I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 days of gratitude to people in my life! Today is the third day. I honor my older sister, Karen.
I had this view of my life that I would follow in my sister, Karen’s footsteps. She’s three years older than I, and did everything perfectly (well, except play that Chopin piece with so many repeated notes I wanted to scream down the stairs from my bed, “Just play the thing through! Stop repeating. Stop repeating!”). She was smart. And popular, but not in the boy-attracting way my older sister, Claudia was. Karen dazzled me with her ability to gather groups of friends into marvelous events that I always wanted to be part of. Her friends were so interesting, and talked about important things like social activism and personal growth and things like that. She was such a nice big sister that she did invite me a few times! I was invited to her friend’s party on the night of the first Moon Walk. I was in Karen’s glorious circle of friends with eyes glued to the full moon on July 20, 1969, sure that I could tell that the moon had been breached.
And I was a participant in a weekend retreat with Karen’s friends and some of the religious brothers of the all-boys high school that matched our all-girls one. I felt so grown up to be included, and yet my shy unworthiness drove me to escape to the privacy of the bunk room when I got scared to share my true feelings during one of the talking circles. I’ll always remember how one of Karen’s friends discovered that I was missing and came to gather me back into the group.
Karen set the example that I wanted to follow, and thought that I would. She played piano for her senior class play – South Pacific. Wow! She was good. When I was a senior, I was chosen to accompany the play, but our director didn’t have an orchestra like the one in South Pacific. We just had two pianos and classmate Paula and I took turns playing half of the score – the treble clef – while our music teacher, Rose Geysbers, played the bottom half. I was not as good as Karen had been and our play was not as grandiose.
Karen led the way with having her second child born at home. That home was a cabin in the backwoods of northern Idaho, a couple of miles down a dirt road to the nearest gravel road about 20 miles from town. My husband and I, when we had been married two years, had the job of going to town to call the midwife when it was time for Karen to deliver. Well, when that moment arrived, we were out walking in a nearby marsh, watching a moose! We saw Weezil, Karen’s husband’s, drive by and we realized that we had probably missed that call. We arrived at the house in time to see their son’s birth, everything under control without our help. Afterward, as we sat in the kitchen talking with the midwife, I said, “When we have children, we’ll probably have our first one in a hospital. It would be safer that way.” The midwife promptly replied, “Why sacrifice your first one? That might be the only one you have.” We thought about that, and when our first son was born, exactly one year later, we were at home with a midwife helping us. Thanks, Karen, for leading the way!
Homeschooling was another endeavor that Karen mastered and I simply accomplished. As our children grew, we rarely saw each other, both occupied with our all-consuming jobs of raising children. She still lived in Idaho. I was in Arlington, VA and then Evansville, IN. I heard of all the impressive things she was doing with her kids: learning Proverbs, winning fiddle competitions, reading the classics out loud in groups, sewing quilts. I was muddling along with my sons, but never thought I was doing things as well as she was. It was several years later, when my youngest son was 16, playing his solo cello recital, with me accompanying him on piano, that my sister’s admiration for ME dawned on me. She had made the trip to be present at his recital and gave a tender greeting to our guests, applauding me for being a dedicated, skillful, and talented mom and exemplary homeschooler. I had never thought that SHE admired ME! So, thanks for your graciousness, Karen!
One of Karen’s expressions in perfection is in piecing quilts. Hers are stunning works of crisp, meticulously angled patterns in vibrant colors. I continuously marvel at the precision displayed in her designs. While Karen’s fabric projects have been amazing quilts and dresses, mine have been hiking gear. I can get by with sewing that just does the job of holding the pieces together! I’ll leave the perfection to her!
It used to be that I compared my lower level of perfection with Karen’s high level. Well, it’s true that we’ve played in some of the same arenas and that our performance there has been different. I’m happy to say that now I’m able to simply celebrate our unique creations and ways that both of us have been willing to be women of courage and perfection, not afraid to stand outside the norm and to be pioneers in birth, education, and crafts. I thank you, Karen, for being someone who strives for perfection and high quality in everything you do!
There’s an experience that Karen has had that I don’t want to follow. Karen’s youngest daughter passed away just three days after her eighteenth birthday. It’s been a number of years since then, I have lost count, but I know the wound is still raw. With deep sadness, and heartfelt sympathy that I know I can never truly express adequately, I turn my sister to the care of other mothers who have lost children. So, it’s not really gratitude, but compassion that I offer to my sister for weathering that sadness and leading the way through grief and loss. Perhaps my sharing this can encourage any of you readers who understand to enfold my sister in your loving care.