Test 3, Day 2

South Africa 126 for 8 (Bavuma 34*, Morkel 2*, Roland-Jones 4-39) trail England 353 (Stokes 112, Cook 88) by 227 runs

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After graduating from high school I moved to Tucson, Ariz. where I slept on a couch in a one bedroom apartment for 10 months. I smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey and I was broke and I never did laundry and the apartment was a pit. I was also lonely and homesick a lot. And on the hot days the air was thin and trying to breath was like slipping on ice. But despite all that I loved my time in the desert, there at the bottom of the world. The smell of baking pavement, the cool evenings, the rainstorms that would flood the streets, the purple sunsets over the mountains, drinking coffee in the shade on warm desert mornings.

One night in January my mother called me at our apartment. My mother never called me. I figured it was bad news. But it wasn’t. She was calling to tell me that my sister was getting married the following Christmas. To a Scottish guy. Whom she had met on the internet at a time when such a thing was not socially acceptable. I was flabbergasted and a little excited and I asked for her phone number so I could call her and give her a hard time. I never did so.

In the spring I came home to Minnesota and worked at a grocery store and started college in the fall, moving to tiny studio apartment in downtown Minneapolis. It was a lonely, dark time. And I was looking forward to the wedding in December, to being part of such a celebratory event.

Two days before Christmas my future brother-in-law and his entire family (mom, dad, brother and sister) flew in from Scotland and stayed at my mother’s house. I ducked in and out of the action as best I could, as I didn’t have a car and it was a long bus ride out to Bloomington where they were staying. I was there for the groom’s dinner though. The house was full and happy and there was lots of laughter. I felt outside of all of it, but I also took comfort in my sister’s happiness.

The wedding night came and I shaved and got my hair cut and put on a poor fitting suit and rode to the church with my grandparents. The Scottish guys wore kilts and drank little bottles of booze and they were way cooler than I could ever hope to be.

I took my seat and stood as my sister and my grandfather walked down the aisle together. In America it is tradition for the groom to stand at the altar while the bride is walked down by her father, but in this case since our father had passed my grandfather walked her down the aisle instead. As this was happening I thought about the day my father died. My mother told us kids in a little brown room in the bowels of Regions Hospital in St. Paul. As we were absorbing the shocking news my sister lamented that our father wouldn’t be around to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. I thought at the time that that was an odd thing to be concerned about it. But it popped it my head as she walked down the aisle, all smiles and joy and white. And I started to think about growing up with my sister. Living across the hall from her for 16 summers and 16 falls. Countless dinners, breakfasts. All those Christmas mornings, all those moves across the country, all those nights in front of the television, laughing. The milkshakes on Friday nights. The trips to the upper peninsula of Michigan, feeding the ducks on the lake. All those happy little moments when we were just another midwestern family before our dad died and we were happy and sheltered and young and safe. And I started to cry a little. Right there in the church. My sister was grown up. Which meant I was too. Childhood was over. Forever. The door was closed.

After the family everyone walked through the receiving line and I was still crying and the woman next to me said out loud “oh, you made him cry!” and she probably thought I was crying out of happiness like people do at weddings but really I was crying out of a deep sadness. Sadness over the realization that you can’t go home again. That something really important had ended. That the world had lurched sideways, and would stay there, for good, and never go back to how it was.

The reception was held in the Church too, and I was given champagne to toast with even though I was not old enough to drink. I drank my quickly and asked the server for more but she said one was all she could give me. I went and complained to my sister and she got up from the head table, walked over to my table, and gave me an entire bottle of champagne.

There were speeches and dinner and then dancing. I asked my sister to dance with me after I’d had enough champagne to get over the embarrassment of dancing with my sister. I led her up the dance floor and the song started up. It was Nat King Cole’s version of “Unforgettable.”

Unforgettable, that’s what you are …

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Test 3, Day 1

England 171 for 4 (Cook 82*, Stokes 21*) v South Africa

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My sister is a very smart woman. But she also worked very hard in school. She always did her assignments and always turned them in on time, she never faked a stomach cramp to stay home and watch cartoons all day, and she would always do the extra credit if it was offered. And because of her hard work, and her smarts, she was an ace student. Straight As across the board from 1st grade all the way through high school. She spoke at her high school graduation, was ranked in the top 10 of her class, and was accepted into a fancy private college in Duluth, Minn.

One of the most indelible images I have of my sister growing up is coming home from school in junior high, coming in the front door, and seeing my sister at the kitchen table of our house in Bloomington, Minn. doing her homework. She was there every day. Every single day. The minute she walked in the house she would start on her homework at the kitchen table and wouldn’t stop until it was done. If I close my eyes I can see her. Plain as day. The low winter sun coming in through the sliding glass door as she dutifully highlighted sentences in a text book.

In school I was the opposite of my sister. Sure I was smart enough, I guess, to be able to coast through and get good enough grades until I hit junior high and school started to ask for at least a little bit of effort. I never did the assigned reading. I wouldn’t start writing papers until 10 p.m. the night before they were due. I never turned in my homework. I faked stomach cramps. I skipped class to go see movies by myself or go to the record store. I did the absolute bare minimum to get by. And my grades plummeted. From straight As in elementary school to solid Cs by the time I graduated high school. I was a disappointment. A disappointment to my parents and my teachers. I received too many lectures about “failing to realize my potential” to count.

Despite the fact that my grades were falling off a cliff and I never showed up for school, I was still placed in all the honors classes. I took advanced math, and AP European history and AP American History and honors English. I must have been grandfathered in. Or maybe my mother’d had words with the administrators. Who knows? But there I would be, surrounded by the smartest kids in school, sleeping through a discussion on A Tale of Two Cities or Plato’s cave.

My sister was of course also in all the advanced classes, and as I was only two grades behind her, I had a lot of the same teachers that she’d had, and as such even had a few of the same assignments. One of these assignments was to read — and write a paper on — the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I am sure you are familiar with it. Mrs. Danvers and Mr. de Winter and Mrs. de Winter and that killer — killer — opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

For some reason, I actually read this book, I don’t remember why, of all the books assigned, I had decided to read this one but not others, but that’s neither here nor there. I read it, and I remember liking it. Manderley reminded me of Glensheen mansion in Duluth which we had visited the summer before, and it was good story, well told, with just the right amount of tension and suspense. I still think about the book now and again, and particularly the scene in which Mr. de Winter (spoiler) describes his killing of the first Mrs. de Winter in the boat house, and how there was so much blood, that he couldn’t believe how much blood there was, that he never could have imagined there would be so much blood.

Unfortunately, while I had read the book, I made no effort to start the paper. It had to be at least five pages long — double spaced — and it had to do more than just sum up the plot and the major themes, it had to analyze the story, the characters, compare, contrast, critique. I started writing it the night before it was due on the computer in our basement and I had maybe two paragraphs when I remembered that my sister had written a paper on Rebecca as well, as she had taken the same English class two years earlier. And, of course, because of her meticulous nature, she would still have a copy of it, and, of course, thanks to her smarts and studiousness, it would be a really good paper.

I asked her if I could borrow it. My intentions initially were pure, I swear, I was just hoping it would give me some good ideas, that it would be a good jumping off point. “Just don’t copy it, please,” my sister asked as she handed it to me from the shelf in her bedroom.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I replied, truthfully (at the time).

I read it in the basement next to the computer — a massive PC with a fan that sounded like a jet engine and a word processor that used a blindingly blue background – and I was right, it was really good. Way better than any paper I could have written. And so it didn’t serve as a jumping off point, as I had hoped, instead it served to demoralize me. “Why even bother?” I thought to myself. “Whatever I write is going to be garbage anyway.”

I left the computer and went and watched TV again. I was tired. It was after 11 p.m. and I had track practice in the morning. And so I decided, quickly and decisively and without a shred of guilt, to do the one thing my sister had asked me not to do: I decided to copy the paper. Re-type it word for word and hand it as my own. I didn’t think about the consequences, or how obvious it would be, I just did it. I was tired and I knew it was either copy my sister’s or turn in nothing at all. The latter was not really an option as I was for all intents and purposes failing the class already, so I chose the former, and away I went. I typed, printed, stapled and was in bed just after midnight.

The next day I turned the paper in without even a hint of regret. I was 15. I was invincible. The teacher reads 100s of papers a semester, I thought that there’s no way she would recognize a paper from two years earlier. And she didn’t. I got it back two days later. B+. (Why I didn’t the same A that my sister had received I’ll never know). And with that grade I didn’t have to worry about failing English any longer, I could coast through to June, take my C- and be done with it. And even better I hadn’t been expelled for plagiarism. It was a win-win.

I never thanked my sister, as I never told her what I had done. And in fact that this is the first time I have ever admitted it in public. But I should thank her, I really should, for she — my reliable, dependable, studious, smart, meticulous sister — had saved my semester.

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Test 2, Day 4

My sister and I grew up beating the crap out of each other. We fought constantly. Sometimes by simply yelling at each other, other times the fights were full of hair pulling and punches and biting. We were horrible to each for about five years of my childhood, after which there was peace between as we mutually decided it was best to ignore one another. 

Most of our fights are unmemorable — with one blending right into the next. And I can’t for the life of me remember how any of them started. Not a single one. I guess it was just a case of us being close in age (she is only about 20 months older than me) plus being two very different people in a very small house. All I know for sure is that we never got along. At best we tolerated each other. There were, of course, short blips of sibling love and loyalty, but what stands out most is the fights: beating each into “bloody pulps” (my mother’s words) in the backseat of a car on a long drive, me smashing her doll house with a thrown tennis ball and her tearing my Steve Garvey baseball card in retaliation, all the horrible name calling, the ruined dinners, the tears. It was not a pleasant time. And not a time that I am particularly proud of. And I am sure it’s why we were allowed to watch so much television during those years: as it was the one time we were quiet and not at each other’s throats.

I remember one disagreement in particular. I am not sure why it stands out among the others. We are arguing in the driveway of our little house in Lebanon, Ohio. I don’t remember why we were fighting, of course, I just know we were. It was a chilly, gray November day. I was maybe five years old, my sister seven. She has short brown hair and she’s wearing a blue jacket. I was in my red, hand-me-down wind breaker. She is standing about five feet from me. I can still see her face.

The argument lasted about a minute before I struck with what I — in my five year old brain — thought would be a fatal blow. A cutting truth that would level her and bring her to tears. Really hurt her. Really make her sad.

“You know,” I said, “when we grow up you won’t be allowed to marry me.”

“So?” my sister said, in response. Derision dripping from her seven year old face.

So! She didn’t care!

I had nothing else. The fight ended. She had absorbed my best weapon and defeated me right there in the driveway. I fell into silence. The fight was over.

But oh what a dumb thing to say! Looking back, I try not to think about it, but it pops into my head at least once a month. I am embarrassed about all of our fighting, but it is that fight in particular that I find most humiliating. I do my best to forget about it and move on, but it’s always there. In the basement of my brain. Not only did I lose the fight, I lost it in the most shameful way possible.

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Test 2, Day 3

England 205 and 1 for 0 need another 473 runs to beat South Africa 335 and 343 for 9 dec (Amla 87, Elgar 80, du Plessis 63, Moeen 4-78)

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On our 13th wedding anniversary my wife and I took the train downtown to have drinks and watch a couple bands play in the parking lot of a fancy restaurant. BB-Gun was playing. As was Haley Bonar. It was a beautiful summer Saturday in August and we were both in good spirits.

Because of how long we would be out that day, we had decided to bring our dog, Robbie, over to my mother’s for the night. Just so he could get dinner at a normal time and not have to wait forever for us to get home in order to do his business in the backyard.

Robbie is a good dog, but tends to be a runner. He will get on a scent and nothing you do can make him give it up. And so my mother knew to keep a good eye on him when he was out in her yard. She has a fence but we had been told by the rescue organization that we adopted him from that he was a bit of a fence jumper.

After we dropped him off we hopped the train and had beers inside at Funyon’s downtown. We laughed and talked away the afternoon. I was so happy that I had that wonderful burn in the pit of my stomach that I get when i feel like the universe is aligned for me, even if it’s just for a few hours.

At the show in the parking lot we had a couple more beers and watched the bands and talked and continued our lovely evening. Unfortunately the night turned sour when a couple talkative jerks were rather rude to my wife and I didn’t handle it very well and we left grumpy and upset and waited for the train in silence trying to hear the Paul McCartney concert happening at the baseball stadium behind the train station.

We got home and went to bed.

The next day we slept in — enjoying the quiet house without the dog making noise at first light to get his breakfast and go outside. At around 9am I got up and checked my phone and saw that my mother had called and left me a voice mail. Damn it. I knew it couldn’t be good news. And it wasn’t. I listened to the voice mail: she had left Robbie outside unattended and he had jumped the fence and was gone. My sister was on her way there to help look for him. I called her back and told her we were on our way there — and that I was angry with her. Very angry.

I woke my wife up with the news, grabbed my running shoes so I could chase the dog, and we were off to my mother’s house, which is in a suburb about 25 minutes south of our house.

I was so angry. Traffic was terrible. I was so worried. My wife was so upset. It was a horrible drive. I was barefoot and screaming and pissed.

When we were about five minutes away from my mother’s house, she called. My sister had found him and gotten him into her car. He was home. He was safe. Thank god.

We got to my mother’s and my sister was still there and I hugged her and thanked her for getting him home. He was filthy and exhausted and a huge wound on his stomach. But he was home. He was safe. My sister had gotten him home. Driven like a bat out of hell from her house to my mother’s at 9am on a Sunday morning to chase a dog that belonged to a brother that she really wasn’t very close with and found the dog and gotten him home. I was beyond grateful — and beyond relieved. I told my poor mother who was heartsick and who felt just terrible that it wasn’t a big deal, that it was fine. And it was.

Thanks to my sister.

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Test 2, Day 2

South Africa 335 (Amla 78, de Kock 68, Philander 54, Anderson 5-72) and 75 for 1 (Elgar 38*, Amla 23*) lead England 205 (Root 78) by 205 runs

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We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. That is not to say that we were poor. I never wanted for anything, I always had fresh school supplies in the fall, and there was always food on the table and presents under the tree, and while I wore a lot of hand-me-downs from my older cousins, I always had new shoes when I needed them. But we also went without a lot of things that my middle-class peers enjoyed: cable television, VCRs, fancy cars (my mother drove a 1970s orange Chevette hatchback my entire childhood) and vacations that weren’t to my grandparents’ cottages in Michigan or a distant relative’s condominium in Florida. And I remember more than a few hushed arguments about money between my mother and father.

And so when in February of 1987 when I was 11 years old and my sister 13 it was a pretty big deal when at the kitchen table my mother broke the good news that in April we would be flying — FLYING! — to Florida to spend three days at Disney World (!!) followed by four days … on a CRUISE! We were over the moon with excitement. My sister even started packing that afternoon, despite the fact that the trip was over two months away.

In preparation for the vacation to end all vacations, my mother took me clothes shopping. It was the 1980s and I had a very specific style in mind, despite just being 11 years old. Hawaiian shirts and light shorts and pants and pastel polo style shirts. The pièce de ré·sis·tance of the new wardrobe was a pair of white slacks that I would pair with a light blue polo shirt. I planned on wearing it the day we boarded the cruise ship. I was over come with excitement. My own clothes! New clothes! And of the highest fashion (in my mind).

The trip came and it was lovely. We rode rides at Disney World and stayed in a nice hotel and ate dinner out every single night. We spend an entire day at the beach swimming in the ocean and building sand castles. My parents only had one disagreement that I heard, over whether or not it was worth the walk over to Epcot (it wasn’t).

Then midway through the week we drove to the Cruise ship dock and dropped off our rental car and boarded the ship. I was of course wearing my new clothes, my perfect outfit. We dropped our stuff off in our room and went straight to the buffet for lunch (cruises are basically just one big floating buffet table). As we were standing in the line and filling our plates with fruit and little sandwiches, my sister, who was in line next to me, starting scratching at the hem of my shirt. I had no idea what she was doing, I looked down and there was this black, flaky goop all down the side my my shirt and pant leg. I had no idea what it was or where it came from. My new outfit was ruined! I was horrified.

My sister pulled her hand away and looked at it and then back at the goop on my shirt and then looked me in the eye.

“Gross,” she said.

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Test 2, Day 1

South Africa 309 for 6 (Philander 54*, Morris 23*) v England

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Like a lot of families in the midwest did — and still do — my family would pack up the car and drive to Florida for a weekend in the sun and at the pool. I think we made the trip two or three times, with the last occasion being when I was seven years old and my sister nine. We would leave first thing in the morning when my sister and I were still asleep, my mother making us beds in the back seat and we would wake up and already be on the road, my dad driving with his ball cap and his flannel shirt and his cigarettes.

We would stop for the night in Tennessee and continue on until we reached Ft. Lauderdale. We didn’t stay in a fancy resort or at Disney World, but rather in a condo that belonged to my uncle’s in-laws which was on the beach with a pool. It was great, but the rules were a little strict (one time a resident yelled at my mother because the resident thought she hadn’t showered long enough before getting into the pool). And it was always a little weird staying in what was essentially someone else’s house. But it was fine. We would spend the week making sand castles and swimming in the pool and playing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the main highlights was going out to eat at night, as this was something we rarely did when we weren’t on vacation. When in Florida we mostly went to seafood restaurants because our parents knew that that was something that us kids would eat and it was also something that we didn’t get a lot of in land-locked Ohio.

On our last trip we went out to eat right after arriving. The restaurant was dark and we sat at a circular table near the salad bar. My mother said she felt like she was still in the car. When the waitress came to take our order, my sister asked the most embarrassing question I could ever have imagined.

At this point I must be clear that my sister is a very bright woman. And it was no different when she was nine. She was always in advanced classes, and was a whiz at all subjects: English, math, science, whatever. She was — and is — no dummy, in other words.

And I should also point that while at the time I thought it was hilarious and teased my sister endlessly about it for, probably, years afterward, now when I think back on it it just makes me sad. My smart sister, completely embarrassed, while on vacation, out at a restaurant, something we never go to do, trying to order a shrimp platter, something I know she was excited about. I don’t know. It makes me so very melancholy, so deeply sad. It breaks my heart a little, is the best way to say it. And it makes me want to call my sister and tell her I think she’s great.

The waitress was taking our order, and when she got to my sister, my sister pointed at something on the menu, and — shudder — she asked the waitress how many there were in a half a dozen. How many. There were. In. A. Half dozen. She must have just been confused by something on the menu, as my sister surely, without a doubt, knew exactly how many were in a half dozen. Which makes this all even more embarrassing. She was just confused, not ignorant. Horrible, just horrible. In response, the waitress looked liked she couldn’t believe she was being asked that.

“Six,” the waitress replied, her voice oozing with contempt.

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Test 1, Day 4

England 458 and 233 beat South Africa 361 and 119 by 211 runs

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When I was in 2nd grade and my sister in 4th (eight and 10 years old, respectively) my mother entered us in the school’s talent show. She picked out a song (“Side by Side” — a standard made famous by Kay Starr in the 50s), had me get the lyrics from my teacher (not an easy task in the days before the internet), wrote a little dance, made us outfits covered in patches like proper happy hoboes, and made us practice every afternoon after school.

The show was during the day and in front of the entire school plus all the parents of the kids performing. Our dad even skipped his golf game to come watch us.

I was nervous, but not too nervous, it would go fine and be over soon enough.

When it was our turn we got on the stage there in the school’s basement cafeteria and sang our song and did our dance. It was all going well until the very end of the song when one of us — I honestly don’t remember who — screwed the dance part up a bit and we stopped in the middle of performance. I said my sister’s name pleadingly and the crowd laughed. I was mortified. We finished the song and went back into the library which was doubling as the green room for the performers.

I was embarrassed and angry and upset. I stood back in the biography section crying and my sister came up to also crying and apologized over and over again. “I’m so, so sorry, Matt,” she wailed. I didn’t want to deal with her. I went back to my seat in the front part of the library and moped.

This was the 1980s and so the talent show had actual winners and losers. There would be three ribbons awarded: first place, second place and third place. I knew we had no shot after we had screwed up so I just stood on the stage with the other performers and tried not to look my parents in the eye. “I can’t believe my dad skipped his golf game for this. He is going to be so mad,” I thought to myself.

They announced the second and third place winners and then, shockingly, when giving out the first place ribbon, they said my name. And my sister’s name. We had won! Holy cow! It seemed the judges — including the wickedly strict first grade teacher Sister Ann Jerome — had thought the screw up was on purpose, that it was part of the act. But who cares? We had the first place ribbon!

I was beaming. My sister was relieved.

To this day I sing the song to myself on long bike rides and think of my sister and our victory that day.

Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money
Maybe we’re ragged and funny
But we travel along, singin’ our song
Side by side

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