Impressionable people come and go in our lives, but their mark is everlasting. To have a relative who is impressionable is a gift. Each time I speak of my older sister, it is like unwrapping that present all over again. This is a collection of remembrances about her. Granted, she is still quite alive and not even retired. But, while I still have my faculties about me, I thought it was high time I expound on this very special individual.
It seems to me my earliest memory of my big sister was that of her playing with her dancing doll. Santa had given her a doll which was made of cloth limbs that niftily bent at the knees and elbows. A cloth torso anchored the doll’s neck and face. Thus, it was one giant piece – a very versatile rag doll. Just like my sister, the doll had yellow hair (which was probably made of yarn, bright blue eyes and a very sweet smile. The doll wore a long ballet tutu around it’s waist and a pastel pink and white horizontally striped leotard-type top. At least that is how my memory has recorded the visual. The best part of the doll was the fact that her cloth feet at the end of its legs had not only ballet-like shoes, but an elastic strap that my sister could slip her own feet into, thus connecting the doll to her every step. The doll could dance anything my big sis could conjure up herself. Her moves were her dolly’s moves. With ease and exuberance, she could dance with her doll hand in hand, toe to toe and cheek to cheek. Whatever was on the “Lawrence Welk Show” became their song; the pair of them sidestepping and sashaying any kind of dance she desired. They would waltz to country, swing to jazz, or be-bop to early rock n roll. My sister and her partner would spontaneously create their own style in response to what was being heard in our living room from the television or the radio. I thought it was a genius toy and was envious of how much fun my sister had dancing with it. Years later, when my sibling was entrenched in ballet classes, I tried to be like that doll and mimic my big sister’s every move. I took ballet, as well…though the talent must not have been there. I think I only lasted one year. Her doll and my memories of her dancing have endured for more decades than I’d like to admit!
Without sounding too redundant, let’s call my sister “C”. As in most families, the children in ours, had blissful moments and other times not quite so amiable. C was very efficient. I have two recountings, each one describing the opposite end of the spectrum of sibling decorum. Our parents could rely on her to watch over the younger ones which included me. One outing, we found ourselves at the beach and my father insisted everyone line-up in front of him for the customary Sea ‘n’ Ski slathering of our nose, cheeks, tips of our ears and across our shoulders. Mind you, he never brought us to the coast until after 3pm when the sun was less intense. Well, after we all received our suntan-lotion anointing, we were all free to go play. Parameters were stated as to how far to wander down the shoreline. Sand pails and shovels were distributed and sunhats adjusted to provide the maximum protection. Adventures commenced.
C knew I enjoyed viewing the frolic of the sand beetles, and combing for shells hither and thither. One particular beach day, we had been collecting treasures when my sister decided to try something different. Being 6 years older than me, and myself barely past being a toddler, she could not have been much older than 10 or 11. Yet, she was a clever one. She wanted to break me of my fear of the water. At this point I had only stood on wet sand with the tide tickling my toes as it surrounded them and drew away. But, to actually go IN the water? I had not ever done that. This time she encouraged me to hold her hand and leave the bucket perched on our little mound. Then we started walking down to the seaspray and foam. The closer we got to being actually in the ocean, the more I hesitated, eventually coming to an abrupt stop. C bent down and stared her beautiful blue eyes into mine and said, “If you keep holding my hand I’ll keep you safe. Let’s try to walk into a wave….” Naturally, I strongly protested and resisted such an endeavor. She then countered with: “If you walk into a wave, they say you can see the mermaids inside it. You want to see the mermaids, don’t you?” I had to ponder that one. It didn’t take long for curiosity and imagination to win over cold fear. We did walk into a wave holding hands…and as a youngster, that wave seemed extremely high. It probably was only a 3 to 4 foot wave, though. I don’t recall thinking I saw the mermaids and sea nymphs, but I did come out of the experience invigorated with glee. The wave had gone right over my head, and I saw lots of swirling colors so they must have been mermaids! I jumped and squealed with excitement, only to ask for a command performance again and again and again. I have to thank my Big Sister for promoting my bravery. From that day onward, I was in love with the sea…still am.
Occasionally, C was not the best babysitter for all of her siblings. Sometimes she had her own plans and it did not include the presence of us underlings. On this day, our folks had an appointment and C was left in charge. I seem to recall playing with my next in line sibling, my brother #3. We had a terrific time recreating a circus show using the Fisher-Price Circus set. I still remember the thick hard-pressed cardboard animals with their white plastic movable arms and legs. The Master of Ceremonies, and the various performers were made the same way. We would play tirelessly, having them climb up the white rungs of red wooden ladders, which would reach the “High-top’s” tallest podium. There were also, wooden red and white cages for animals, all part of the circus train kit. Many details remain vivid enough to recall after all these years. Perhaps the invaluable aspect was how our imagination ran freely and it was quite the creative escape into whatever childhood could dream.
While merrily at play, we suddenly were being told by the “Authority in Charge” that it was officially nap time. Yes, in my generation of rearing, everyone took naps in the afternoon, up to late years in grade school. Same time, every day, time to recharge the batteries of youth. Well, naturally being embroiled in some escapade taking place within the main circus ring, my brother and I profusely protested, and tried to negotiate extra play time. C flatly said no, and determined that the circus would still be there when we woke up and the SOONER we fell asleep, the SOONER we would wake up again to continue our fun. She shooed us off to our beds and sternly told us to not get up until she came in to wake us.
Resigned to nap time, I found myself for some particular reason, having a most difficult time falling asleep. I remember getting out of bed and lying under the sewing machine desk. Suspended upside down was the Singer machine, and all the gizmos and gadgets required to make it work. Lying on my back, peering upwards, it resembled my idea of what a factory must look like on the inside. I don’t know how long I laid there, but it did pass the time a bit for this far from sleepy child. After a good while, I grew tired of waiting and left my bedroom to look for my big sister and the clock. She took her two hands and turned my shoulders back to the hallway and reminded me to go finish my nap. She said it simply wasn’t long enough. Well this same chain of events happened again a bit later, and Cs reaction was now annoyance. I told her I just could not sleep, and couldn’t I just read? “No” was my answer. The third time I left my room was instrumental in making her very mad at me. She demonstratively said, “I don’t want to hear your complaints. Go to bed!” C then proceeded to stuff my mouth with kleenex and I proceeded to cry. She walked me back to my room and gave me some ultimatum -I know not what. This time, I cried myself to sleep. When she did wake me up, it was much later. In fact, our parents were arriving back home. They saw how “rested” my brother and I looked. That was when C said she had put us down for a nap 5 hours ago! I don’t remember anything after those details, but it was definitely an abuse of power, don’t you think?
Since C was the first-born child, our parents’ rules were more stringent than some of the children born much later. My big sister went to high school in an era when girls could not wear jeans or slacks, but only skirts and dresses. The wearing of lipstick to school was just starting to be allowed. Even still, high school girls were being carefully monitored in what they wore to class. I remember C begged and begged our father for permission to not only wear lipstick, but to be able to wear knit stockings or nylons with flats. He was of the “everything meaningful is no fuss” kind of midwestern mentality, and he emphatically denied her requests. Then one day, when visiting the high school with the town’s Rotary Club, which is a businessman’s club, he noticed that his daughter was practically the only girl still wearing bobby socks and saddle shoes. When our dad returned home and was surrounded with family at the dinner table, he announced that my sibling ought to go with the flow and wear what everyone else wears. I remember in the following days, she had her pink Yardley lipstick and mary janes on. I remember her riding her bike down the driveway with her skirt billowing voluminous puffs on each side, looking much like one of the suffragettes of yore. Yet, she had on her make-up and her footwear in keeping with the trend. She was very happy! Heck, I Was glad she was happy, because it meant she was paving the way for me.
Out of a lifetime with my older sister, the five hour nap incident is the ONLY negative memory I have. That is saying a lot. Truth is, C has always been a figure of wonder and respect. Her scholarly ways amazed me. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was an A student. Books in tow, and always about to, or finishing up her studying, she was the perfect consumer of information. Before she moved away to college, our sewing room was her study. It was at the top of the stairs, and one of the walls was the slant of the roof, with a dormer window flooding in light. Being very narrow, it was almost cocoon-like; a nest for knowledge if you will. Time and time again she was locked up in her study refining her education. In high school, Mom would let her take cups of coffee up there so she could burn the candle into the wee hours of the night. She would only emerge from her inner sanctum when it was mealtime. We used to laugh about her at dinner because invariably, one of her knees was in hyper-mode, bobbing up and down under the table. She really wasn’t too conversational; probably because she was still thinking about what she had been reading or writing about. All we knew as a family was that this devotion to learning could only lead to lofty places.
How true this was and is! In high school, she was honored as being designated one of the California’s Scholastic Federation scholars, wearing her golden stole around her neck for for graduation ceremony. When she completed her studies at California Western University she graduated Magna Cum Laude. What amazed me the most was that she was superb in both Math and in English. I was so proud of her. I aspired to be close to the same, if I could. Years later, she instilled in her own children the same forthright attitude when it comes to academic achievement.
After college, my sister made a bold move. She sought out a position in sales for the company Proctor & Gamble. She practically lived in her car, making it her office as she drove from retailer to retailer, engaged in selling products and monitoring their means of display in stores. I remember one family holiday, she was home and busier than ever. She had on stiletto heels and a long business dress. Out in our backyard on the cement walking path, I remember her excitedly spinning around with notepad and pen armed for self-checking. She must’ve been going over a presentation. The rest of the family was inside getting the meal on the table and she was out there in a a different universe, breaking that glass ceiling for young women of the 70s in business. Not soon after that day, I heard the company was sending her to Wall Street to learn all about the Stock Market. What a perfect blend of her two talents: Math and Language! The rest is history. She has been a stockbroker for probably 45 years now, and presently advises those clients involved in high finance.
Throughout her life, C has had many interests. Ballet was likely her earliest. She studied ballet for six years. Her favorite music to dance to was Swan Lake. One time she had a dance solo portraying a puppeteer’s doll in the Nutcracker. It seems Santa’s “dance along with doll” was a meaningful present. I honestly was either too little or too much in my own imaginative world to recall C practicing ballet at home. I certainly do not even recall any recital I might have attended. Back in those days, parents didn’t really fawn all over their kids. They funded and supported their children’s interests, but not anything equal to today’s full-blown everyone in the family will go to recitals and performances. Even sports was a bit like that as well. However, I do remember her practicing the marionette dance…and I also remember my mom was very enthused over how well she did.
But, C also was excellent at swimming and diving, she totally enjoyed being a statistician in high school where she could flex her mental muscle, and also in high school, she was made co-captain for the drill team. She was a great leader and looked very polished in all her parades and field-shows. I have wonderful visions of her in salute pose, wearing the tall black shako on her head, buckled under her chin, her back angled at a near 45 degree slant, her one knee up and her opposite hand, white gloved with fingertips aside of her eyebrow. To me, she was a grand figure exuding grace, confidence, and power. In this leadership role, she probably developed her verbal skills…which with all that ballet, swimming and drill team taught her to do, served her well in her adult life and in her line of work. Success comes to those who know both competitive determination and self-controlled aplomb. She was masterful at these. We are lucky in our family, because both our parents were trained to be educators, and were terrific communicators. Our dad was a top-notch salesman and our mother had boundless gift of gab. So, C like all of us, had good examples to pattern after, and she did. Thus, what she learned for the ballet stage, the swimming pool, the street marching parades and leadership amongst peers, were fine character-strengthening activities.
When I think of my sister, I think of a person who as I was growing up, was just a bit too old for me to have had her as a confidant. Yet, she was simply that amazing and mystifying Big Sister. What is dear to my heart though, is how later in our adulthood, we came to really understand one another. We have always known we were cut from different cloths. But, as years move on, we learn to appreciate our differences. In recent years, my sister has proven to be the one beacon of hope and resolve that has guided me through turbulent waters. When my premature son was born she was the first and only person who behaved as if he would most certainly survive. She was his first visitor at home and the first to allay my fears. When my other son graduated from high school, she wrote him a beautiful letter of encouragement- a class act if there ever was one. When it came time for me to stand up for myself in divorce court, she was there- with contacts, advice and a plan. Finally, she has been the salient voice that has told me how deserving I am of what I earned in my profession and that what is due me is worth fighting for. Again, the contacts, the advice and the plan were freely given. Not t mention the countless hours of effort involved in research.
There is nothing better in this world than having a person in your life that truly respects and realizes our true worth. They become cheerleaders for you, and they do not waste time with words. Instead, they DO supportive deeds. My big sister has bolstered me up through the toughest of times. She has been my rock in many ways. Perhaps, the sweetest part is having been the recipient of her generous invitations to hear the philharmonic. On such occasions we have conversed over fine meals and shared the same quietly born, music-induced, emotional tears. Life really doesn’t get more poignant than this. Well, she does know my love for my sons as she has the same for her daughters and grandkids. As women, perhaps that is the creme de la creme of all that can be understood and shared. Yes, she is definitely a super business-woman, but moreover, a super person. She has earned the “Rhodes Scholar” standing in life- being the best a daughter, sister, and mother could be. No wonder she has such a wonderful husband as well.
This brings me to one of the absolute most dear memories I have ever had regarding my sister. One summer, which I believe was the summer after her first year in college, I walked with her from our house way up at the top of our very long lane, down the long drive past two avocado groves and two neighboring homes, to our mailbox. It was fixed to a post alongside the neighbor’s box who lived in front of us, I remember having a good talk with her as we walked in our play clothes in the beating sun. I sensed something different about her. I didn’t really know what, but it was a bit tantalizing to feel. When we got to our mailbox, she dug inside to retrieve the contents within. Then, she stopped, pulled out one more thing in a whisk of wild surprise! It was a postcard and she dropped half of the letters onto the ground as she voraciously read the card with those lovely Czech, wide-blue eyes of hers. “What is it? Who is it to? Who is it from? What does it say!”….”It’s from a boy I know from school…and it seems he does keep his promises. He said he would write me on his family trip to Hawaii” “Really? A boy? How exciting!” “Can I see?” “Please, can I read it?” …With the most solidly flattening “No”, she drew the line. But, she peered down at me, and smiled, then proceeded to skip all the way back up our driveway lane to home. That “boy” became her lifelong husband and to this very day they are still madly in love.
Yes, sisters are like that. Age differences can be difficult, but the sisterly bonds of love are clasped with ease. I love my Big Sis. I am in awe. And I am in her debt for all the kindnesses she has done for me.
Happy Birthday to her!