As I grew older, I wrote in my journal sporadically, documenting the most anguished periods of my life. On July 12, 2002, I scrawled in desperate handwriting, “My home is now a monopoly. That means one person or company controls everything.” With this entry, I documented two things: 1) I was eager to demonstrate my knowledge of monopolies from seventh grade social studies, and 2) My nine-year-old little sister had bought the stairs of our house, unleashing a Reign of Terror.
“Reign of Terror” might seem like a strong phrase to apply to a child not yet in the double digits, but Caroline had already garnered a notorious reputation. When she was two, she escaped from my mother’s watchful eye at Chuck E. Cheese’s, only to be found mounting the animatronic rats backstage. At five, she locked the entire family in the basement, forcing us to crawl out a tiny window. And later that year, she convinced my father to buy her a 3’ x 1’ stick, with which she would smack my friends when they visited. My father defended her antics as childhood whimsy until one day she started hitting him with it. He proceeded to snap the stick in half.
These are just a few of the events ascribed to Caroline Grace in her hagiography. But no episode remains as infamous as her Stair Dictatorship.
In June 2002, she approached my father with a proposition: She would buy the stairwell from him for $150. Having saved every penny of her allowance, First Communion gifts, and birthday money, she wanted to start a business venture. My father, eager to encourage her entrepreneurial spirit, agreed.
As the stair owner, she imposed a toll of ten cents whenever any family member used the stairs. Since there was no other way to reach our bedrooms, we were obligated to pay the toll. And so she would sit like a bridge troll at the foot of the stairs, waiting to collect her next dime.
We were quick to voice our objections. “This should be illegal!” said Laura. She too was learning about monopolies in social studies.
“It’s a huge pain,” my mother grumbled, unconcerned with the ethical implications. “Why on earth would you sell her the stairs?”
“She’s learning important business practices,” my dad said. Perhaps one day she would become the female Donald Trump, emblazoning our surname on a variety of gold-bedecked resorts. But we were unconvinced by his defense, and he agreed to talk to her.
Caroline’s solution? She would sell us convenient monthly passes for $10 a pop. Again we protested, so my dad covered the cost of our passes. This continued for the duration of the summer, until he decided that Caroline had learned enough about business practices for the foreseeable future. And, as a inveterate penny-pincher, he realized that $40 a month was quickly adding up.
So he offered to buy back the stairs for $100. Caroline, however, was resolute. She wanted $250. She had learned her lessons well.