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.