Whatever Happened to the Rickles Sisters

By Esther Ann Griswold

We were five, plus our military

Jewish father and plump Baptist mother,


living in a Dutch Reformed area,

chased and teased by older neighbor boys,


so we made fun of the Rickles girls, 

who lived on the corner, because they strutted


around their front yard to Souza music,

twirling and tossing batons, while their


father travelled, selling encyclopedias.

Also, their mother made vegetable soup


that smelled loathsome. They in turn

laughed at their next-door neighbors --


Mr. Olds only worked as a gas station attendant,

and their three children were skinny


and always seemed hungry. My brother

and I spent endless hours with kids


our age playing prisoners of war

or gulag camps in the Olds’ dark


two-story house, even though Mrs. Olds’

never closed the bathroom door when using


the toilet. There was a tether-ball on a pole

in their back yard, and we held ferocious tournaments


that went on for weeks.  Sometimes

we would move in a herd down the block,


bringing out grim Mrs. Vanderwall, who

threatened to call the police as we walked


on her grass, and if we were lucky,

Mr. Plomp, a postman, had left his


car unlocked, and we would rifle through

the mail that littered his back seat,

searching for postcards that said love, and

scrutinizing catalogues of people in underwear.


Once, Sharon Vaughn, who lived on the

other corner, asked us in to look at her father’s


scrapbooks of pornography, but we never

liked her because she rode horses


and thought our games were silly.

Our family had an upright piano painted white


with ivy decals glued on the front,

and my older sister’s boyfriend Jerry


played Bach’s two-part inventions

on it too fast, showing off for her.


Three of us took piano lessons from

Joyce Orr, who had a studio with her bedroom


in the back, and sometimes a man would stand

in the doorway, and Miss Orr would speak sharply


if we looked at him.  The middle sister

took tap dance lessons, and our brother’s only


lessons were how to be manly through the

Highlander Boys, but he played the piano by ear.


Now the parents are gone, our brother killed himself

with cyanide, and the middle sister


died from cancer.  Now we are three,

and we assiduously study


the rules of endgame, the main ones

which are, no matter what,


to be defiant, brave and cheerful, and

never look back at your own life,


although it is alright to wonder

whatever happened to the Rickles sisters.