April 2018

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cresting the 5-0 Hill

Dearest Sister Jen,
         Sister Jen, you have always been the little sister I looked up to. Well, maybe not always. There were the days before you could spell, when my friend Ande and I tortured you by spelling her name, “A-N-D-E” and pretending when you called out to mom (“Mom! They’re spelling again!”) that we were just saying it.
Even when you were trying to keep up with an older sister who wasn’t always as kind as she should have been, you had your limits, your sense of self. I remember the time Ande and I made mud pie and tried to get you to eat it. You refused, and I was flummoxed. What? You’re refusing me?!
Similarly, there were the years when you traded me dimes for my larger nickels, and then there was the day when you wouldn’t trade any more. You weren’t taller than I was yet, but I think that’s the day I started looking up to you.
Though I was too often unkind, we did have fun together. Do you remember riding my back as we cleaned up my room (Alas, we never cleaned yours). We pretended that there were alligators and that they couldn’t bite me, so you rode on my back and I carried you around the room picking my things up off the floor and putting them on the bed for me to put back on the floor later.
And, of course, I helped prepare you for school: I’m pretty sure you were the only first grade student who could spell “idiosyncrasy.” That’s probably why you got to be a crossing guard and then were selected for the Morehead.
On the famous trip out West, we shared a cozy warm (even hot) room, unaware that Mom, Dad, and Little Brother Matt were freezing, Matt sleeping on the floor with just a thin blanket. And there was the Monopoly game where Matt trounced us and yet enjoyed the game less than we did. Apparently, he didn’t like his new nickname or the alliterative newspaper headlines announcing his win: “The Mighty Mole Makes Millions.”
I have loved your sense of humor, both clever and incisive. In high school, when you and Ellen were talking with someone who had a booger showing in their nose, one of you would just blurt, “Booger.”
You’re the one who told Dad I wanted a car, (I didn’t have the guts to ask for such a thing), and you and Mom came to Davidson on my 21st birthday to give me a toy car, a symbol for the real one I would later buy with my birthday money.
From time to time, someone saw me and said, “Jennifer?” I was of course flattered to be mistaken for my smart, beautiful, gutsy little sister.
Before I came out to the family, you knew me well enough to know something had gone awry and wrote me a letter asking me to be real with you. My coming out letter crossed yours in the mail, and I received an envelope from you in return with lots of headlines, like Ellen Degeneres coming out, and only the note on the outside: “You’re in.” The note and the headlines made me laugh and breathe easily for the first time in years. You have supported Ann and me from the beginning.
You and I have lived on opposite sides of the country for decades now, and I wish I could see you more, but I always look forward to our Christmases and our week at the beach together. I remember fondly the year after my brain surgery when you read aloud my childhood friend Heather Newton’s novel.
And of course I remember that you had brain surgery a few years before I did and gave me excellent advice before my surgery: 1) Always accept help. 2) Whenever they say, “Morphine,” you say, “Yes.”
I also remember that you came to take care of me one week when Ann needed some space. Though my memory is bleary from those days, I have two crisp memories: 1) When my headache got so bad that I needed to go to the emergency room, you got me in the backseat of our little Honda and crammed the wheelchair in the front. (I still find it amusing that it didn’t occur to either of us that they would have wheelchairs at the hospital.) 2) You were so friendly with the nurse, a burly, hairy guy, as you two talked while I waited for treatment. You were offended on his behalf that he had to pay for parking while he worked. Though you live the life of the wealthy now, you have always been interested in people and their stories and have treated everyone that some people might have looked down on with grace.
         Welcome to the other side of the 5-0 hill. Today, you’re on the crest, seeing both the way you came up and the way you’ll go down. I’m looking back down the way you’ve come and also, for once perhaps, a few steps ahead of you down the other side.
         This side of the mountain gets a bad rap, but it’s lovely, too. There are upsides to down hill. Your beautiful children are growing up; your husband stays by your side (I remember you saying a year or so ago, “It helps that he still looks good.”); you have job you like with people you like; and you’re still funny, smart, beautiful, and gutsy. 
         And you have an older sister who adores you.

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