From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

My Sister, the Martian

Mrs. Pendergast’s peppermint carnations magnetically drew my sister Marsha and me into Mz. P.’s backyard. Steam shot from the taut silver buns old Mrs. Pendergast wore above each ear; she snorted and charged at us with her broom, yelling profanities in German, the day we picked her prize carnations. We ran home at near light speed!

So when it came time for the annual Girl Scout cookie sales, my sister and I debated whether or not to stop at the Pendergasts’ house. We got brave but didn’t stray from the front entry, and we made sure that we walked far from the flowers. Mr. and Mrs. Pendergast were both hard of hearing and slow to respond to the doorbell and our shouts. After some fussing, Mz. P. bought five boxes of cookies!

A few weeks earlier, Marsha broke her right wrist playing basketball at a neighbor boy’s house. I was her four-year-old sidekick. Sporting Shirley Temple curls, I tagged along to help my sister carry the carton of cookies that weighed about as much as I did. It took both of us to tote the cookies from house to house and lug them up and down the neighbors’ front steps. In 1961, Girl Scouts delivered the goods on the spot, as they sold cookies door-to-door for fifty cents a box. Mz. P. and all the neighbors took pity on Marsha, who was nine years old and a fourth-grader at Henderson Elementary School. They all said that she seemed to manage so well—broken wrist and all. The neighbors bought extra boxes out of sympathy. In fact, people bought so many more boxes that year that Marsha won the award for top sales out of the entire Girl Scout troop—and we didn’t tell anybody that she was left-handed! My silence was bought with a box of mint cookies.

We moved from the house in 1964. I was seven years old, and Marsha had just turned thirteen. In our new house, we each had our own bedroom. My sister traded her bobby socks for pantyhose. We didn’t do much together anymore. Secretly, I wondered if Marsha hailed from a distant galaxy. She was so different with her blonde hair (mine’s brown) and amber-colored eyes (mine are blue), and Marsha’s behavior seemed light years beyond the sister who used to parachute off housetops holding mom’s clean bedsheets.

Marsha made a new friend named Susan, and Susan hung out at our house all the time. They fancied their hair, applied buckets of makeup, sang Beatles’ songs and talked to boys on the phone. When I pestered them, they shooed me away.

“Old Mz. P. was nicer to me than you are!” I stuck my tongue out. “I’m gonna tell Mom.”

Marsha grabbed my chin with both hands. “Be careful what you tell Momma.”

“You’re weird,” I retorted.

“That’s because I’m really not your sister. I’m an alien from Mars. That’s why I’m called Marsha. If you tattle, I’ll just have to telephone my spaceship and then I’ll go back to Mars and you’ll never see me again!”

“That’s right!” Susan chimed in. “You just better be quiet, kid. Scram.”

I ran to my room sobbing. Several weeks passed. Marsha and Susan kept up the tales of aliens and space travel. I was baited into believing the whole charade. Finally, I couldn’t hold the secret inside any longer. I told Mom. “If your sister is an alien, then I’m an alien, and you’re an alien. Let’s all go to Mars!” she belly-laughed.

“But I don’t wanna leave. I like my new school!” I cried.

I was a gullible kind of kid, and Mom realized I was duped into believing the whole Martian story. Mom made Marsha apologize for leading me on. Marsha admitted that she fabricated the story so I’d leave her alone. “I’m sorry I laughed, Stephanie,” Momma said. “You shouldn’t play games with secrets, Marsha. Confidences are for keeping,” she reprimanded. My sister wasn’t sorry that she tricked me, but she was sorry that I had taken it so hard.

When Marsha turned fifteen, she got her learner’s permit. Mom and Dad left a spare set of keys to the old Chevy Nova station wagon hanging on a hook in the cupboard.

Marsha said, “It won’t hurt if we just drive around the block before they get home.”

“I’m not going . . . I don’t want to get in trouble,” I replied.

“You have to go. I can’t leave you home alone. Get in the back seat,” she commanded. We didn’t make it out the driveway. Marsha backed straight into the ditch.

“Where’s your spaceship now?” I asked sarcastically. “What are you gonna tell Dad?”

“He won’t find out unless you tell him. Promise me you won’t tell.”

“I won’t tell.”

We pooled our piggy-bank money to pay a tow truck when all our efforts using old boards to leverage the car out of the mud failed. Mom arrived home from work just as the tow truck left our driveway. My sister confessed to driving without permission.

“Wait until your father gets home. You have to tell him!” Mom said sharply. Mom, Marsha and I waited anxiously for Dad to return home. “You’ll wish you lived on Mars when Daddy gets through with you!” I ribbed.

Instead of being angry, Daddy laughed when he saw the ruts in the ditch. “Temptation too strong, huh? You’re grounded, my little Martian. Next time you try to take off on an adventure around the block, make sure you leave the driveway with a parent in the car.” Marsha was humiliated. I did my best to console her after I finished teasing her. Marsha was too embarrassed to go inside right away. Two weeks of grounding seemed like an eternity. We sat on the porch swing until dark, counted the stars and talked.

In time, I grew into a teenager and depended upon my sister’s advice concerning foreign matters like grammar and boys. I would call her at college, and we’d talk for hours. Sharing secrets was the best part of sisterhood.

Thirty years passed. The Martian story had long been forgotten and replaced by stories of our own children. I smiled as I wrapped my sister’s Christmas gift in preparation for mailing it to her home a thousand miles away. It was an electronic flying saucer with an enclosed card that read “I still think that, as a sister, you’re out of this world!”

Stephanie Wyndance

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