Sunday, October 26, 2014

Little Sister

Photo taken at the Junior-Senior Prom, Oklahoma A&M
College-Stillwater , 1946.
From left: Charles Smith - Carolyn Lucas - Pat Lucas Holcomb - Chuck, blind date.
When my sister Carolyn died she took a largday.e chunk of my life with her.
I miss her every day.
"Little Sister" is my tribute.
She comes  to me in dreams, my little sister does. Last night we met in San
Francisco, window shopped, sat at a sidewalk café, laughed at the sights and sounds of a great city. I woke with a smile for the first time in months.

            Is it the end of grief? No, it’s just a brief return, through dreams, to happier times. On another level grief remains. I thought I had used up all my tears. Not so. They are a bottomless well.

            Through time’s telescope I see her yet, the little sister at my heels, the bossy one in training to be a mother. Her brown eyes snap with curiosity and she fusses with her hair, walking slightly bent as if trying to catch up with herself. Too soon we leave childhood behind and go out into the wider world, free to make our own decisions, free to make our own mistakes.

            Where is my little sister, the one who didn’t ask questions when I showed up in her college dorm after a disastrous wartime marriage? I was the foolish one, married too young, divorced and humiliated too quickly. She welcomed me into her circle of friends, got me a date for the prom. Gone was my bossy little sister. In her place was my new best friend.

            She married her prom date, the handsome boy who loved to dance, and time passed in a flurry. When they didn’t have children, they adopted a baby girl. I was sitting in the bleachers at a local high school, watching out brother play baseball, when she came climbing up  through  the empty seats, the baby in her arms, so eager to show off her new daughter.

            It broke some kind of physical or emotional logjam and she had four little boys in rapid succession. Now she was a farm wife living on Old Route 66, coping with wind, dust, school activities, muddy boots, and snowy television beamed in from Amarillo. She cooked big meals, served boarding house style, for custom combine workers who followed the wheat harvest all the way from North Dakota.

            Life unfurled slowly. I moved to California> my little sister stayed where she was but we kept in touch.

            And the years picked up speed. The handsome boy who loved to dance was an agriculture teacher, a farmer and finally a cattle broker for many years. They left the farm and moved to Oklahoma City, putting him closer to the stockyards where he did his work. His final illness was my little sister’s descent into hell.

            When my husband died and I moved back to the Oklahoma City area, my little sister helped collect furniture from relatives to fill the apartment she helped find for me. For a few years we spent precious time together.

            But my little sister was lonely after her husband died and she decided to move back to the western Oklahoma town where they had farmed are reared their children. Things didn’t go as smoothly as she anticipated. She was more a creature of habit, accustomed to city living, than she had realized.

            She missed the cafes and the shopping centers. She missed the daily paper she liked to read while she drank her morning coffee. Getting her TV up and running took a while and she couldn’t always get the programs she liked. Still, she took it in stride, and we talked on the phone every afternoon.

            One day she complained of a pesky pain, some kind of infection, she thought. She ended up in the hospital, and from there she moved into a nursing home. Just before her birthday a brother, a younger sister and I drove out to visit. Her children were still bringing in some of her favorite possessions. She was in pain, so thin her hands were almost like claws, but her dark brown eyes still snapped and she was in a cheerful mood. We chatted and laughed about old times. Before our planned return visit, quite suddenly, she was gone.

            Everywhere I look now, I see her. My apartment is filled with things she gave me, homely things she didn’t need and I did – a floor fan, a floor lamp, a heating pad, a walking cane, an old sweater, a man’s plaid shirt, a pair of walking shoes, too wide for her slender feet but a perfect fit for mine.

            Behind my computer desk hangs a framed snapshot taken more than twenty years ago at a café in San Francisco. Studying it one day she said, “I wish I still looked like that.” I could have, and should have, told her she looked even better than she did on that long-ago afternoon. A lifetime of caring for her family, being everyone’s go-to person, loving children and grandchildren, all of it aged her beautifully.

            And now it is a Sunday in June. Our family gathers at a famous steak house. The handsome boy who loved to dance and my little sister ate here almost every day. Their cattle brand is burned into a couple of the tables.  

            The restaurant is a museum. Buckboards hang from the ceiling on the main floor. The walls are covered by paintings – Indians, cowboys, western landscapes – and artifacts – rugs, animal skins, spurs, lassos. A trophy buffalo head glares down at us.

            The lively couple who started a family more than fifty years ago – the patriarch who ruled it and the matriarch who mothered it – are surely here in spirit. Their children are settling comfortably into middle age; the grandchildren have matured well; the youngest great-grandchild is three days old. The gathering is a tribute to two lives lived fully and joyfully.

            It is the right time and place to say a nostalgic goodbye, and to say with love, thank you. Thank you for everything you meant to us. Thank you for simply being who you were.

 Copyright 2014 Patricia C. Browning