November 26, 2014

On the Eve of Thanksgiving

Snow for Thanksgiving

The snow came this afternoon — fluffy wet snow that stuck to branches and tree trunks and eyelashes, covering my woods with a relentless beauty that was impossible to ignore. It’s winter here, the day before Thanksgiving, just two weeks since my sister’s funeral. I’ve been eating hot soup all day, lentil soup made with rice that a close friend dropped off yesterday. “I know that soup is your comfort food,” she said.

Tonight, we are gathered inside by the fire. With-a-Why, Boy-in-Black, and my husband are on the couch, watching something on With-a-Why’s laptop. My daughter is at the table, drinking tea and grading papers. Shy Smile sits next to her, laptop open. Sailor Boy is stretched out in the chair by the fire. The house has been full of family every weekend this semester, as we’ve coped with first my sister’s illness and then her death.

My son Shaggy Hair Boy and his fiancĂ© Smiley Girl spent today driving. They left when it was still dark to drive to Big Midwestern City to spend the holiday with Drama Niece – and her boyfriend, who is still so new to the family that he doesn’t yet have pseudonym. I am happy that Drama Niece, who has flown here twice in the last month, won’t be alone for the holiday. When I get the text that they’ve arrived safely, I call my Mom to tell her the news and I hear her call out to my father. He’s been busy getting out the extra folding chairs while she bakes pies for tomorrow’s dinner.

My brother and sister-in-law will arrive in the morning. They usually aren’t here for Thanksgiving, but they’re changing up the tradition this year. My out-of-town sisters won’t be here: we’ll see them at Christmas. Blond Brother-in-law will come, of course, and he’ll carve the turkey, like he always does. We’ll see his three daughters, of course. Blonde Niece will sit by Boy-in-Black, Red-haired Niece will bring her boyfriend and possibly her dog, and Schoolteacher Niece will come with her husband and her six-month-old baby, who has red hair and chubby legs and the cutest smile.

When I talked to my mother earlier, we went over the plans for Thanksgiving dinner — who was coming this year, how many chairs she needed — and we talked about plans for Christmas Eve and for Christmas dinner too. We always do that, counting up family members, making sure we know where everyone is and who is eating where and how much food we need. We didn’t have to say aloud what we were both feeling because we both knew. So we talked about whether or not we should have peas in addition to green beans, and I told her that we had to include green peas because Boy-in-Black and Red-haired Niece both love them, and once we’d adjusted the menu to suit every family member who will come tomorrow, I put my phone back in my pocket and walked outside in the snow to see what sympathy cards the mailbox held today.

November 16, 2014

My oldest sister

Blonde Sister has always lived within ten miles of me. Just two years older, she is part of every childhood memory I have.

On the first day of kindergarten, Blonde Sister walked me to my classroom and delivered me, scared and shy, to the teacher. The summer after eighth grade, she went with me to my first dance. The night before I began high school, she drew me a map of the school and said, “So long as you remember where the auditorium is, you can’t get lost.” Almost everything I've ever done, she did first, and that has made my life so much easier.

One of my earliest memories involves an Easter egg hunt at a neighbor’s house down the road. The older kids were running around, finding eggs. I kept chasing after them and looking in the same spots, which was not at all effective. I said to Blonde Sister, in despair, “I can’t find an egg.” She was five years old at the time. She took a bright green egg from her basket, walked a few feet, and set it on a wooden railing. I ran over, grabbed it happily, and then ran to brag to everyone that I’d found an egg.

We fought sometimes as kids because that's what kids do. The year she turned ten years old, she would say smugly “I’m double figures,” just because it made us younger siblings mad. And when she played Monopoly, she just HAD to put hotels on those light blue properties. Every. Single. Time. When we played the game Twenty Questions around the campfire and the rest of us were methodically asking questions to narrow down the search, she’d shout out things like, “Is it the Statue of Liberty?” in hopes of winning the game with one guess.

Blonde Sister was an eternal optimist. On our vacations at camp, we’d all be standing around gloomily on a dark rainy day, and she’d point across the river and say, “I see a patch of blue sky coming this way.” She was very artistic – whether we were painting the picture windows for Christmas or making travel kits for our annual trip to visit my grandmother and Aunt Seashell – her colorful drawings made my stick figures look a bit pathetic. I still have the colorful mural she painted for my daughter when she was a baby.

For many years, I saw my sister every day. I’d drop my kids off at her house on my way to work and I’ll pick them up on my way home. That’s why my four kids were so close to her. She helped raise them. In the summer, she’d call and say, “Let’s do a Kid Switch.” I’d drop Shaggy Hair Boy at her house to play with Blonde Niece, and take her older two daughters home to play with my kids. The seven kids, mine and hers, have always seemed more like siblings than cousins: they still hang out together, all the time.

My oldest sister was a private person who never liked the spotlight. Three months ago, when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, I respected her privacy, as well as the privacy of her husband and three daughters, and I didn’t write anything about her struggles on this blog. I didn't write about her weeks in the hospital or what it must be like for my parents, who are in their 80s, to see their oldest child so ill.

Blonde Sister died last Sunday. She was 55.

I still can’t believe she’s gone. I keep wanting to pick up the phone to call her. All week, the family has been gathering at my house, to talk and grieve and eat food, and I keep expecting her to walk through the door. I am still in shock. It’s taken me a week to write this blog post. Writing is what makes things real to me. And this is something I don’t want to be real.

Hiding behind the newspaper

This photo of Blonde Sister taken in the early years of my blog. She and my son Shaggy Hair Boy were joking about how I never show faces on my blog, so they were hiding behind the newspaper and saying, "Go ahead! Take a photo for the blog!"