DOLLY DIBLY AND ME
This story is dedicated to my sister Donnis . . . who once made a boy believe he could fly.
I was always an impressionable kid. I remember being four years old and coming down the stairs late one night. Some Frankenstein movie was on TV. Just as I got to the bottom of the stairs, the monster came on the screen in close-up. When it snarled, I was actually afraid the grotesque brute would smash its way out of our television set and devour me.
At the same age, I remember some older kid telling me he was from the moon, and I really believed he was.
So, I pretty much would fall for just about anything anyone would tell me. This made me a pretty easy mark for my older sister Donnis.
When I was four, Donnis was fifteen, and a good deal taller than me. She seemed like this big wonderful being to me, full of life and magic and fun. I always had a big crush on her and her girlfriends, showing off by tumbling or playing my Popeye guitar, or doing my Mr. Ed impression whenever they were around.
Once, to make them laugh, I answered my dad back when he scolded me by saying “Oh, horse feathers!” in Mr. Ed’s voice. It was worth the spanking I got.
Another routine was one Donnis taught me called The Cussing Doll. She would pull my imaginary string, and I would let loose with all the four letter words she had taught me. Those words coming out of my little cherubic face were hilarious to her friends, and we would entertain them with this routine often.
My mother, however, didn’t think it was too funny when I used the “F” word on her one afternoon. She literally took a wet rag with dish soap on it, and, with the rag around her index finger, “cleaned out my mouth.” I cried and cried. (In fairness to my sister, I learned THAT word somewhere else.)
As I grew older, Donnis still stayed like a magical character to me, like having Pixanne or Sally Starr or the Romper Room lady in my own house. She had more talent than any of these TV kid show hosts. She always took us kids places or bought us stuff, or just played imaginative games with us. She was a tremendous storyteller, and would act out each character, doing different voices, and expressions.
I remember one ghost story called “WHO TOOK MY GOLDEN ARM?” about a spook who returned from the grave to track down the kid who had robbed his golden arm from his coffin. “Whooo took my golden arrrm?……” she would wail in her creepiest ghostly voice. When she came to the climax, just as the specter was about to pounce on the hapless juvenile thief, my sister would jump at us and shout “TAKE IT!!!” scaring the living daylights out of us.
Another story, “JOHNNY, I WANT MY LIVER BACK,” had a similar plot, this time with a stolen liver instead of a golden arm……(the boy spent the money his mother gave him to buy liver on candy instead. You can guess the rest of the grisly tale…..)
The fact that I still remember these so many years later is a testament to her story-telling powers.
Her Wicked Witch of the West impression was actually better than the original, and when I remember it to this day I still see her dressed as the witch, all in black, with the pointy hat and green skin. She didn’t dress up when she did it, it’s just that she was so in character, that is how I remember it.
By the time I was in grade school, I adored her. She gave her little brothers and sisters Halloween parties, and carved jack o’ lanterns with us and took us shopping for Halloween costumes. The list is endless. She was like some special magic genie. She was too old to fight with like the siblings our age, but she still loved us like a sister.
So, naturally I believed anything she said.
One time she had all of us younger kids stand on the edge of the bed (in the dining room, which was converted into a bedroom since there were so many kids) and she sprinkled “invisible pixie dust” on us. She told us it could make us fly. (I was nineteen and home on leave from the army at the time, so I should have known better……only joking, I was about seven or eight…..still old enough to know better.) But I believed her. If Donnis said this stuff could make you fly, then it could. We all jumped off the bed and onto the floor. I believed I was at fault, somehow. The idea that my sister was making it up never dawned on me.
She worked as a telephone operator back when it was all just MA BELL (a corporation you could trust just like your own mother…..those were cozier days). One day she came home and excitedly told me that a man she was helping on the line liked her voice, and asked her if she would play Dolly Dibly on the Gene London show. Gene London was a popular TV kid’s show host, and Dolly Dibly was a character on the show, Gene’s girl friend.
Apparently the actress playing Dolly Dibly quit, and the man (obviously in charge of hiring) wanted my sister for the part, based solely on her telephone voice. For all he knew, she looked like the Elephant Man, but oh, that voice. He had to have that voice.
She told me she had agreed, and now she would be starring on The Gene London show.
Now, of course, this story smells like a bad fish, and a more savvy kid would never have bought it. But, like I said, I was pretty impressionable (or stupid) as a kid. I believed every word. My big sister was going to be a TV star! On my favorite show, The Gene London Show! I couldn’t wait to race to school the next day, and tell Mrs. Gray’s fourth grade class the exciting news!
I don’t know exactly when my sister decided to tell me she had made the whole thing up. I only remember that it was way too late. Every day I went to school, all my classmates AND the teacher wanted to hear the latest developments. When would she be on? Was she getting paid? Would I be able to meet Gene London? And worse, Mrs. Gray wanted my sister to come in and talk to the class about what it was like being on TV…… (I wanted her to come in so I could shoot her in front of the whole class…….)
I truly believe that this was the age where my ability to fabricate stories was honed to razor sharpness. Because every single day I came up with a new story on the spot for my teacher and class-mates when Mrs. Gray asked about Donnis and The Gene London show.
It was simple at first, as I could claim the ordinary things, like it would all take time to work out the arrangements, etc. But as the days dragged on into weeks, and still no big sister on the Gene London show, my lies became more elaborate.
She was having trouble with the phone company about leaving on such short notice……
They had to wait until just the right time to introduce her into the show’s plot…….
She was still rehearsing with Gene London…….
And my absolute favorite, just for the sheer gall it took to say it…….Her agent wasn’t happy with the deal they were offering her to do the show……
With this last one, I saw a possible way out. No deal, no Dolly Dibly.
Why it never occurred to me to just tell the truth and say my sister was only having fun with me and made the whole story up, I don’t know. But believe me, it NEVER occurred to me to say that.
Finally, after several weeks of steady badgering, my teacher and classmates mentioned it less and less. But throughout the remainder of the school year, the subject still came up sporadically. When is your sister going to be on Gene London? NEVER! NEVER! I wanted to scream……SHE’S NEVER GOING TO BE ON! LEAVE ME ALONE! IT WAS A LIE! A LIE, DO YOU HEAR ME?!!
But instead I just came up with another story…….
Donnis was still a wonderful, magical character to me and my younger brothers and sisters. I credit her with inspiring my imagination, and giving me an appreciation for the wonders this life has to offer. I could never repay her for all the love and tremendous things she has done for me. I know all my brothers and sisters share that sentiment.
In the spring of that same school year, my oldest brother Kenny and his wife were renting an apartment in Woodbury. One Friday night, he took me and some other younger siblings there. He told me that Jonathan Frid, the actor who played vampire Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, lived in the apartment across the hall from theirs.
Dark Shadows! My favorite show! Barnabas the vampire, living across the hall from my own brother! I could not wait to race to school on Monday and tell my teacher and fourth grade class.
Like I said, I was an impressionable kid. Or maybe just stupid.
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007