Before I even got out of bed this morning, I grabbed my cell phone, hoping to beat my sisters Ann and Adrienne to the punch. I texted my sister Joyce: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! Then I scrolled over to Facebook, where she's recently started using a profile that I created for her. I posted the same birthday message. For good measure, I called and sang on her voice mail.
I like a good tradition -- ours is, "See who can call someone first on their birthday"!!!!
My sister Joyce and I shared a bedroom during my childhood. She never cleaned her side of the room; I always kept mine "neat and tidy" and made my bed "tight as a drum, neat as a pin" so that our Nana could bounce a quarter off the quilt. Joyce and I shared the sunroom for a while, with its nine windows to the outside world. She had the half farthest from the door. Once I braided a rope and stretched it wall-to-wall, dividing the room in half to stake a claim to cleanliness. That lasted until my mother pointed out that I had blocked Joyce's exit from the room.
Like everyone in our family, Joyce started working an after-school job as soon as she could. She got a job at Kresge's, the dime store at Northland Shopping Center. I'd walk the three or four blocks up Kinamore to sit at the soda fountain after school, until I started my own after-school job. I would watch her waiting on customers and tell people, That's my sister. I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world.
Joyce taught me how to shave my legs and wear blue eye shadow. I adored her. I would do anything my brother Mark told me to do because I thought he was smarter than I, but my sister Joyce could command me and I would obey out of sheer devotion. I fetched food from the kitchen for her when she lay in bed needing sleep from working too late. I gathered her laundry and took her turn doing dishes. I never complained. I adored her.
One summer Joyce found a black rock embedded in the edge of our driveway. She called it "shiny rock" and polished it with spit and her sleeve. She told me it might be worth thousands of dollars, and if she could get it out of the concrete, she would sell it and give the money to our mother. So she won't cry anymore, Joyce told me. We spent hours studying that rock, crouched on the driveway, knees bent, trying to pry it out with sticks.
Joyce worked full-time or more during college and never had enough hours to get her course-work done. The summer before her graduation, she discovered that she lacked a required credit in Children's Literature. She worked out a deal with the professor to do reports on 100 children's books. She went to the bookmobile and came home with a box of kiddie lit. We divided the stack in half. She read 50; I read 50. Half of the reports were written in my careful high school penmanship. She got an A for the class. I've never been more proud of a grade, including when I made Law Review.
Joyce got married for the first time in 1969. I walked in her wedding. I wore a green dress and dangle earrings which I still have. She had her daughter on January 29, 1977, and a million miles away in Boston, I wrote my new niece's name and birth-weight on a wall of graffiti that my roommates had in the kitchen. Ten years later, my sister stood beside me when I got married.
We held each other through both divorces. She holds me still. She holds me still.
My sister Joyce tried to get me to climb into the casket we selected for our Mother. She told the funeral guy, We want our Mom to be comfortable. I would have done it. I would do anything she asked. But the salesman would not let us. He said, Ladies, your mother will not know the difference. Joyce told him, You don't know our mother! We laughed so loud I nearly wet my pants, while the funeral director watched us with dismay. Later Joyce told him that we only wanted St. Theresa of the Little Flowers in the holy cards. Our mother's favorite saint, she explained. He told us he would personally remove all the St. Theresa's from the pack of "assorted saints" and insure that the siblings received them. I understood his willingness to do what Joyce asked. I had been eagerly following her commands for three decades.
In the last three years, Joyce has faced some ugly hidden truths about the events of her life. The process nearly killed her, but she prevailed. She has survived. She proved that my adoration of her has a solid foundation. She is the bravest woman I know. I could not do -- have not done -- the self-searching which she used to confront her demons. Mine lie in wait, watching for a chance to torture me, while hers have been cast into the light and shiver beneath my sister's fierce and determined glare.
Happy birthday, J-Bear. See you tomorrow. Rock on!
Saturday, April 16, 2016
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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