A Sweet-Smelling Dad And My Swinging Sibling

Every afternoon, I would race home from school to watch my father shave. For a gangly eight-year-old still missing a front tooth, it was daddy-and-daughter time.

One afternoon, my brother was bored with his toys, so he decided to follow me up to Daddy's dressing room to watch him shave. I was not used to sharing this precious time and determined to remove my brother from the scene.

''I know a game we can play in the lemon tree,'' I suggested.

''I'm scared 'cause of the thorns,'' he whined. My brother, a miniature version of my mom, had a perfectly round head, with blond bangs almost covering huge blue eyes. Even when he scrunched up his face, he resembled a lovable teddy bear.

''Come on,'' I urged, ''I know a place with no thorns.'' And off I ran down the winding staircase, taking two steps at a time. With my six-year-old sibling on my heels, I quickly formulated a plan. As we tumbled out the back gates onto the lawn, I yelled, ''Don't let Critter out,'' referring to our golden labrador puppy, who was forever wandering through the neighborhood. While my brother struggled to latch the gate, I took a moment to survey the back orchard for the perfect tree. The apricot had just finished bearing its luscious fruit, and with its large leafy branches, no thorns, and its distance from the house, it would serve my purposes nicely.

With wiry ease, I jumped up onto the lowest branch, linked my arms around the trunk, then pulled my legs up and over the next branch. When I was secure in the fork of the tree, I reached down and helped Johnny scramble after me.

''Now watch,'' I uttered in my most big-sisterly voice, and promptly climbed higher, clasped my legs around a sturdy limb, then hung upside down. I let my arms swing freely and stayed in that position until the desired effect was reached.

''Me too, me too,'' squealed my brother, falling into my trap with unwitting ease. I pulled myself upright and moved down next to him.

''Okay, now you have to squeeze your legs so you won't fall off,'' I explained. ''Then you can sort of swing back and forth and look at everything upside down.'' This was almost too easy.

''That's perfect,'' I praised, as my protege hung in the air, his teddy-bear face growing pink. ''Now stay here while I get us some lemonade and cupcakes.''

''Can I have a chocolate one?'' asked my sibling innocently.

''May I have...,'' I corrected.

''May I have...,'' I heard my brother echo as I sped back toward the house.

I bolted up the stairs into my father's dressing room. Daddy was just splashing warm water on his face and neck when I bounded up onto the cushioned window seat.

''Hi, sport,'' said Daddy, as he reached for a fresh white towel to lay across the edge of the sink. ''Did I hear Johnny with you?'' he asked.

''Yeah, he wanted to play outside, so I opened the gate for him,'' I said casually. I had never lied to my father and stopped short of doing so now.

Daddy pulled his skin taut to trim one sideburn, his hand moving deftly to clip a straight, clean edge. He rinsed the shiny silver razor under the warm tap water and made the same motion a second time.

''What does it mean when they call it a close shave?'' I queried, jutting my chin out like my dad.

''One definition is my trying to get my face as smooth as yours,'' he teased, brushing back my curly brown hair and stroking my cheek with the back of his wet hand.

For a few moments it was silent except for the gurgle of the water and the rasp of the razor moving over Daddy's face. As he finished, my father turned his face right and left to check for soap, then opened one of the mirrored panels and extracted a bottle of Lyme's Rose Water.

I moved closer to the edge of the sink, for this was the most important part of this daily ritual. I knew that Daddy would splash both sides of his face with the refreshing lotion, rub some on his neck, then finish off with a celebrated dab on my nose and cheek.

''Do you know how nice it is to share my aftershave with my daughter?'' beamed my father.

''Do you like to share, honey?'' Daddy continued, nonchalantly checking the mirror one final time and wiping his hands with the towel.

''Sometimes,'' I said, looking at one of Daddy's mirrored reflections, but thinking about my dangling brother.

''We have so many nice things, and your mother and I have so much love for our family,'' Daddy continued, apparently unaware of my discomfort, ''that it is mighty important that we share something good with everyone, every day.'' Now my father's gentle, blue-gray eyes were fastened on me. He knelt down, turned my face up to his and whispered, ''Sharing a new game with your brother is a wonderful thing, and I am very proud of you!''

I sat perfectly still, staring back at my father, the scent of rose water hanging in the air. How did he know about the game? Why didn't he say anything earlier? How could he be proud of me, if he knew what I'd done? My thoughts were interrupted as Daddy motioned me off the window seat and I followed him like a puppy toward his closet.

''You know how your mirror reflection does whatever you do?'' Daddy asked as he thumbed through his starched shirts. I nodded, and he continued, ''Well, your little brother will most likely copy you for a long time, something like your reflection, so your job as big sis is to be sure that he copies only good things.'' By now, I could hear Mommy and Johnny coming up the stairs. As their blond heads came into view, I saw that my brother had half a cupcake in his hand and mother's gentle hand was wiping icing off his face as he wriggled free.

''Daddy, guess what I can do!'' sputtered Johnny breathlessly as he ran into the room. ''I can go upside down in a tree,'' he beamed.

''And he learned how to get down all by himself,'' added my mother, fixing her pale blue eyes on me. Her kind but steady gaze made it hard to tell if she was signaling a warning or stifling a giggle.

''Good job, young man!'' laughed Daddy. ''Maybe this calls for an early supper at the Ranch House. What do you say?'' His question was met with a smile from my mom, enthusiastic claps from Johnny, and a tentative grin from me.

As I climbed into the back seat of the car with my brother, Daddy winked and whispered to me, ''And that's the other definition of a close shave!''

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