night to be with her for a few hours before needing to drive 8 hours back to be at work. She let me teach Jake (now 10) how to swim to the bottom of the lake and touch the rocks at 12 feet deep.
She is the best sister a guy could ask for. She is an amazing aunt and a powerful example to my boys about the kind of people would should all strive to be. She is an amazing wife to her husband David. She is a phenomenal mother to her son Jake. She is a wonderful daughter to our parents. She is smart, she is gorgeous, and she is so talented it astounds me every time I see her on stage or on-screen. She is my sister, and today is her birthday. I’m in Wichita today and she is in New York…which bums me out. However, I’ll be having lunch at Nu Way today and I will be sure to put tons of special ketchup on my burger. I’ll sit on the same stool from 30 years ago. I’ll have a rooooooot beeeeeer floooooat in her honor. I’ll miss her…greatly.
I love you Lindsey. Happy birthday darling.
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