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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

Neighbors & Siblings

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

“I do not understand what I do.

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

(Romans 7:15).

“No, don’t go home yet... Let me explain. It’s not what you think!”

My sister and I were in the midst of performing one of the many “ingenious” shows put on sometimes for our own family, sometimes for the neighbor kids, and sometimes for their parents as well. We thought we were being clever one day to pretend to do a “strip show” for the neighbor boys.

In preparation, we had put on an extra pair of our underwear over our shorts and T-shirts, and we had put on dresses over all that. We also came up with imitations of strip-tease rhythms and beats we could intone as we were “undressing.”

But when we began our suggestive performance by slipping our (extra) underwear out from under our dresses, and then began to remove our dresses, the middle neighbor boy headed for the door. I was determined we were going to finish that performance for them any which way.

I had meant it to be pay-back. I was mad at these boys whom we learned had been peeping toms, spying on us. I was around eleven or twelve years old. This was at our recently-built home in the country. Our bedroom was below ground-level, with our windows at ground-level. Even though we had curtains we shut, they were apparently still finding peepholes. I wanted to teach them a lesson for spying on us. I’m not sure how this performance was a “lesson,” but I was determined it would make them stop spying on us.

The oldest neighbor boy was an enigma to me. He was a year older than me and hardly ever came out to play with us, and never came over to our house. I was disappointed, but not surprised that he didn’t come to our performance. I felt like he of all the boys deserved it the most. But the younger boys weren’t innocent either.

When the family, with three boys at the time, first moved next door, I was excited we would have neighbor kids around our ages to play with. On their first visit to our home the oldest boy attempted to persuade me to let him kiss me. They were also L.D.S. or Mormons and were in our ward or church congregation. I knew this boy already had a girlfriend. She also went to our church. He acknowledged to me, “Yes, Lily is my first girlfriend, but you can be my second girlfriend—that’s right next to first.” He wheedled and cajoled. I wouldn’t let him kiss me. I was about nine years old at that time.

For a while, when we were still young, I secretly liked him anyway. I thought he was “cute,” and I was somewhat attracted to him—maybe because he mainly avoided me after I refused to kiss him. However, in time, my liking of him turned into an equal or greater dislike.

Generally, I would include the neighbor boys, along with some of my other siblings, in my productions. We reenacted dramas of fairy tales we were all familiar with mostly. My presentation of “Cinderella,” with the help of the younger neighbor boys and my siblings, was the last play I directed (besides our striptease). The parents seemed to enjoy the show, but I was appalled and deeply offended by their uproarious laughter throughout the show—both in all the right places, and in all the wrong places. Then and there I decided not to do anymore plays for them or anyone else ever again. That was the end of my career as a producer. I had an all-or-nothing mindset.

The neighbors to the east of us, also L.D.S., had a high school or college-age daughter who was a certified lifeguard and swim instructor. They also had a swimming pool. We got to have swim lessons from her at their place after we moved to the country, until we were competent swimmers. We also learned CPR from her.

These same neighbors also had horses they offered to let us ride. They had electric fences all around their property. Several times I was electrocuted by their fence coming and going for swim lessons. Once, I not only got zapped really good, but also, at the same time, became stuck on their fence. I couldn’t get my hand to release. Their son, who was just a little younger than their daughter, saved me by pulling me off and away from the fence. Even though I was shy around him because he was maybe five or six years older than I was, he was my hero after that.

I only rode one of their horses one time. It was after a long winter, and the horse was in high spirits. It wouldn’t mind any of my signals. It galloped around the field with me on its back, and finally tried to rub me off using the wooden fence. Traumatized, I never wanted to ride either of their horses again.

We also had some neighbors who lived northeast of us (east of the neighbors with the boys our age), who were also in our L.D.S. ward. Their kids were also older than we were. Their youngest daughter was only two or three years older than I was. I admired her from a distance. A few times I stopped by her house to see if she was home. I wanted to talk with her and maybe get to know her. She was either not home or short on time when I did. As she got older, she had no time to spend with me. She was tanned and beautiful and it seemed all the boys her age wanted to date her. I finally gave up trying to be friends with her. I don’t remember having much association with her or her family after that.

While I didn’t have real friends at school or in our neighborhood, my sister, Karie, was the closest thing to a best friend I had during our growing up years at home. From early-on we did everything together, that is when I wasn’t avoiding all my siblings, and before I started dating boys.

Besides the forts we made outside in the summer, indoors in the colder months we made all kinds of, sometimes intricate, tents from blankets. We used clothes pins and safety pins, sometimes even twisty ties to hold them together and create partitions. These tents at times took over the whole basement or living room or other large areas of the house.

Our favorite hidey space ended up being the attic area we could get into through our younger sibling’s bedroom closet. Besides a large flashlight, we’d bring all kinds of games, books, and sometimes forbidden snacks up there. We’d be super quiet so our siblings wouldn’t figure out we were up there. It was just for us two oldest girls—at first.

Karie was also my roommate. We shared a double bed and lots of stories when we were supposed to be sleeping. For a while some other of our favorite “bedtime” activities included jumping on the bed, pillow fights, and making static lightening under our covers in the dark by rubbing our hands or arms on the blankets.

When we were mad at each other, we would confine each other by an imaginary line to our respective sides of the bed—no crossing over that boundary, “or else!” We only had one major, knock-down, drag-out, hair-pulling fight all the time we were growing up. Now, of course, I can’t even remember what we were so fired up about.

I was very possessive—not at all amenable to sharing “my” stuff. Our fight could very well have been over our views on who owned something or not. I was also obsessed with keeping “my” stuff like-new and in order. I didn’t like “people” even touching “my” stuff (to presumably ruin it). When we were teenagers, most of our fights—all verbal—had to do with borrowing each other’s clothes.

When we weren’t fighting, besides other things I’ve already mentioned, we danced and sang, played games, did puzzles, read stories, played school (I was generally the teacher), played different parts on the piano (think chopsticks...), pulled each other in our red wagon as we played figures from history or fairy tales. I was the queen of some realm ruling my subjects—as long as Karie and my siblings would let me—which wasn’t too often, or for very long, since my siblings didn’t like being under my tyrannical monarchy.

I had to learn to moderate my desire to control others as I grew older and began to babysit my siblings for my parents. As it was, Karie and I often rubbed each other the wrong way when it came to getting our own way. In the end, with babysitting especially, my temper would flare up hot and I would lash out at my siblings, yelling and threatening, sometimes following through.

When I could get her cooperation, since coercion never worked for long, Karie would help me with the other kids. Sometimes we’d even have fun. If everyone cooperated, in the end we’d play “monsters,” which was kind of like tag in the dark, or we’d play hide-and-seek. Sometimes when we played hide and seek, I’d go out-of-bounds to my bedroom, stuff a blanket under my door so my siblings couldn’t see my light, and I’d read for a while in short-lived peace.

While Karie was mainly my best friend growing up, my next-younger brother, Sterling, was not. For what seemed like many years, he was the worst tease ever. He was a little speed demon and good at hiding or retreating to the nearest adult, so we couldn’t catch him or get him to stop. He would steal things and run and hide them. He’d tear or knock down things I had built or was trying to build. He’d pull my hair or yank on my clothes or destabilize something I was holding. He’d make sudden, loud noises to startle me or our other siblings. When we got to watch TV, which was a rare treat when we were younger, he’d change TV channels or move the antenna and disrupt reception for the one show we got to watch. His tease attacks were always unexpected and seemed aimed to upset me and my siblings as much as possible. Anyway, it usually worked out that way.

One day when he was probably eight or nine years old and I was around twelve, I’d had more than enough of his teasing, and I was able to catch him. I was big enough to grapple him and pin his arms and legs down on the carpet with my weight, which I did. And for whatever reason, he believed me when I said I was going to tie him to the carpet and leave him there for the rest of his life. He begged and pleaded with me not to permanently tie him to the carpet, until I finally got a promise from him, which he kept ever afterwards, that he would never tease me again.

We were able to be better friends after that, though our relationship was still tentative. Karie’s and my room was across the hall from his in the half-basement. As he got older, his socks and dirty clothes would stink up his room so much it would start to leak out. We avoided going in there and made him keep his door shut.

He hung out a lot with the third oldest neighbor boy who was his age. They were in cub scouts and boy scouts together. I envied a lot of things they got to do, and that my dad went with him on some of his activities.

He was always up to some mischief it seemed, but sometimes what he was doing caught my interest. I’d trying something he’d learned in scouts or from other boys once or twice, but that was usually enough for me. For example, after a few times, I had no wish to continue frying ants on the cement with a magnifying glass or popping grasshoppers on the electric fence with him.

Once he put a firecracker down my little brother’s diaper. Thankfully, I was able to get it out before it went off. Apparently, he tried this another time as well, when I wasn’t around. For once, my mom caught him and told my dad. He got in trouble then. I thought this was way over the top and was glad he got caught before he could really hurt our little brother.

Not too long after that, he and a neighbor boy ended up lighting the neighbor’s shed on fire, which fire spread quickly and almost got to the house before it was extinguished. (All the homes in that whole area, including my childhood home, recently burned to the ground in the “Marshall Fire” due to severe winds, on December 30th, 2021.) It’s a good thing the Boulder winds weren’t up that day! I think that experience and the disapproval he got from everyone after that exploit quenched his pyromaniac urges.

When I was eleven or twelve, he invited Karie and me to parachute off the peak of the house onto the lawn using a bed sheet. I think that point on the house was close to thirty feet above the ground. I didn’t think the sheet would provide enough air resistance. I didn’t want to try it and was only barely able to talk him into jumping from the garage roof—the lowest part of the roof—instead. It was “only” about a thirteen-foot drop. I was willing to try that along with him—once. It was such a hard landing; it had no further appeal. Still, he kept repeating this stunt. I think my dad finally made him desist, so he wouldn’t keep trying to get the younger children involved.

As my other siblings came along, Jeannette, Celeste, McKaylee, and Nathan, I loved them—or wanted to—but they were “just” the little kids that needed tending all the time. They weren’t really my friends until they got quite a bit older. Nathan was an exception.

I was sixteen when Nathan was born, so I was not home for a lot of his and my other younger sibling’s growing up years. When Nathan was four years old, I decided to stay home from college for almost a year. Nathan and I became buddies during that time. When I wasn’t working at Safeway, he and I would hang-out together. I’d often be in the middle of something when he came down to my room to find me. I’d tell him I needed him to come back in five minutes. He’d be back in less than a minute asking if it was five minutes yet. I’d try to explain what five minutes meant. It never worked.

Sometimes I’d take him with me when I was running errands. People would think he was my son. I loved my little brother and was flattered, though I’d still set people straight. Nathan and I were best friends for a season in my life.

Growing up in a neighborhood with other church members and in a large family had its advantages and drawbacks. It gave me people in my life I could rely on, who also relied on me. But it also exposed to me my desire for control and my resulting short temper and impatience—though I wouldn’t have put these behaviors in those words at the time. It also revealed unwanted glimpses of my vengeful, often angry, extreme, possessive, greedy character.

The more I saw these characteristics in myself, the less I liked myself. I also didn’t seem to have much, if any, control over them.

Eventually, to combat this, I began to set goals and collect reminders and quotes towards making the changes I wanted to see in myself. Much of the time I believed I could “do it” (a quote from that era), if not “now,” eventually. But some of the time I’d just get super frustrated or discouraged.

The more time I spent having to babysit or be with my siblings, the more downhearted I would get; so, I began avoiding them all, even Karie. I wasn’t thinking this through consciously, but that was how I dealt with my social discomfort.

I wasn’t looking to God for any help. I thought it was all up to me to make needed reforms in myself.


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