Everthing I Know In Life I Learned From My Sister
My sister is an amazing woman. She is always right and knows it. She is always ready to give advice and is full of many, what I call, Judyisms! She says things like, “I can’t find my way out of a paper bag” when referring to the fact the she is “directionally challenged.” Instead of saying, “This is so easy, anyone can do it!” she says, “This is like shooting fish in a barrel!”
She is also a woman of many rules, the top three of which include the following:
1. NEVER, EVER wash a cast iron frying pan.
2. Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator.
3. Don’t handle pie crust too much or it will become tough and not flaky.
Our mother became terminally ill when I was eight years old. My sister willingly took on the role of my mother. Our father was an alcoholic and incapable of caring for us, and Judy became my mother at the ripe old age of 13.
She taught me about hygiene. She taught me what it meant to be a young lady. She taught me how to sit with my legs crossed. She taught me how to cook. She would send me to the store to buy fabric and two days later I would have a new wardrobe which she sewed. She taught me how to clean bathrooms and scrub floors and not be lazy. She bought me my first bra.
Judy always made sure that we had something to eat each night, even if our meal was her personal favorite, crispy fried potatoes. One night, we had a gourmet dinner of boxed macaroni and cheese and lima beans. It was a feast for us. Two things to eat at one meal! Since it was such a happy occasion, my sister told me and my other sister that we could each invite a friend to dinner. She worked hard preparing that meal. She set the table. We had napkins. At dinner, someone started a food fight. Before long, there was macaroni and cheese and lima beans strewn all over our dining room. My sister became irate. Then she started to cry. She sent our friends home and, for the first time ever, she sent me to my room. I didn’t understand what the big deal was! Weren’t we all kids, having a good time being kids? No. My sister was no longer a child. She was my mother.
After a few years, our father sent us to live with foster parents. I was told by them that Judy was no longer my mother. She should be allowed to enjoy life as a carefree teenager, unshackled by the very heavy responsibility of me. I pretended to understand, but I was shaken inside. As it turns out, it was a false alarm. Judy continued to be my mother. She continued to take me under her wing and teach me about life. When I started my period, I didn’t tell my foster mother. I called Judy.
The summer before Judy married, she decided that it would be good for me to learn the value of hard work…the joy of earning my own money. She got me a job at the fruit sheds, cutting apricots. Every morning, she would wake me before the sun rose and take me to the sheds. We were paid by the box, and Judy would stay there with me some mornings, in her dress work clothes, cutting fruit so I could make more money. She packed my lunch every morning and made sure I had plenty to drink. At the end of the day, she was there waiting for me to take me home. I used the money I made that summer to buy her dishes for a wedding gift. It was a small gift in comparison to what she had always given me.
When Judy got married, a well-meaning guest told me that I was no longer to be the focus of Judy’s life. Now she would have a husband to care for. He was to come first…before me. I could no longer expect the same attention from her that I had come to expect and need. I went to the bathroom and sobbed. Although I loved my new brother-in-law, I was heartbroken at the thought of having to live life without her. Her new husband made a rule that they would have no family visitors to their new home for six months after their marriage. The day they returned from their honeymoon, Judy called me. She came and picked me up and took me to her home for the weekend. My mother was back.
Throughout the next few years, I spent most every free second at Judy’s house. We laughed often. We cooked together. We went places together. I was growing up. She had done a good job raising me.
My foster mother made it very clear to me that when I reached age 18, she would no longer receive funds from the State for my “care” and that I would have to find other living arrangements. Shortly before my 17th birthday I met a young man who was in the Air Force. He was nice. He had a job. He also had a car. He told me I was pretty. He wanted to take care of me and provide for me. We became engaged three months later and were married a week after my 18th birthday, right after the State stopped paying for my “care.”
My sister was not pleased. At the time, I thought she was unreasonable, however, having raised three children of my own, I now understand her panic. My marriage drove a wedge between us. Things were not the same and, for many, many years, our relationship was strained. There were times when I thought it was irreparably broken.
I moved far, far away from Judy. I raised three children. I was too proud to call her when I needed parenting or marriage advice. I wanted her to think I had the perfect life and could make it without her. She was busy raising her family. She could mother them and no longer needed to heap her advice on me.
Now that our children are grown and on their own, Judy and I have reconnected with each other. There is something comforting about being with her. We share memories that no one else shares. We laugh a lot. We talk about things that matter.
Recently when Judy was visiting my home, she scolded me for breaking one of her rules. I told her, “I’m a grown woman. I have raised three children. I am a grandmother. I am NOT afraid of you anymore. You are NOT my mother!”
She laughed at me and said, “Yes, you are still afraid of me!”
I suppose she is right. She will always have some power over me. I will always care what she thinks. She will always be my mother and I am so grateful to her for giving up her youth to save mine.