Sharon Randall: Distraction works both ways

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Sharon Randall

Just when I think I’ve told every story I know, another one will pop up in my memory.

This one is about the art of distraction. It might cause you to think less of me, unless it’s not possible to think less of me than you already do. We’ll see.

First, I want to thank all of you who wrote to offer kind wishes and prayers for my sister and brother. I wrote about them last week after they ended up in the same hospital for different reasons. (My sister had a stroke, my brother had a bad fall.)

I’m happy to report they’re on the mend and hope to go home soon. We are all truly grateful for your kind concern.

OK, here’s the story. I’ve told parts of it before but new stories often need pieces of old ones.

My brother Joe was born when I was 4 years old. One look at him and I knew he’d be a whole lot more fun than chasing cows around the pasture.

Our sister Bobbie was 10, and wanted little to do with us. So Joe and I became best friends.

I could tell him stories, sing him songs, or drag him by his toes from room to room, and he would laugh as if I were the best storyteller, the best singer, the best drag queen in the world.

He was six months old when I learned that he was blind.

“He can’t be blind,” I said, “he always laughs at my face.”

Mama said, “He laughs at your voice. He’ll never see your face.”

His blindness didn’t change how I felt about him. But it changed how I saw the world.

As we grew older, Joe taught me some handy skills. How to find my shoes in the dark. How to sniff the air and know it was time for supper. How to pretend not to listen, and hear what we weren’t meant to hear. But most of all, he taught me how to see.

“Sister,” he’d say, “tell me what that looks like.”

It might be a snail he found in the yard, or a litter of pups he heard under the porch, or the sun he felt shining on his face.

I’d tried to describe it all for him. Sometimes he’d nod “Yes.” But often he’d say, “No, that’s not it, try again.” And I’d have to keep trying. Joe was stubborn. He never gave up. So one day I decided to try distraction.

“Joe,” I said, “I think I smell smoke. Is your hair on fire?”

This gave him pause. Slowly he patted his head. Finally, he grinned and said, “Sister, you’re teasing. You can’t fool me!”

But the distraction worked! He quit nagging and went back to pushing his tricycle around the yard. Until he rolled into a ditch and yelled for me to get him out.

After I grew up and moved to California of all places and our mother and other loved ones left this world for the next, Joe and Bobbie became best friends.

They love each other dearly, call each other daily and at times, fight like badgers. With words, of course, not teeth.

Recently, Bobbie and I were discussing one such dispute.

“Why won’t he let me tell him anything?” she said. “He gets so mad if I offer any bit of advice!”

She knows how determined Joe is to do everything on his own. She just wants to help.

“Sissy,” I said, “the next time he gets hoppin’ mad, try asking him, ‘Joe, is your hair on fire?’”

She laughed so hard she had a coughing fit.

“I’m serious,” I said. “He’ll either laugh or check his head. Either way, it’ll cool him off.”

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

I don’t know if she’s tried it yet. She’s a saint in how she cares for our brother. And he cares just as much for her.

The point of that story is simple: Disagreements should never drive us apart. Words matter. It’s easy to use the wrong ones or to say them the wrong way. Sometimes they can be hard to forgive. But love matters more than words.

The next time you’re in an overheated argument, try this: Roll your eyes, pat your head and shout, “My hair is on fire!”

Distraction works both ways.

Sharon Randall is the author of “The World and Then Some.” She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or at