Saturday evening. I receive a text from my one and only sister, my older sister by four years, Tina.
“I was thinking about you. There are 2 little sisters that live down the street and they were running around the yard with their panties on their head just laughing their heads off!!”
I text her back that I love her…because I do. I love that she takes the time to share something like that with me. She keeps us connected. Our relationship is safe in her hands. She knows what a loner I am and reaches out to keep us going like she has done for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine what my childhood, my life, would have been like without her.
Tina was the “big sister”. She was more than that to me. She was my entertainment chairman, my teacher, my second mom, my guide, my chauffeur, my own personal comedian, my partner in crime, and my best friend. Her imagination knew no bounds, nor did her energy. She came up with things for us to do and saw to it that I did them. There were no questions between us; only telling and obeying. I don’t ever think it even occurred to me that I had any choice. I was happy to have someone who knew how to create the perfect childhood activity; to guide me from one blissful day to the next. I looked up to her and wanted to be everything I believed she was, everything that I was not.
*Tina stands on the see-saw, gliding back and forth, seeming to rock the skies back and forth as well. I ask for my turn. She was there first and I will just have to wait until she is through. I watch her nimble body and just know that she is having the best time ever!!! Finally, she tires of it and heads into the house. I jump aboard like there is someone else that could take my turn even though I am now the only one outside. I attempt the same rocking motion, applying pressure to one foot and then, the other. Awkwardly, the swinging begins and the hornets that had built their nest in the top of the swing set decide they have just had enough!!! Barely started in my coveted activity, I am forced to jump and run while countless stingers are being injected in my tender skin.
*My sister and I share the same bed. Her legs and arms are long and skinny and demand a good portion of the mattress. Tina’s energy is not quite played out and so she shows me how to make a good “fart” noise on the fleshy part of my upper arm. We both practice and laugh hysterically at our expertise in this finer art. Ha! The art of fart!!! We are laughing so hard that tears are coming from our eyes and suddenly I am thirsty. I stick my head out into the living room where Daddy is watching television before heading to the kitchen. “What are you two doing in there?”, he laughs. “Farting…” I giggle.
*We are camping at Lake Texhoma. It is early evening and Tina decides it is time to teach me how to look for grapevines. “We are going to smoke them,” she informs me. How she knows these things, I don’t think to ask. We find some because she knows what she is looking for and we take a section back to the campsite. She hands it over to Daddy and he shows us how to break it, light it, and then, laughs while we choke on the smoke. I don’t quite understand how burning the back of your throat and coughing is supposed to be fun, but what do I know?
*We are playing in the garage, which has become storage for all of the things our family doesn’t know what else to do with. It is hot because it is summer time. There is my old drum set in the corner that my brother, Brady has beat the tops out of with old soda bottles that Mama is saving for a rainy day to be cashed in for the deposit money. Tina has a brain storm. We are going to have our own haunted house right there in our garage. She orchestrates our respective jobs. I watch in awe as she takes one of our old baby dolls with its ratty hair, dirty plastic body, and bitten-off fingers and begins pouring ketchup all over it. “It’s blood,” she informs me as she ties a rope around baby’s neck and ties it from the garage door hardware.
*Some of Tina’s friends have come to our house to visit. Of course, I am hanging around because that is my job and I’m waiting for further instruction. Tina’s eyes light up and I know she has just had the best idea ever! “Holly, we really need a D.J. Why don’t you take this walkie-talkie (which happened to be my walkie-talkie) and we will keep this one. You can play records for us on the record player and we can listen to them out here in the yard. You will be a good disc jockey!” Praise. She picks her weapon well. I go into our bedroom, joyful. I will be the best disc jockey! I professionally announce each tune before I carefully set the needle on the precious vinyl. I hold a death’s grip on the transmitor button as the table spins and the tunes play. Eventually, I decide to look out and see how the girls are enjoying my efforts. They are gone! I’ve been duped!!! Duped and dumped!
* Momma’s crabapple trees have produced a bumper crop. Tina has turned into entrepreneur. We are instructed to gather, wash, and mash the hard fruit. Tina then takes one of Momma’s Kool-aid pitchers and mixes the bruised fruit with sugar and water. She tastes it from the mixing spoon and then, hands her efforts over for me to taste. “Mmm…good!” I lie. Out come the crayons and paper. She makes signs. She and the neighbor girl, Kim will stand there by the Crabapple Water Stand she has set up. I will go up and down the street, advertising our new “product” by singing at the top of my voice this song that she has come up with as our advertising promotion. “Crabapple Water…good for the tummy!!! Crabapple Water…yummy, yummy, yummy!!!!” I learn the song quickly because I’m just that good and strut off with my very important sign, singing in my very best voice the tune that my clever sister has devised. I walk; I sing; I turn; up and down our middle class street. I return, wore out and thirsty, to find that our business has been shut down due to unhealthy sales. No one bothers to let me in on our failure.
I could go on and on, for the memories are stacked deep in my mind where I can take them out and treasure them. I feel sorry for any child who didn’t have an older sister or brother to “boss” them around. They miss out on so much!
I recently told Tina that I was thinking of doing a story about having her as a big sister and all the creative things she came up for us to do. She laughed, pleased, and began telling me the stories I should tell. Some things never change!
We’ve been through so much together. We were both baptized on the same evening. We laid in our joint bed that night, wishing that God would take us as we slept, while we were fresh and clean. We cooked and cleaned our house together. We swam. We dreamed of boys…the men that would carry us off and marry us. I studied the way she dressed; the way she danced; the way she told a joke. I wanted to be just like her. Today, we shop and forage for treasures in antique shops. We pray for each other’s children.
The day that I received divorce papers in the mail from my first husband, I called Tina. I heard the tears in her voice as she announced she would be there with me as soon as she could get there. She came and held me while both our bodies racked with sorrow and grief. She spent the night, making sure I would not be alone.
A sister is a forever friend. I’ve read this somewhere and it is true.
I love you, Tina!