It was a bright, pleasant, frosty morning, perfectly still, with an air like wine. –George MacDonald, What’s Mine’s Mine, 1886
Happy Birthday to my big sister Kathy! We’re reading this book together this winter, she in the Texas Hill Country, I in the mountains of Montana. Upon hearing that I had re-discovered the copy she’d sent me a few years ago, and was suggesting we have our own Book Club, she replies by email, “ . . . I will start this today with an excitement that is barely manageable because we are sharing the joy!” And a few days later, “Hi my dear reading partner. I’m hoping you are hooked. I’ve revisited enough of my dearly loved tale to be entranced by it again, but I imagine that much of my joy arises from thinking of you sharing in the adventure.” Who could resist opening those pages!
Here we are with Mom back when there were just two of us and photos like this were an occasion. And yes, birth order matters. As a number two, I know this. In six years there would be five of us. I wrote this poem for a college creative writing class . . . “Write a lyric poem, using iambic meter.”
Sisters When first I came to be, she was And it wasn’t long ‘til I Knew very well that this alone Explained the reason why. Why her side of the room could stay In order all the time. I often wished I were like her As I’d dig to the bottom of mine. Why she could read a book and weep So silently I wished That I could feel the depth as she, I wondered what I’d missed. Why she could always look at me In her quiet, knowing way And only I would catch each word Of what she didn’t say. Why always, forever, wherever I was It mattered to me what she thought. I knew that she was always right And so we rarely fought. Why even now as years have passed When we look back and see I find that she, to my surprise Often wished she were like me. 1985
Sisters have a shared history. The time we messed up our piano duet at the recital, elbows touching on the same bench. Stopping, glaring at each other, starting again—twice—and still getting to go out for a special dinner afterwards at the Caboose Restaurant. The Christmas we hoped for expensive Flathead Braves Pep Club sweaters, and got them! Driving our ‘57 Chevy all the way from southern California to Alberta Canada to Bible School. Kathy running alongside the car at the top of Crater Lake Pass to see if the wheel was coming off. Packing our popcorn maker, electric tea kettle, matching comforters, and custom-dyed deep blue burlap curtains . . . to be roommates again . . . after nearly eighteen years of sharing a a room. Marrying and having our babies close together. Then spending the rest of our lives living in different parts of the country . . . but always connected, still, at the heart.
The youngest of us five is in her sixties now and we still all marvel that we were blessed with such a remarkable big sister. She had the mantle of Mom and Dad’s authority in their absence and always wore it honorably. I shared these words with my Sibs a few years ago on her Birthday . . . on a “bright, pleasant, frosty morning . . . with an air like wine” . . . much like today:
Have y'all ever wondered how we would have turned out without Sister? We learned to respect Mom and Dad even more, in her charge. We learned that royalty was arriving each night at 6:00. We learned how to get organized, work hard, and do a good job. We learned to see how our actions affected those around us. We learned the art of reflection. We learned to be quiet and not fill all the spaces with noise, because we wanted to be like her. Sister reminded us whose kids we were, always, and of the responsibility that brought. She believed in us, more than we believed in ourselves. She thought we were funny and talented and smart, really funny, talented, and smart. She liked us so we liked ourselves. She protected and defended us. She brought us the spirit of the many places she visited in the books she read. She brought us refinement. She modeled graciousness. She gave us a glimpse of the great wide world we would all enter. She was our compass, sometimes our conscience. She taught us that we had to find our own verses in the Bible to underline . . . instead of copying Dad's.
Happy Birthday, Sister, from all of us. We’re who we are today, because of you. Thank you!