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11:37 PM Tue, Jan. 15th

National Column: My sister was unnecessary

There's a legend in my family that when I was 7 years old, I tried to trade my sister for a dog. This isn't actually true: I would never have done that! What I said was that if the family across the street wanted my sister, they could have her. I never asked them to give up their dog, for heaven's sake.

My sister, Amy, was to me both an unfortunate and an unnecessary addition to a family that had been doing just fine with me as an only child. She seemed to spend most of her time screaming about something, using a special frequency that my parents were able to tune out but which went into my head and bounced around like a thousand ping-pong balls fired by cannons in an elevator.

She followed me like an imprinted duck and would cry when I tried to ditch her, whereupon my parents would get angry and tell me it was my "job" to look after my sister.

My job? How could it be my job? When I was told I was going to have a baby brother or sister, I chose brother. As far as I was concerned, my parents had gotten the order wrong and they needed to return the defective product to wherever it came from.

Shortly after the incident with the neighbors who wouldn't even accept Amy free (thus, I felt, proving how undesirable a baby sister actually was), my parents took us on a road trip to a magical, wonderful place. No, not Disneyland. Des Moines.

Apparently my father wanted to watch a football game that was blacked out in our own city, so he decided a quick trip to a motel in Des Moines, where the game was going to be on television, would solve everything.

I'll note that there is no direction from which you can approach Des Moines that makes it a "quick trip."

My father's rule, when he was watching football, was that his family didn't exist. This meant my sister and I were supposed to entertain ourselves in the "playground" at the hotel, which consisted of a teeter-totter and a sand pit.

Like I said, not Disneyland.

"Have fun!" my father told us, shoving us out the door. My mother positioned herself so she could watch both the game and her children. However, the game proved a little more diverting than two little children trying to figure out what to do in a sand pit, so her attention wandered.

That's when I spotted the TV tower.

For the motel to deliver football games via television to negligent parents from out of state, it had erected a steel tower several stories high. Running up the side of this tower was a ladder that I felt would be a lot of fun to climb up - or so I told my sister.

I was giddy with delight as Amy started up that ladder. At the very least, this would prove to my parents that when we traveled we should leave Amy home. I could even see a situation where she'd be up at the top of the tower, and no one would hear her, and we'd all look for her and then eventually have to give up and leave without her.

"Too bad about Amy," I'd say. "We should have had a boy."

When Amy was about halfway up, my mother came outside to find us, and I lost all deniability when she spotted me with my neck craned, regarding Amy's slow progress.

"Amy!" my mother screamed.

"I told her not to!" I immediately claimed.

I knew the situation was more serious than I'd anticipated when my father left his football game and ran to the tower. Apparently, he did not agree that my sister was superfluous. He scaled the ladder, pried my sister from the rungs and carried her down, after which there was all sorts of wailing and crying from her and my mom.

Worse, I was in trouble for not stopping her - like it was my fault! Which, OK, technically it was, but still, I felt that I'd learned an important lesson that day.

I didn't need a sister.