Monday, January 3, 2011

For RoRe

“In the cookies of life, sisters are the chocolate chips.”
~ Anonymous

By the time you’re reading this, the cat is out of the bag.
My sister already knows that I showed up at her retirement party as a surprise.  Even though we live in opposite corners of the continent (she in Georgia, I in Washington state), it was a surprisingly simple operation, involving only a chunk of frequent flyer miles, a fairly comfortable overnight flight, the conspiratorial help of niece, nephew, and brother-in-law.  And there you go – we pulled it off.
The party was wonderful and, as always, the visit far too short. 
The praises and sentiments from her colleagues and coworkers are well-earned.  Her career flourished among them for more than 20 years, endearing her to clients and team-members with equal recognition not only of her skill and talent, but of her absolute integrity and genuine charm.
This is the rest of the story.  A tribute to my sister , not as a business woman, teacher, trainer, wife, mother, or friend – but as a sister.
To put this in context, you should know that I am the youngest of three daughters.  Youngest by a bit.  My two sisters are two years apart . . . then a fairly long wait . . . then me.  In fact, my parents (and aunts, uncles, and cousins) often referred to us as “the girls and Martha Jean.”  Truth be told, not only was I sort of a hang nail, I was quite often a nasty little brat.  I tore up their paper dolls.  I messed with their records.  I interrupted them when they were with their friends.  The classic movie “Wizard of Oz” was re-released when I was about 4 and seeing it at the neighborhood theater was a much anticipated family outing.  I, however, took one look at those flying monkeys and lost it.  My two sisters had to take turns walking me in the lobby, trying to calm my 4-year-old hysteria.  I have only a vague recollection of the day – and I’m still not crazy about monkeys.  My sisters remember it vividly – they are still slightly bitter.
The August before I entered sixth grade, both of them left home at once.  The older one to get married.  The other to enter college.  And there I was, functionally an only child.
My oldest sister, Joan, married and devoted her considerable talent to homemaking.  We didn’t recognize it then, but the wrong sister in our family got named “Martha.”  The woman is amazing.
That left the middle sister and me officially living at home.  She had moved out, of course, to go to school.  But the times she bounced back were the highlights of my life – Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, occasional weekends, and the times I always looked forward to most, summer vacations.
Like all middle children, she was plagued by attention-grabbers on either side, the elder stateswoman and the consistent brat.  My mother said it best when she once comforted her, “Children are like sandwiches.  The best part is in the middle.”
To illustrate . . .
She got the best name.  Rose Marie.  It’s beautiful and melodic, just like she is.  She later consolidated it to the even more lovely Rosemarie to keep her Yankee clients from calling her “Rose.”  Decades earlier, I had given her a nickname that stuck in our family – and passed on to her wonderful husband.  Not being able to wrap my toddler tongue around Rose Marie, I shortened it to “Ro” and “Re.”  RoRe it has stayed.
She got the height.  The first sister is 5′4″.  I’m 5′5″.  Rosemarie is elegant at over 5′7 ″.  And she got the legs to go with it.  While mine are basically tree trunks with knees that make faces, hers are long and lovely.
She also got the talent.  A voice like an angel.  In fact, I fully expect the heavenly choir to sound a lot like RoRe when I pass through the pearly gates.  She also plays the flute exquisitely.  When she was in high school and I was in grade school, I’d come home from school during the symphony season, finish homework, put on my nicest dress and Sunday shoes, then head out in the back seat of the family sedan to Chattanooga’s Memorial Auditorium where RoRe was playing in the flute section of the orchestra.  On Saturday mornings, I’d settle down with cartoons while my dad rushed out to drive RoRe downtown for her voice lessons.  She never got to sleep in.  While I did manage to play an acceptable clarinet in the school band, I still sing in a whisper as not to offend anyone.  And after almost three years of piano lessons, I gave it up without finishing the first grade book.
You get the picture.
Of course, there were years when ours paths separated, when our lives and interests turned inward.  As adults, she lived in Columbus, Georgia, a city so beautifully southern that it takes my breath away.  I lived in the Chicago area for a time, then “moved off out west” to Seattle, both magnificent urban centers.  The distances between us were sometimes as wide culturally as they were geographically.
But inevitably, we were drawn together.  Our bond is stronger than any distance or difference can break. 
It was RoRe who read aloud to me the first “chapter book” I ever experienced.  Heidi.  I still love that book (although I honestly expected goat cheese to taste a lot better).  It was RoRe who sat with me in the hospital room after my tonsillectomy because my mother couldn’t bear up under the strain (and it was RoRe who cleaned me up when I was sick from the anesthetic – she still goes green at the smell of ether).  It was RoRe who baked me a special heart-shaped birthday cake when everyone had to work late on my 16th birthday – and I still cherish the little silver heart charm bracelet she gave me.  It puts Tiffany to shame.
It was she who made sure I knew that our school system wasn’t going to prepare me adequately for college, that I’d have to do a lot of work on my own.  She who taught me how to wear make-up . . . to cook . . . to sew . . . to apply fingernail polish . . . to pull weeds in the Georgia heat all afternoon and still look cool and serene at the dinner table.
She taught me all of that, and so much more.
From her I learned that kindness is a gift, not one you are born with, but one you receive by giving.  She taught me that words are treasures, whether you’re reading them or writing them.  That being a “late bloomer” (a favorite phrase of our mother’s that made us both cringe), really is a wonderful thing.  That good manners are always in good taste.  That nothing is more becoming to a woman than a solid sense of humor.
I’ve seen her stand at her husband’s bedside – and at her child’s – watching the steel rod of her strength support everyone else.  I saw her sit with our father through his terrible final illness – and watched her visit our mother when she had to move into a care facility, comfort her, and care for her – every single day for five years.  Every single day.
My life has been blessed with wonderful people from whom I’ve learned exactly what love looks like – but she is chief among them.  Rosemarie Ward is not only my sister, she is my best friend.
So, RoRe, this one is for you.  Everyone who celebrates with you as you retire knows what an asset you have been to your company. 
What I hope they know now is what an asset you are to the world.
I love you,
MJ

5 comments:

Mike S said...

MJ,
You drew some moisture from both eyes this time. Beautiful tribute. I am thinking about hiring you to write my obituary.

Gwen said...

Beautiful! She has a treasure in you too, Martha.

SUE said...

Sisters are just wonderful, aren't they? You are truly blessed, as I am with my sister.

Carolyn said...

Lovely, loving and well worth sharing with those of us who are sisterless in the biological sense. Thank you.

Susan said...

May I change the names and send on to my sister? I have 3 brothers and 1 sister but maybe she won't notice that part. Thanks for running my mascara :).