Posts Tagged ‘sisters’


Dear Mom,

I finished organizing my tiny sewing corner. It’s not much. Yes, that’s polymer clay supplies in the crate above the yarn. What can I say: it fits. I use sewing supplies for making creatures, anyway, not really for sewing. Sewing is for mending. I just did not inherit your gene for enjoying creating with thread. Fabric, yes: it’s the texture.

Oh, I do want to ask you about that coconut head there. I really don’t understand it. It has a soft purple satin lining and that – that funky face. I’m not certain if it is racist or creative, but I can’t bear to part with it. My grandchildren may condemn me for it, so I will put your name inside it and a disclaimer. “Not certain if Mary Lou Wilcox made this or inherited it, and I don’t know its purpose, but I couldn’t bear to part with it because it was hers. It’s funky. You have to love the FUNKY. In any case, it was created circa 1950-1965. I think.”

After I took that photo, I started moving things around in the studio.

Looks like my bedroom when I was a kid, doesn’t it? I swear that was because my sister refused to pick up her things, not because of me. She was the guilty party. Remember: I kicked her out of our shared bedroom when I was fifteen. I piled everything of hers – including her bed – in the hallway. I was tired of being blamed for that mess!

I promise this all has an ultimate purpose. Not kicking Denise out of the bedroom – that was so long ago! – but the current mess in my studio. I’m moving furniture and storage units around so that I can clear a perimeter and have a nice, neat, organized studio again. I have a plan.


This is hardly the end plan, but I did get one wall lined up. I can’t reveal my plan – I don’t have it written down and I only have a blue print in my head, but it involves changing out the contents of the red tool box, the round industrial soap container, the quaint tole house, and the locker.

I have so much crap.


Your oldest daughter.

PS – I really was the Neat Freak. You never had to ask me to make my bed or clean my bedroom after I kicked Denise out. I’m sorry you had to move your sewing room downstairs to give her a bedroom to sleep in. It really was for the best. And I really did love her.

Except when she dressed like me. I really, really, really hated her when she got up in the morning and put on clothes to match what I was wearing. We weren’t twins, you know.

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She was fourteen. I was going on seventeen. We hated each other, and we fought. She was out of control, spiraling away from family. I was making plans to leave home forever as soon as graduation rolled around the following spring. She was drinking heavily, immersing her pain in drugs and sex. I blamed her for the anguish I saw in our parents’ eyes when they searched for her or she stumbled home, drunk, again, long after curfew.

There’s a lot I blame myself for: I was the older sister. I should have been an ear for her, but she never felt safe confessing her troubles to me. I was as much an enemy as the parents were, or maybe more: I was everything she was not: the A student, the over-achiever, the college-bound, the “good” girl. I took advantage of that, as only a teenage older sister can.

But there was this one night – this one hallowed evening. She was grounded. There was a carnival in town. She wanted to go; I didn’t. Frankly, I get motion sick and carnivals are *not my thing*. But my parents told me I could take her to the carnival (as if it were a great favor bestowed upon me). So I made an effort: we’d be like we were before drugs, alcohol, sex, and the move to a new town blew us apart. We’d be sisters. We’d have fun.

I can tell you exactly how much Sam cost, 43 years later. The smell of cotton candy. The sounds of the Carnies hawking their games. The array of plates you had to land your dime on to win a prize (and that prize was somewhere in the pen below, peeping and frightened: a duckling).

“I want one,” she declared.

“Dad will never let you keep it.”

“He will if I cry.” She had large, dark brown eyes. She’d gifted me a kitten a couple of years earlier, and I got to keep him because I shed alligator tears and Mom went to bat for me. It was possible, I reckoned.

“I’ll try.” I tossed dime after dime. At ten dimes, I began to hesitate.


“Okay, but only two more dimes. No more.”

He cost $1.20. He fit into a 16-ounce paper cup. He bonded instantly with the human carrying him. She named him “Sam”, after herself. She’d been “Sam” since a backyard baseball game when she was four, and the umpire (a neighbor) gave us all boy names so we could play baseball with the boys (“They’re girls! They can’t play!!”). My “boy” name never stuck, but hers did: she was ever afterward, “Sam”.

And now her duck was Sam.

And Dad was not happy.

And no amount of alligator tears, pleas from me, or any other begging gesture would sway him: the duck would GO. NO DUCK.

It ripped a tear into our family fabric that took ages to mend. Dad took the duck (forever named Sam) to a rancher friend of his, some 60 miles away, near Baker, Nevada. Sam would live and grow old with the ducks in the pond. My sister continued to spiral out of control, feeling unloved, lost, and betrayed. It took me years to understand and forgive Dad myself: what’s a duck worth? Yeah, Dad had the duck’s future in mind, but did he have my sister’s future in mind?

Did my parents understand the small gesture that might have swayed her out of her self-destruction? Did I?

I’ve never forgiven myself for those 12 dimes. I knew better. I knew Dad would not bless the duck. I merely hoped. And I so wanted to have a fun night with my little sister, a moment to remember – fondly.

Tonight, when I was painting this duck, he began to speak to me.

Sam - image is smaller than seen on the screen: 2x3"

I’m forgiven. By my sister and by the duck.

She died before we ever sat down and talked about The Damn Duck (as I refer to him in my memory). I assume she and Dad came to a place of forgiveness as well, as they were close when she died.

They are all gone now: Dad, Deni, the Duck. Sam, however lives on in my mini painting. And my heart. Because at that moment, at age 17, I never meant to betray my sister’s trust. It took me a long time to forgive our father for that betrayal. I got the reasoning right away, but the emotional impact…

I’m not sure I understand his reasoning tonight. It was a duck. It imprinted on my sister. It probably would have had a shortened life if we had kept it and she had to care for it, but… maybe it could have changed her life. Her self esteem.

But if her self esteem had been elevated, would I be aunt to the amazing nieces and nephews i am aunt to?

Maybe Sam was the sacrifice that had to be made for my nieces and nephews to exist. That would be a good reason for a duck to be hatched, sold to a carnival, and purchased for $1.20 in dimes.

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Damn. I looked over at the calendar. Today is March 2nd. Sixteen years ago, my father called me, almost in a panic. He didn’t know what was happening, but my sister was critically ill. She was so ill, in fact, that she was in a coma and on a helicopter to Reno from Ely, Nevada. She could have gone to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City – it’s all about equi-distant from Ely: a good 5-hour drive. But my family has always gravitated to Reno.

I remember how numb I was when Dad called again on the 3rd. She didn’t make it. My little sister, the one person I had a profound love/hate relationship, was gone. The one who once bit me over who got the blankets in our shared bed (she had them all and I just wanted my share, but she rolled over and bit me). The girl who purposely mimicked my clothing choices throughout my high school years (and her junior high years), often bringing out the worst in me because I couldn’t see imitation as a sincere form of flattery. The girl who drank her way through her Freshman year in high school, often stumbling home in the wee hours of the night – she was gone.

Since her death, I have been overwhelmed by the number of kids we grew up with who have messaged me and told me how much they loved her. Her laugh. Her ability to tell a joke. Her very dry sense of irony. Her one-liners. Her way of living life for the moment. Her fierce and loyal friendship.

I held her hand from a distance when she had to give up her first born to adoption. I still have all the poems she wrote about that dark time in her life, how she didn’t want to let the baby go. We cried over the phone together.

I sensed, much later in life, that her words to me were often staged: the words of a little girl who just wanted her older sister to love her and be proud of her, unconditionally. She’d detail house plans, redecorating schemes, art projects. She wanted me to love her.

I did love her, but not. How does an older sister put that into words. I was the “good” child, the do-gooder, the A+ student, the never-does-anything-wrong kid. The unintentional suck-up. Truth was, I don’t have a daring bone in my psyche. Risk of physical pain? I’ll take the easy way out. My sister (and my brother) would face the pain head-on. I am the unabashed introvert. Brother and sister: extroverts. I am the one that takes everything into some deep place and over-analyzes. I am the clumsy one.

I remember some girls picking on my sister. I no longer remember the circumstances, just that they were to the point of physical bullying. It so happened that my best friend and I happened upon a scene of them bullying my little sister. They were big girls, much bigger than me. But that was MY little sister, goddammit, and *I* was the ONLY person allowed to give her a hard time. I’d recently found my voice in life, and I used it that day, at the mouth of an alley way, to lay into three girls who had no business being bullies. me, all 70-pounds of petite, chasing bullies with her words.

Words became my weapon. My sister learned to break beer bottles over people’s heads. Not exactly a technique I would ever be good at, but she excelled at.


The thing is, her youngest kid is graduating from high school this year. She has no memory of her mother. A few photos. A strong resemblance to me. No idea of the teenager her mother was. Huh. Her mom was a teenager until my mother died. Deni decided then that she needed to grow up. She was probably about 23 emotionally when she died. She was chronologically 40 years old and starting to look older than I am now. Life’s a bitch.

Grief comes with layers. You grieve for the lost relationship, for the things you didn’t get to say or do, for the love of the person. When anniversaries come, I grieve for the loss of my family: Mom, Sister, Dad. There’s just the two of us left now, and all of our children (my brother’s, mine, and my sister’s). I miss the laughter. The hugs. The covert whispers after dark. The secrets we promised to never tell. The looks that passed between us. The feel of her hair in my fingers as I braided it for the last time in 1998, standing in Dad’s kitchen as he and my daughter went through a box of mementos on the sun porch.

Dad’s 70th birthday. The last time I held my sister in my hands. She had headaches, she said. I told her to try braiding her hair differently: two braids instead of one heavy one down her back. I proceeded to part her hair and braid it for her.

Sisters have complicated relationships. I desperately wanted to work through ours. I wanted to figure out where and how I’d hurt her. I knew she’d forgive me: that’s what she always did. I wasn’t ready to forgive myself. Oldest sister. The bitch. Me. It doesn’t matter now. She’s gone.

And she’s come back from the dead to let me know she forgave me long, long ago. I still see her as about 10 years old.

004The girl I see in my visions.

001Playing dress up in the basement

003“How much can I torture Jaci’s cat?”

002Always styling.

I love you and miss you, Mary Denise.




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Did I mention there was the possibility of Dementors in this? No, not my sister. She was more like a vampire. But not when she first came into the world. That happened when we fought over blankets and she bit me. Hard. I think I was six at the time, and she was three. And later, she and I both fought Dementors.

1959. Elko, Nevada.

We lived in Elko during the school year. Winter in Jarbidge country is harsh and the roads snow in. There was no need for a young Forest Ranger to keep his family in the high country during the long, cold, winters.

We stayed in a tiny white house with green trim in the metropolis of Elko, Nevada. The man who ate worms lived on one side of us (I did not make this up), and my best friend, Brenda Brush, lived on the other side. I didn’t make up her name, either.

The man who ate worms was problematic. He growled at us kids. He told us he ate worms. I believed him. My mother, on that unfathomable plane, thought he was funny. I think my brother thought it was a joke, too. But I was afraid of him. He ate worms, for crying out loud! What next? Pill bugs?

I was not aware there was anything odd about my mother, but one day my grandparents came to stay with us and my dad took my mother away somewhere. My grandparents let us eat out at the fast food place, and they even bought me a foot long hot dog, despite my brother’s warnings (the tattle tale) that I wouldn’t eat it. Grandpa put it in the fridge for me when I didn’t eat it, smiling kindly and patting my head. He didn’t get all mad like my dad.

I don’t remember her coming home. Just one day there was a crib in the basement with my brother and me, and we had to be quiet lest we woke the baby up.

I remember sneaking out of bed one night and climbing to the top of the stairs where the baby gate was locked in place. We had the gate because of my little sister, not me. Mom was bent over her books in the kitchen. I don’t think Dad was home, or I would never have been brave enough to sit on the stairs and whine. Mom never scared me as much as Dad did, but she wasn’t giving in and I had to go back to bed.

Mom had a dog. I think it was a chihuahua mix. Squeaky. That should tell you everything you need to know about the dog. Squeaky. Who names a dog that? What kind of evil dwells inside of a dog named that? Why would they unleash that horror onto unsuspecting small children in the early mornings? Squeaky would leave no bone unturned. No flesh un-nipped.

He nipped, whined, yapped, nipped. His sharp teeth pinched and I swear he grinned at my mom when she giggled at us. He never drew blood, but – by God! – his nips hurt!

I hated Squeaky.

I loved the little bundle of human being we called Denny. I didn’t even care that she un-throned me as Baby. There would be plenty of time for sisterly spats in our future.

She was olive-skinned, with dark hair and black eyes. Her coloring was so foreign to the rest of us: fair-skinned, brown-haired, hazel-eyed. Even Dad was fair skinned enough that he didn’t look like my sister, and his light brown eyes were no match for her fierce black eyes. His only advantage was his jet black hair – that trait  my sister did not inherit. People looked at Mom and Dad, and then waggled their eye brows. Mom brushed aside the questions of my sister’s father with a laugh, “Oh, it was the old Indian down the road.”

Years later, her cheeks would flush red when she thought about that statement. She hadn’t meant it like it sounded. Mom only meant it as a way of deflecting people in the same way I learned to deflect people when I was alone with my children, a generation later. Only my children were pasty white with pale white hair and large blue eyes. My tan skin, brown hair, and hazel eyes was not reflected anywhere in them. I counted the rude comments. My mother made them into a joke.

And somewhere in there, Squeaky passed over the Rainbow Bridge. My mother cried, I am sure. She loved her little dogs. I didn’t even note his passing, cruel child.

But I did make friends with the man who ate worms. He let me in on the joke about the time I left the house to attend Kindergarten. He just said that to gross us out. I vowed to grow up to be like him and eat worms.

I need to tell my grandkids that I eat worms. They won’t believe me.

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