Reprinted from Southern Lady Magazine

Bonding with a sister can be tough when she has more memory than your computer. Once something goes into my sister’s brain the door slams shut like a steel trap and keeps it in there until it’s to her advantage to pull it out.

"When are you coming over here with my present?"

My sister Katherine’s question over the telephone early one afternoon jolted me. Oh my gosh, it was her birthday! Not just any birthday. It was an ugly-zero birthday. Her fiftieth, and I had forgotten it. It was also during a time in our lives when we were working to improve our relationship. Oprah had taught the world about "bonding" and we realized that we needed a dose of it. Nothing I could do but try to "cover."

"Oh, Katherine, I have been meaning to call all day. I didn’t get back in town until late. I want to take you out to dinner tonight for your birthday."

She was excited, but the thrill disappeared quickly when she learned "out to dinner" meant accompanying me to a banquet speech for the local Habitat for Humanity. Her exact, deliberate response cut deep. "Drive to Hollywood, California, with a two-year-old? Maybe. Walk across a bed of hot coals? Perhaps. Listen to you give another speech on my fiftieth birthday? It’ll be a cold day in August. When are you coming over here with my present?"

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. "I was on my way when you called. Are you going to be there or do you want me to bring it tomorrow?" Hope springs eternal.

"Now is fine."

She caught me. Panic. This gift had to be special, and I was void of ideas and low on time. I knew our younger sister, Andrea, had probably sent the ultimate, never-to-be-forgotten gift of a lifetime from Portland, Oregon, a week earlier. Wrapped beautifully, of course. I needed a topper. Fast.

For a few minutes I debated heading to the mall. Maybe the perfect gift would jump out at me. No, not enough time. A gift certificate from somewhere? Nah. Then it hit me. I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it the instant I hung up the phone. I would give Katherine a piece of her good china. Not a jump-up-and-down-about-it gift, but it was something she could always use, and she could pass on to a daughter. And the best part of all? I wouldn’t even have to leave the house because Katherine and I have the same china pattern. I’d give her one of my dinner plates. The perfect gift. Problem solved.

Sisters having the identical china pattern was Mother’s idea. She figured we could borrow from each other when we had sit-down dinner parties for thirty-six. Mother didn’t realize that if thirty-six people are eating at my house they’re pulling their entrée off a pig.

I headed into the dining room to find a plate that wasn’t chipped. When I pulled one out, my conscience suddenly reared its head. Hmmm. Strange. Why would my conscience get involved with my sister’s birthday gift? That’s it! The gift was for my sister, for Pete’s sake! Her fiftieth birthday, a benchmark in any woman’s life. Nooooo. A dinner plate, even in her good china, wouldn’t cut it. But my big serving platter would! Yes, the platter! A mega-buck item. Expensive. Guaranteed to beat the Portland sister’s gift.

I pulled out the platter, dragged it across my backside to get the dust off and wrapped it in old newspapers. Then I shoved the padded platter into a brown grocery sack and mashed a used, crumpled, stick-on yellow bow on top. I wouldn’t beat the Portland sister on the wrapping but I’d get her on the gift. Off to Graham I went. A seven-mile trip.

Katherine likes presents, and her eyes lit up when I walked in with the big sack. "For me?" she said, in faked surprise. We sat down on her sofa, and she tore into the sack. "Be careful," I said. "It’ll break."

"Ohhhhhhh," she teased."Breakable? Sounds interesting. How many times have you used this yellow bow?"

"One time too many" was on the tip of my tongue, but it would have gone into her database until the end of time. I just smiled.

Katherine lifted the newspaper to reveal the gorgeous 11" by 14" platter. I emphasize again…not in her "everyday." The good stuff. Her hands stopped moving as she stared downward, obviously shocked at the enormity of the gift. She finally turned her head upward and our eyes met. She was speechless, maybe even overcome. I smiled again. It was a touching sisterly moment. Perhaps we were "bonding" at long last, I thought. Don’t get me wrong. We love each other. We’re just…well, we’re sisters. Could it be that a simple thing like a platter might lead her to forgive and forget even a few of those small incidents that she keeps stored in that internal whirling database, like the time in high school that she claims I "stretched to jumbo size" her precious, tiny cashmere sweater?

Heaven knows I hear about that every holiday.

She looked back down at the gift, and when a few more seconds passed, she looked up again. This time she squinted at me, and her brow wrinkled as though she were trying to remember something. For the first time, I had the tiniest inkling that the platter might not have been a good idea.

Suddenly, Katherine flipped the platter over and pointed to faded letters on a piece of masking tape on the back. K A T H…"I thought so! This is my platter! I lent it to you last Christmas! You might as well have stretched my cashmere sweater all over again!"

Like a steel trap.

Reprinted from Southern Lady Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2005