Whispered prayers and soft goodbyes
Echo under silent skies
When you were ready
He cradled you near
I held your hand and shed a tear
Leave me now and save a place
In the family circle of heaven’s embrace
When it’s my time
Please take my hand
And guide me to the Promised Land
Dedicated to my sister Eileen
My sister, square-box Brownie camera in hand, notices that one of my shoes is unbuckled. The skirt of her tulle-layered wedding gown parts the long blades of grass as she bends down to weave the small strap through the tiny silver buckle.
I’m not sure of the indelible significance of that moment but it has lasted a lifetime.
My next memory of my sister is three or four years later. She sits in a straight-backed chair and gently loosens the folds of soft wool to introduce me to my baby nephew. I am in awe.
With his arrival comes the opportunity to bathe, diaper, and feed. This real baby soon replaces my treasured doll. It is then that I wonder how old I must be to have my own babies. I figure I have to wait at least until I am ten.
During the many weekends and summers spent at my sister’s house, aside from the steadfast rule to never ever leave the bedroom without making the bed, I learn the fundamentals of cooking, cleaning, and caring for little boys − ultimately numbering three.
I learn that before the husband arrives home from work, the wife must set the table for dinner, brush her hair, put on a decent dress, and apply lipstick – beauty red – with purposeful precise strokes and then blot with a single square of toilet tissue.
I learn to slice cucumbers and onions paper-thin and serve them in a bowl filled with vinegar and lots of salt and pepper. To place a dish of celery sticks and radishes on the table for every dinner. That creamed corn and mashed potatoes always accompany pork chops. To add finely diced raw onion along with milk and butter to the cooked potatoes before mashing them to a creamy smooth texture. After the meal, to sweep the kitchen floor and wash the dishes immediately.
I learn that her favourite time of day is late afternoon. When all the floors are dust mopped and the dinner vegetables are prepared, she settles in with a pot of tea and cigarettes to watch her soap operas. I stand behind her chair brushing her thick dark hair. She loves having her hair brushed. So much so that I regret having started the habit.
Sisters will always intertwine in childhood recollections but not all my memories are so distant. Many years later when we’re both grey-haired, on a rare occasion when she agrees to go shopping, we kibitz back and forth in a teasing sisterly way, having a bit of fun.
I struggle putting her walker into my trunk and then help her fasten her seatbelt when she begins to curse ‘that damned thing’. I threaten her. Don’t start your complaining or else ..., I say. As we pull out of the mall parking lot, she lowers her window shouting ‘elder abuse’ to all who could hear. The years melt away in our laughter.
Because of our age difference, she is forever teaching and telling. A practice she finds hard to break. I remind her that I am now a grandmother. She can stop lecturing me as if I were a young teen. That’s the problem with being the youngest in a large family. No matter my age, I’ll always be the kid.
So many memories.
She was beautiful, my husband commented while looking at a picture. I don’t mean just attractive, she was a very beautiful woman, he said.
His words nudge my memory of the lively sparkle of her deep brown eyes, her shining black hair, and the vivacious smile that always seemed on the verge of laughter. The red dress that brought out her dark beauty. The sharpness of her tongue, her boisterous laugh, and the confidence in knowing she was always right.