Except for that time when she told on me for saying “Mr. Fart”, and a few times with certain Junior High friends who wanted NOTHING to do with me and she went along with it, and, justifiably, during confusing times setting boundaries as adults, my sister loved me. She championed me. She did insist that I only play clarinet in band when I wanted to play the flute. Hindsight was quick to prove her right.
She was proud of my tennis. She let me into the traveling singing group she and her friends begat. We worked together to make unforgettable meals when mom went back to work. We would hover in front of the stereo with Shelley and John Denver or Evie or the Ralph Carmichael Singers with their Cozy Christmas and sing our hearts out. Family road trips, as we each grew taller, had legs spilling out of the windows of the yellow Datsun 510, making room for the 5, or sometimes 6, occupants. I don’t remember cranky or mean or even frustrated, save for the few times anger would erupt in the shared bathroom over hairdryer or curling iron or “punk rocker pants”. I don’t know if I paid enough attention. Little humans are egocentric, myself included.
We played store on the front porch, school in the basement, built forts outside and danced among the grass-reaching willow branches, singing the John Thompson classic “Stately as princes the swans part the lilies and glide, under the willows…” We more matching holiday dresses or jammies and have photos to prove. Older me floated through days, doing the next thing and the next, schoolwork, homework, yard work, the hard work of emancipation into adulthood. Three years my senior, this sister of mine had gone to floral school and worked for a florist when I was still in high school. She had her Associates degree and was coding before I could decide on a major. She was skeptical of my future spouse, especially when a silly episode with fabric shears resulted in her injury. She fell in love and was married before I graduated university.
She and he brought the most beautiful humans into the world. They lived in our grandpa’s former house, next door to our childhood home. I lived in Timbuktu, next to Carnation’s Tolt River and then in no man’s land between Duvall and Monroe, “the little house among the stumps”, as Grandpa used to say. Tami and Steve let us park their camper among the stumps while the tiny home was constructed. They drove the 45 minutes for birthdays and dinners and workdays; she’d bring the girls for coffee break, to see the chickens. She never complained when using my alternative plumbing. I had space to devote to a large garden, perennials, roses mostly. I thought she should use some of the large backyard for the same at her house. Overwhelmed, she shut me down.
After my profession brought home schooling into the family conversation, she was brave and led her three girls from kindergarten to college, planning lessons, finding curriculum, exploring networks and niches, fielding uncomfortable conversations from those not understanding. She championed her daughters. When it was time for me to become a parent, she held me high and loved my little boy from the day she met him until the day she said good-bye. She held him, fed him, read to him, played with him, listened to him, watched movies with him, was real with him. She loved his endeavors. Her love of him was love of me. I want to always hear the way she called him “Buddy.” She enjoyed that I now had acute understanding of things that I didn’t when babies lived at her house. She reminded me of tactless things I’d said with a smile on her face and a lilt in her voice. She wasn’t looking for apology, though I couldn’t give enough.
At some point, while I wasn’t looking, she began to grow that garden space in the backyard. Just beyond the raspberry rows, it took shape. Roses, perennials, shrubs for butterflies came to thrive. An arbor supporting Cecil Brunner welcomed guests to walk the paths or sit and enjoy. It wasn’t but a moment until her work eclipsed my own attempt at flora. When I came to what is now my home, she was right there with me, pulling weeds, moving sod, constructing a fire pit with broken sidewalk unearthed where the raspberries would go. This was the same fire pit we sat around for my birthday the year they discovered the cancer had found her bone marrow. I had never seen her weak or frail, it scared me. The medicine became more directed.
Each time my profession changed, she took the turn with me. From teacher to tutor to bookkeeper to cook to culinary instructor, she was interested, she visited, she met my people. Introducing my sister was a privilege. When the cancer came, there was little I made that she could enjoy. She began her own research into allergen-free, anti-inflammatory cooking and baking. She was relentless. What I know now of these foods, I learned from her. My current endeavor began during the week she was dying. I was able to share my good news. In hindsight, wanting her to know seems silly. What was, what could she do with the information? She was in a hospital bed where the dining room table usually sat, but bringing her in, as much as I could, meant that she’d be with me all through this new turn. I tell her story whenever appropriate, even sharing tears with new friends who’ve recently lived similar loss, all because they stopped to buy some bread.
When someone loves you, when someone is for you, when someone is behind and beside you, there is a palatable feeling of invincibility. When someone believes in you, it is easier to believe in yourself. My sister did that for me. When a loved one dies, it is natural to think of all that slipped past during life, all those things you didn’t say or do or think. Death brings an undeniable hindsight but I can’t go back. Rather than thoughts detailing my failings as a friend, as a companion, a sister, I think about her and what she gave freely, constantly, never a single string in sight. I know I’m not alone. My sister gave, she lifted up, she loved. I love you, Tami.