For the Love of My Sister

01/21/2014 05:13 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2014

My sister Laurie was a year and a half older than me and always two years ahead of me in school. She was also my best friend and "almost twin." In our younger years we shared everything together. People quite often could not tell us apart. They would ask us, "Which one are you?"

When I was 11, I proved my love for Laurie in a style like no other. I was in 5th grade at the time, because I remember the teacher I had was a terribly overweight and block-shaped woman who loved math and threatened to sit on her students if they didn't behave. She actually did sit on a student one day just for fun. Catholic school in the 1960s was interesting.

Well anyway, back to the story. My parents were away in Europe and Mrs. Cox, the brave or insane babysitter who was willing to care for the seven Korth children, was watching over us. We loved it when this happened, for dear Mrs. Cox had no real idea of what was really going on in the house. We got into mischief and fun. My mother was away and the Korth children played.

Somehow, Laurie had gotten a bad case of poison ivy. It was severe enough for her to have to stay home from school. She was lonely. She wanted me to stay home with her to keep her company. So I came up with a brilliant plan. Why not have me get poison ivy, too?

The next day, just as the sun was coming up, I went to the empty forested lot behind our house and hunted for some really good poison ivy. I found it. It was the kind that has the pink dots all over the leaves. It was ripe and ready to make me pimple and itch. I grabbed a handful of these luscious leaves and rubbed them on my 11-year-old self. I scrubbed them over my legs and my arms. I moistly mashed the leaves across my forehead, cheeks, chin and nose. I made sure that my neck was not ignored; the back and front got a good dose of the dewy wet leaves of itch, as well.

All throughout that day, I scratched my arms and my legs. I worried my face and my neck. Where were the magic bumps that would allow me to stay home from school so I could assist my sister I so loved and keep her from the horrors of boredom? I spent the day asking my teacher if I did not look a bit sick. She obligingly felt my forehead at least two times and each time replied, "No, Robin, you seem just fine to me."

I got home from school and still I was fine. I did my homework, I ate dinner with my siblings, and I watched TV and bathed. Still, no evidence that my early-morning mission of mercy had been of any use. I thought that perhaps I had not found real poison ivy. Laurie and I made plans for her to go with me the next morning to make sure that I found the right weed. And so I went to bed.

In the morning, I got up and looked in the mirror and a monster was looking back at me! During the night, my efforts in the woods had paid off big time. My face was swollen to twice its normal size. My eyes were tiny slits between puffed lids of red weeping tissue. My arms and legs were blazes of red, with bumps crowding each other so closely that there was not one unaffected piece of me to found. I was the Pillsbury Dough Boy of poison ivy! As I look in the mirror, I was horrified and scared. I began to cry. What was I going to do? I was totally disfigured.

I walked down the stairs to join my four brothers and two sisters for breakfast, tears and fear adding to the mess that was my face. They took one look at me and they all started to laugh. They howled at the sight of their sister puffed to an itchy perfection. As I explained how I had done this to myself and why, their laughter grew. I just stood there terrified, sure that I was going to die. Then Paul, my second oldest brother, got up and hugged me -- very, very carefully. He assured me I wasn't going to die and that for sure I was staying home from school.

Laurie and I did goof around together, but I was so miserable that it wasn't really much fun. She returned to school long before I did. I would spend my days watching TV or reading, bathed in calamine lotion trying desperately not to scratch -- a long-legged almost-teenager who had turned herself into a pink behemoth of splotchy ooze.

During my many days of recovery, I noticed that a number of my oldest brother Jim's friends seemed to be oddly nice to me. These bigger boys, who usually just ignored me as a dumb "little sister," were making it a point to come and say hello to me. It wasn't until months later that I discovered Jim had been charging his friends a quarter to come into the house to get a good look at his blister-encrusted sister. Oh dear.

The upside of this whole thing is that I've never had another case of poison ivy. I can walk through the itchy weed with aplomb. I will get only a bump or two and then the reaction just gives up on me. Oh, there's one more thing. Over the many years we shared together, we laughed and loved one another over this story on way more than one occasion -- my sister Laurie and me.