Carol Jane Remsburg
It's not until you've grown older that you can remember with any fondness the memories of growing up with your sisters or sister. Me, I had two, both older than me. I was the youngest and labeled a brat from even the yonder hills. Therefore I can't renounce it, but I can now recall certain episodes of our life that we can laugh over, smile over, and even cry over.
We were a passel of three daughters born in 1956, 1958, and 1960. Therefore, my oldest sister (Melody)—rightfully dubbed "The Tyrant with the tongue of fire" was four years my senior. Middle sis (Betsy)—labeled "Miss Goody-Two Shoes—unless you weren't looking" was two years my elder. And I, well, I was that bratty little "no account" kid sister who always mucked everything up for the older kids until I learned the fine art of extortion. I didn't learn that little trick until I was almost old enough to drive so it didn't help me much. Call me a slow learner.
Memories from childhood are deceptive things. They really are. You remember what you want to and sometimes you discount the ugly parts into a place where there is no retrieval. It's sort of like the black abyss, not even a black hole. That memory is GONE—unless you have someone to remind you of it. You may not want to remember it, but they'll haul it forth like some aged party favor that hasn't grown any lovelier over the years. I have one sister like that. She is an honest soul and awakens memories that sometimes I thought I only recalled.
Funny thing about those memories, most of them aren't bad. Many of them were fun, giddy, and left forgotten in the rush like a favored toy dropped in the rush to get to the ice cream truck before it turned the corner. Other memories are always there and held so closely that it feels odd that someone else might know them or even want to revisit them.
Tonight I was reminded of a childhood terror that still stalks my daydreams as well as my slumber. Growing up when and how we did, our parents were invulnerable. They were stalwart and omniscient. They were only one step below God and governed all in our worlds. That world of ours blew apart one day when the doctors pronounced there was Cancer in the family. Cancer, that dreaded disease that meant certain death back in 1969-1970 had targeted my sister, Melly—that one with the tongue of fire, that gangly girl that made my life a misery, the girl with the spooky, sad eyes—making her so ill.
I was nine when my entire world crumbled. Melly was sick, not just with the flu or a cold, Melly was sick enough to die. When I was nine death wasn't a nodding acquaintance. It wasn't even a stranger other than to the elderly in our family and that hurt enough. The idea that death could strike a child, a child in my own family, even one I longed to best and batter left me dumbstruck. Yes, that "moony-look or stare" was about how it took me. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how anything so awful would dare approach my sister, that most formidable creatures that only allowed me a shot of a barb under the cover of a clear escape. No, Cancer couldn't—but it did.
The whole family learned a lot about Cancer in a very short time. The most obvious thought was that the disease was a killer and that it could only be held in check for so long—that the cancer would win in the end. Melly was 12 going on 13 at the time. Oh, we learned quite a lot.
We learned that Melly could puke for hours on end. We learned that Melly could be bald and still be hateful. We learned that Daddy could work three jobs to help cover what the insurance didn't. I learned that Mom could fight the doctors and God and win. I also learned that I loved Melly, that I loved her more than I could imagine. I couldn't envision a day without her barbs, her snobby sauntering exits, and her knowing everything that I didn't. I just couldn't take that hole in my life. I learned to pray.
I also learned that Daddies could cry. There is no memory like that of a child facing a parent crying over a child they feel they are losing. The doctors had come as near to stating that Melly wouldn't win this battle as they dared. What the doctors didn't know was how hard both my parents would fight to keep her. They also didn't count on Melly's downright refusal to be dismissed. Melly never could stand to be dissed in any form from illness to a stranger's slight. Melly fought back with all the support and strength Mom and Dad could provide.
I have to admit that I was little more than a bystander to it all. Middle sister, Betsy, did all the little homemaker duties and won all the kudos for being such a wonderful little girl. I was the brat—remember? But I do remember. I remember all of it with picture postcard clarity—a whole bunch of them. I was terrified and I don't think I ever felt safe after Melly was "cured." Melly's older now; she's 45. She's the darling of the docs who said she couldn't but did. She doesn't like to think about that often, but she does—and she keeps that to herself and doesn't think I know. Once in a while we talk about it like we did tonight.
Her own daughter is ill. No, not with cancer, but with a viral infection bad enough for a hospital visit and Mommy isn't happy with the results because Mandi isn't well yet. I don't blame her.
Sister memories can be a joy and a curse. Oh, we can remember all the happy times of the holidays and camping trips, we can recall the fun times of just being silly when we played games in the basement, and we can also know what it's like to conquer in the face of death. Melly did it. Her daughter will recover from her ills, but "Mommy" Mel will be as fierce as our own mother was in protecting her cub. I'm the same way. We give strength to our own, nurturing them along and will fight anything in our paths.
Yea, we are sisters. We know and we live. Melly did all the hard work, but I've learned and shall never forget. These are the memories of sisters.