Tuesday, May 02, 2017
Tribute to My Sister
I remain at home a lot now. At my advanced age I find little entertainment to take me away. However, I feel the pressure to finish family genealogy and write more about my family. I began family stories in earnest ten year ago. Mostly I write about my growing up front the 1930s until now. Amazing I can remember my growing up years better than my today time. I don't keep a journal. Too much triviality is written there. My sister faithfully kept her journal for over ten years. I have to read hundreds of pages to glean anything of any importance. It is through her writings that I find the key.
Sis died December 31 of last year. She passed away on my second son's birthday. How fitting. We'll never forget the date. Sis was persistent in keeping a journal, even as she lay dying, she'd ask for her "notebook." Barely able to hold a pen she hen-scratched something, unable to follow the lines, weaving her words only she could understand.
She and I had decided a year before to donate our bodies to the local University of Mississippi Donor Program. We'd never been ones to visit our parents' burial places, change dry flowers to new, sweep off the leaves from their eternal beds. We didn't want our families to feel pressured to honor us by spending thousands of dollars that could help a grandchild finish college or pay for summer camp or purchase new books to read. Little did we know she'd be the first to leave.
I gathered her writing books, not the journals, and planned to read her thoughts penned in moments of joy, of unhappiness, of contemplation. I was six years older than she and we never had much in common. I became her little mother, taking care to see she was dressed in the mornings as a child, then walk her to nursery school and later to elementary school. I reminded her of her duties, her responsibilities, and at the same time giving her permission. I forgot and stayed her mother when she was grown. Our mother worked full time. We were latch-key kids in the 1940s. Sis never forgot my rule over her. As an adult I gave her advice, wanted or not, about boyfriends( me, with little experience). I felt I was a good critic of guys. What I failed to realize in those early years was that regardless of what I preached, Sis followed her own heart. In her writings she poured her heart into the pages describing her unhappiness with what she had been dealt. She mentioned often my "meddling." I learned a lot about Sis from the words she poured onto three-holed notebook paper.
We became close when we retired. We made up for lost time in the 20 years left of her life. We traveled together to writers' conferences, to historical points in the South, to western US to see the national parks in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. I showed her places we as kids accompanied our parents when they took us "out west" in their new Ford Station wagon with "real wood sides," as the advertisements stated. She was eight years old, I fourteen. I still had memories of the places we stopped and when we revisited these sites, she had no memory of them. Through my oral travelogue I reminded her of our young lives. We laughed about how we fooled Daddy when we wanted to go to Sun Valley, Idaho, to see where Sonia Heine had made her movies. We let him sleep in the car, after having driven all night, and Mother took over and steered us to Sun Valley. In those days before air conditioning, traveling in the cool of the night was preferable.
She critiqued my writings and rejoiced when I won an award. She was always ready to go places. She volunteered one year at Ghost Ranch in Santa Fe (a Presbyterian conference center), and shared her experiences. She went on to Abiququi, NM to help out and she felt she was at the end of the world. She and I went hiking in Santa Fe with Elderhostel. She proved a better hiker. I was there for support. If I didn't go with her to a destination, she went alone. She attended plays in Montgomery AL several years I couldn't accompany her, driving the four hours there and four back alone. One year we saw all the movies up for Academy Awards, a feat difficult for Jackson, Mississippi, where choice movies are often missed. We attended history lectures and drove hours to visit a grave or a cabin or a road mentioned at these lectures. We'd drive out of the way on one of our trips so she could photograph some famous musician, writer, or historian.
We made up for lost time in the twenty years we had together. Then the old scourge returned and took her life. I'm lonesome. I have no place nor anyone with whom to travel. With Sis' death my original family is gone. She is at peace. Wonderful memories sustain me.