Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: The Visit

Allanya, my sister, 7/2019

My two older siblings and I spent a few days together recently. It’s a welcome yearly occasion. One is a musician/photographer/world travelling brother, one a retired executive director of social services sister–and, of course, me. This is unlike the more frequent “three sisters’ trips” and visits shared with our oldest sister, now gone. And the last time we met in 2018 was after our older brother passed. (So this year it is only us, down to three from four, and before that, down to four from five.) Since it is a more rare occasion, our get-togethers mean that much more. We swap stories, share food, take walks, nothing fancy. Sometimes it is enough to just be with siblings; lots of chatter can be less important than you might suspect.

In some ways, this year’s gathering was as usual, mutual changes noted. There have been a few since we are older, as expected, and still it can hit us as surprising. After all, we grew up together, and it can be easier to hang on to how it was than meet the present head-on. But there it is; we are the same if different and it is likely to continue this way. That we are siblings will never alter; the ties are deep.

I doubt anyone accurately predicted we’d become who we have been, done what we’ve done, and ended up in our respective spots. Though since I am the youngest of five, I can’t say I recollect entirely what Wayne and Allanya (and the others) were like when I was a child. Five years younger than she and seven younger than he, I tended to feel they were a set, like semi-twins; the oldest two sibs were the same with one and a half years’ difference. I was out of the primary circle of four due to my late arrival, and how I saw them was through a lens of the littlest one who looked up to them literally, and otherwise. I trailed them about, happily but was called a “pest” often if also was routinely looked after and taught things helpful or not so much, blamed/teased and generally, at the very least, tolerated. I forged my own ways and world as they grew up, while I remained a kid a few years longer. By age 13, they had all become college students and I was alone in my room and with my thoughts. I saw them infrequently after that–until my later thirties or so.

Wayne, as I think back to our childhood, seemed quietly and warmly outgoing, helpful with many friends, and he was good with kids. Like all of us, he was from an early age a string player–viola–and played in orchestras as well as with the rest of us and our father in our impromptu gatherings. Allanya laughed robustly and this drew people to her. She adored animals but had just cats (enjoyed then lost many, played a mean game of softball (as did our other sister). he had chosen cello to start (as did our biggest sister and I) then switched to flute and then, happily, bassoon. We all sang, at church and in school; I sang with a pop trio and performed in musical theater productions and wrote and performed songs with a guitar. There were so many stages and musical performances we all were involved with, they blur in my memory. Music was our common denominator–and all arts were considered of great value from childhood on. The same is so today.

My sister and I were close but fought as siblings can. She packed a mightier punch; our parents would have been horrified to know we had a few actual fights. Three of us sisters shared a room. When it was only Allanya and me, I was by default the underling, scapegoat and accomplice. I was her comforter when another cat was run over in our busy street, and when her heart was otherwise broken, a repository of dreams and struggles.

A favorite scheme was when she wanted extra food, typically dessert–she’d she’d hand it off to me in a napkin under the dining room table so Mom didn’t see. (She tended to heavier while I have been more skinny–still fight to keep on pounds.) I knew that meant I was to somehow whisk it away to our room and hide it until later. It worked, generally, if I didn’t eat some of it first. From this experience I was learning part of my role.

When I was a teen it meant that even when no one else knew she was gay, I did, before I understood all it meant. I, of course, told no one after I saw her, a college camp counselor (I was a camper, not in her sphere) with another camp counselor at an arts camp. I kept mum until she officially came out, then eventually legally married the woman with whom she remains. (I admit that after that, I said less about my own romantic yearnings of the guys in my theater class or in orchestra; later I realized love was love.) Once I mailed a box with many journals to her for safekeeping, then we threw them out later. She shared the truth of matters no one else suspected. We grew closer, also had fun together when visiting even though she left home, then moved far away. We had learned to trust each other greatly. We are, in fact, still best friends in the way we can be.

She taught English a few years but found her true calling within social service agencies, whether helping people with HIV/AIDS and LGBT issues or pregnant homeless girls or teen runaways or battered women’s shelters. Her skills included advocating and organizing as she oversaw massive community work, and also did fund raising for millions. In the meantime, she ran side businesses–rebuilding/restoring furniture, buying and selling turquoise jewelry and other collections, investing in real estate and flipping renovated houses. My sister has always loved being busy accomplishing something. And, she’d agree, making money–it was a pleasing challenge.

Was this what our hometown folks expected of her? I think they thought she would be a teacher like she’d planned (and likely married to a man). But she did formally and informally educate others about important social matters.

Unfortunately, Wayne and I have not been as close. Inevitably, perhaps, because he is male; we simply shared less time together–though there was affection– as he roomed with our older brother (though they were not too close). He also spent more time with Allanya in school or musical events. He was tall– at least six feet to my five foot four inches–though everyone was– and he moved with a casual grace. I believe he liked tennis, and was thrilled with a good game of ping pong. And he swam often, loved to dive until he sliced open his head and got a concussion when slamming a diving board on the way down. A terrible day.

His enjoyment of the water coincided with mine and so we’d swim around and past each other in pools or northern lakes; he might show me things as we dove off a raft or board. His serious accident, frankly, did not deter me from working on my own swan and jackknife dives and flips, even from a high dive board. I figured if he could master these, so could I. The accident was “just” an unfortunate pause; he recovered. Then, in winter, we sledded, tobogganed, ice skated and built forts from which to throw monster snowballs. I was quick if not the biggest, and knew how to compete! Mostly, I admired his congeniality and his talents from afar more than from up close so am delighted that has changed over time.

But we all got separated year by year, went to different colleges, landed jobs, married, moved to other cities. Though I did live with my sister a year in Seattle after high school… truth was, I was given a one way ticket by our parents to stay with her after I ran into trouble with drugs, and wrestled with PTSD from past abuses. We lived in a great mossy cabin on Lake Washington with an artist she knew who also became a longtime friend. It was at the lapping lake on a half acre of land. We smoked pot and made art and music, studied eastern religions and had philosophical discussions into the early morning. It was 1969; that was how many of us lived. My sister did alright in work and life. I didn’t make much progress as I racked up hours at an A&W drive in restaurant as a roller skating waitress, and hung out with an older, wilder bunch, a guy who loved his motorcycle and partying. I learned about drug dealers and drug dealing and often looked out across the lake and wondered, in tears, who I had become and how I might reclaim what mattered most. Yet we sisters had each other’s backs no matter what. It should have been better for us both. I might have styed and enrolled in college there, but did not. We remained in close touch after I went back to Michigan.

My brother, meanwhile, had taken a required ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program in college, and later entered the Army though he held a music education degree, a minor in history. I did not think we had much in common and was likely correct. While I had been railing against the Vietnam War, he was overseas enmeshed in it and what we hippies called The Machine. Then, when he returned to stateside, he was not the same. There was a stunned stillness to his typically animated self and it scared me. Yet he stayed on with his Army career many years.

Was this what people would have expected? He might have been a choir director, an historian, or a teacher of music theory like our father. I don’t think most would have expected him to become a career Army officer but it made sense to him and he did his work well.

It would take me decades to get to know Wayne again, due to differences in our lives but also actual miles between us. You, too, have to build a habit of genuinely engaging even with family (maybe especially). When I did visit with him, I watched, listened, shared what I felt I could, though some still felt too private. I waited. Over time, life got less arduous, more normalized. I visited him on the East coast; he flew out to Oregon every year or so to see us four sibs living in the Pacific Northwest. When, for my 60th birthday, my siblings bought me a ticket to celebrate it with them at his home (with his second wife, whom I enjoy) I felt enriched with the growing appreciation and love. It was one of the best family gatherings I’d had, just being together a few days. And we later met up as much as we could.

Wayne has traversed the world constantly since he and his wife retired from the Army. It is as if their stops at home are a brief respite before they return to lives they more need and desire to lead. It is so far afield from from my life; I cannot keep up with all the countries they’ve been to–most all, some several times. It exhausts me to consider the miles they fly and how they partake of what they encounter but the experiences also fascinate me. I eagerly await tales they share. This last Oregon visit was on the heels of more European travels (lastly Switzerland and France, I think). And I sure look forward to viewing the photos since they are both fine photographers.

Wayne got engaged with his passion as a young adult when he was stationed overseas; he snapped and developed black and white pictures then. Some of those wartime images are moving. haunting. Since then he has studied, learned and exhibited often. It has been a pleasure to see how his work has evolved over many years.

He and his wife have been professional string instrumentalists and vocalists; he recently retired from rigorous performance work. I am sure he will still sing for special occasions when he called to do so, as he loves music, still. As we all do, in our way–how can we not? It is in our blood and heart. But while he continued to perform, I did not, but left it to raise a family and more. And sometimes that feels like a very large chasm between us, though we talk music, embrace it together, nonetheless.

I have shared much of my life here so it is known that I was a home care manager for elder care/disabled adult services for a few years, then was a clinician mental health/addiction treatment field for 30 more. And raised five kids. I didn’t reach certain goals I had growing up. I believe Allanya and Wayne have. I’d guess my emotional and physical trials were of a different nature than theirs, and fall-out less private than my siblings’. But I am first to praise them and so enjoy being their sister.

Would people have expected this life for me? My close friends were likely just relieved I stayed alive– and created some happiness. And as far as the career, I think some would while others may have expected I’d seek a life of performing. Having a big family? I doubt it. Writing more than this? Perhaps. Life happens and we often plan around it, just live it as it unfolds- I do not regret it. There is good in this living every single day. There are lessons to be gleaned in all changing circumstance. I am a willing student, and a seeker of Spirit and so I go with the river as much as I am able.

My family makes a patchwork design; we have all kinds, of course, with many so-called eccentrics or to use a modern term, “creatives”, with unique perspectives. Dysfunction or any significant challenges also impact members differently in any family. People learn to adapt, survive, strengthen and find healing, and it goes better if they use several resources and work at it. I would say the three of us have recovered from much if not most all of our woundedness over time. We let go of more with each year, I feel. No one can know for sure, even a brother and two sisters, what we have lived but ourselves.

But we are strong and bendable, thankfully. We’ve made or captured countless wondrous moments, taken chances to forge our own way. We also share a heart for others. Our passion for fine and performing arts is primary; we value and respect differences even if it demands much; and we believe in a loving Divine Power, a genius web of vast creation. This, despite scars and remaining secrets we must sort out or release, our defects and weaknesses and those failures to do what might have been much better to do or say. Like every family, we are so fallible individually and also as a whole.

Wayne had to fly back to the East coast after 4 days; Allanya and I, of course, remain in Oregon. She has worsening dementia, almost unbelievable and yet she is herself, who she always was, and we flow with her flow. She remains amazingly good-natured, and does realize she has short term memory loss and confusion. We talk about it– and many other things, as ever we have. It all began with several car accident and resultant concussions but has has evolved into a quite foreign illness we are trying to grasp and accept. This has not been in our family; we are new to such necessary understanding and are improvising as we learn more.

Our brother and I are not sure what is next. I am here, while he will be there and yet we will figure things out together. It is hard to accept at times that what or who she knows today she may not know or be able to share the next day. Or even the next hour. Wayne and I are the last who can remember much of the family’s past and also this busy present–and will hopefully for a long while. He is 75; I am 69. And blessed to feel well, overall, well engaged in living. He will again be travelling to, I think, South America to start with, along with his equally adventurous wife. And they will be taking more photographs.

I will be tending babies and my family, enjoying friends as I can, taking my own impromptu photos and writing with time stolen, and immersing myself in nature’s gifts, as ever. And praying for more strength and grace, please, Lord.

I gave a last-day-of-visiting barbecue for some of my kids and their partners and my youngest’s new baby twins for Wayne last week-end before he left. I found it absorbing to just sit back as my son, Joshua, asked questions about Wayne’s military career inception, how he rose in rank and why he remained in the Army. And if you had been there, it would have been this: a forty-something house painter/pro skateboarder with many scars and tattoos and also beads around his neck–asking his only surviving uncle, now–with sincerity– just what he learned, and more of who he is. And his uncle told him some of that story. And then asked after his nephew’s skateboarding and life. And we talked about other relatives here and long gone, and our genealogy. Life as it is, common, valued.

And how lovely as we sat in the glow of sunshine on the balcony, eating tasty grilled fare, sharing it all and laughs. The company of those I love is so worth keeping.

We start out seemingly empty of personal agendas, hands and minds clean of miscalculation. As a grandmother I can attest to this, and study my twin granddaughters and see only eager and immense possibility for their individual life paths–it is vividly apparent in their searching eyes, ready responses, new skills and guileless anticipation at four months.

My brother cradled each one of the twins, smiled and chatted with them, then he hummed and sang and said: “A flat? Can you sing A flat with me?” And they cooed and smiled at him and maybe, just maybe, one of the girls hummed in response, that note or in its vicinity. This is our family. This is our way of caring. Who will the little ones become? As we all discover, there is a momentum as we undergo a curious series of events, just journey through each hour upon this earth. I feel fortunate to have my two remaining siblings and to witness their decency. To share affection that shapes time and tales. To be able to say, I am one of this small tribe, blood of this blood.

Saturday’s Poem: Elegy/Frontiers

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

The stories shared by our remaining brother
gave tribute to places sculpted by vastness,
drought and heat that could kill;
trees like beautiful spirits;
people crouched in expectation;
nights woven with soft netting and rent
by lions’ talk that elicited screams.
My safe skin tingled though far from Africa.
Earth is lush with danger and amazement.
In that place, life and death appeared simpler.

Orxyes, wildebeests, hippos, antelopes, leopards,
each name a bright bell rung around our table.
Rare tracks of the black rhino,
such zebras with curious children,
tiny frogs click click clicking under star-struck skies.
It is enough to make me abandon other realities.
Enough for my breath to be stilled not by loss
but adoration of prodigious designs.

Our older, lost brother would marvel over warthog, antelope.
After all, he and wolves knew one another;
we both admired their songs, endurance, loyalty.
He gave consideration to all manner of beasts.

I recalled more exotic countries–ones
mapped by the fierce intellect and feeling that
our lost brother had inhabited, full of more tales.
And the Mexican village to which he had longed to return,
with its colors singing, hands rough but open,
breezes like kisses as his saxophone,
clarinet or flute stirred dust and birds,

his living finally distilled, vibrations
no longer wounding heart nor disrupting his soul
…nor taking from him the best he may
have had yet to offer us. To himself.
That old frontier was a dream of new music
birthed of quietude, a calm wrested from forces
feverish, half-sorted, but that he owned.

I am audacious about God, about possibility,
so venture to report he has made his way.
He left us to the minutiae of time left,
to our capricious attitudes,
urgent manner of sentience.
I can say he seized hope near the end of his road.
It answered me as we hugged a last time;
his arms were weary but they were right.

Now our remaining prayers are loosed,
notes and words fleeing on May’s generous sweep,
a promise carried on shear of wind above
his music room, the rest of us
left with ache of love and wondering.

(For my brother, Gary, no longer here with us)
.

A Last Summer Caper

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Junie sincerely hoped this person, this Guy, wasn’t going to fall for either of them but just in case, she was prepared for it. She had a handy store of diverting one liners, sizzling retorts. After weeks of correspondence he wrote he’d be passing through to pick up his cousin, Dale, and then they’d both be back to college. So, he said, wouldn’t it be good to at last meet in person? Junie supposed it just might. Her sister, Marta, could have found herself indisposed but no, she’d been excited. They had only been writing each other this last month of summer. It all started  after her sister’s friend mentioned him; she knew Dale, the cousin Guy was picking up on the way to Hartford College. They were both enrolled, it seemed. Guy was supposed to be “awesome” per Shelley’s descriptions and also Dale’s. It was complicated info thus, unreliable.

Junie was unmoved but it was Marta, anyway, who was informed about him. She was the one who intended on writing him from the start.

“But my handwriting is atrocious.”

“You could just type a letter, that’s the best way, more distant at first,” Junie said, tapping her fingers on the Olivetti’s worn keys, pausing midway in her poem. “You’re a very good typist.”

“You’re much better. And you form a convincing sentence so well….”

Marta gave her that easy-breezy smile she put on to sway someone yet undecided. It was her persuasive beguilement. Junie had practiced that look but her face just came across silly and insipid in the mirror no matter how much practice. She guessed it was because it was unnatural, a false presentation. Marta was her big sister if barely a year older at 18, but you’d think Junie had been a stray they took in to give Marta a toy or victim, depending on the older girl’s moods. It was absurd; it was Junie who had the common sense. Even a dash of flair all her own. But not the flashing, blinding lights of charismatic looks.

“No.” Junie walked out of their room. “Get another lackey.”

“Sometimes I don’t know what you’re talking about… I always have you!”

“Not for much longer–then what’ll you do?” Junie muttered.

But she became intrigued by the creative possibilities of composing improved–no, fake letters–to an unsuspecting male using a nom de plume. Well, using Marta’s name.

So it commenced. Marta dictated the bulk of each letter, Junie would type it on the onion skin paper she loved, and later after the first read and approved it Junie would go back and write a new and amended letter, soon more accentuated with her own content. She could not restrain herself. She edited her sister’s essays and term papers so felt this was much the same: a happy improvement of basic, boring text.

Marta’s letter:

Dear Guy,

This is the third letter in two weeks! Thank you for writing me back, it was interesting to hear about your summer. Boating, fishing, swimming–such fun! I am not the water fan I could be, I suppose.

I got up late today, then played tennis with Shelley and I won. I like to compete, do you? Then we went out for lunch at the club, water cress salad and sliced fresh peach for dessert. I love fruit, it’s sweet and does no harm. I even picked strawberries with my mother and sister a few weeks ago. The only think I didn’t like was the dirt that got into everything. But worth it!

Anyway, do you play tennis? It’s one sporting event I have liked as spectator and player since childhood.

This week-end I am going to the movies with Shelley. Some action flick, not sure what it’s called. Bet you’d like it–lots of cars in it. You do have a car, don’t you? I drive my mom’s at times but we’ll see what I get when I graduate next spring.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Your friend, Marta

Junie’s edited letter:

Dear Guy,

This is the third letter in two weeks; thank you for writing back. It was interesting to hear about your summer. Boating, fishing, swimming–that sounds far superior to what I’ve been up to in the ‘burbs. I ride my bike, jog. I’ve always wanted to learn to fish, but my father says I have no talent for fly fishing. I need to learn more, even give it a whirl on my own. Where do you go and what do you catch? What sort of bait do you use? Is there a special rod you use? I’d be grateful for tips to get started.

I got up late today but played tennis with Shelley and won. I thrive on competition–do you? Then we went out for lunch at the club where I ordered a chef salad topped with tuna and for dessert, a double chocolate brownie. I am fanatical about good chocolate, it’s a weakness I hear, but I contend it’s the perfect reward for any job well done. I did pick healthy strawberries with my mother and sister a few weeks ago. Then I dipped a dozen in chocolate. But I love getting out into nature, availing myself of its bounties. Even the bugs that flit and creep about are extraordinary to me.

This week-end I’m going to the movies with a couple of friends. Some action flick. It is full of car races, yes! I dream of becoming a race car driver after I see those movies and when I get my hands on Mom’s car… Do you have a car or at least like to drive? I might get lucky one day and get a sports car. That’s a goal, actually.

It’s excellent that you made it through the first college year, but what are you studying? Liberal arts or sciences or a mix? You write well. I haven’t decided where to apply but not likely Hartford–too close to home.

Look forward to hearing back.

Your friend, Marta

This went on for over seven weeks. Now he was due to arrive. Junie thought she’d done a good job at appealing to him, getting his curiosity stoked. She could not have left all that up to Marta, she had the imagination of a squid. She had other strengths than Junie. Guy–with a name like that, he might be be insufferable–seemed pleasant enough and smart given his brief but emphatic responses, a little macho but not so you’d refuse to hang out to see what else was there. It might work out for them. In the meantime, she was having more fun that she thought possible. Junie decided she ought to find a couple more pen pals and correspond for real next time.

But she did feel an odd stab of guilt: she had, of course, overstepped. She worried about Marta’s capacity for dealing with Guy’s once he was here in the flesh. But Marta had a way with people that made them want to follow her anywhere.

And physical attributes some might pronounce as spectacular. of course, Junie had seen her at her worst and knew how hard she worked at being a five star dazzler. Junie allowed nature to take its own course, let things fall as they may. It hadn’t hurt her much, it just hadn’t advanced her. Since she was reasonably intelligent, it didn’t aggravate her except for moments here and there during her whole and entire seventeen years when people met them and without fail leaned toward Marta and gushed about how pleased they were to finally meet her, she was so beautiful, what a popular gal. As if they had been waiting  to see her in the flesh with bated breath for eons. Like some movie star when it was only the big fish in a small fishbowl phenomenon.

Sometimes they didn’t even notice Junie standing there. Still, that made it easier to observe details as desired, then get back to more worthwhile activities. Like writing in her journal the countless petty, moving, surprising, infuriating details of life so far.

Maybe she felt sorry and pleased at once about these letters because she knew this was one area Marta had not peaked. Might never do so. There was an art of exchanging words, uncommon value of incisive communication. Letters were gateways to intimacy especially if one also had a willingness to say this is who I am, warts and all. Well, not that but at least being a less contrived person. Not so with Marta. It was necessary to present the best if most shallow front at all possible costs; it cost her in more ways than one but she didn’t see it yet. But Junie wanted to believe there was a deeper Marta who would be willing to show an unpolished toe in the light.

But did all this give Junie the right to alter her sister’s words drastically? Was it fair to be sneaky? To play a hoax on an innocent man? It was, in fact, underhanded. An entertainment, honestly. And what if he got mad at them both, figured out something was haywire? Then Marta would have her in her sights, too.

And Marta was already down on the porch, swinging her feet on the bench swing. It didn’t occur to her to wait, then casually answer the door. She was primed and ready to meet the latest prince who might sweep her off her feet. Junie’s face was pressed against the screen of their bedroom window and from this vantage point she would just see the approach to the house. She could hear well enough. Their plan was, if it all seemed a wash, Junie should come down and interrupt their conversation.

At half past one, Guy’s car rolled up to the curb. It was a blue 1983 Lebaron Coupe with a huge dent in the front fender. Junie clucked her tongue but Marta now arrayed herself along the banister in anticipation. The driver door opened and out popped Guy as if on a spring, trim and of average height, brown hair a pleasant shagginess, energetic stride taking him to the house. He held out a hand as Marta descended. She welcomed him with both of hers like a hostess, chatting gaily, when he looked up as if distracted or he was expecting someone else there. Junie stepped away from the window.

“Guy! Come on up. I’m so glad to meet you at last, sit with me,” Marta said with all the warmth she could muster. Guy obliged.

He was, Junie knew, not quite right: average nice looks, a bit short, slender, not tan enough, not jock enough, not magnetic enough. Junie suddenly felt terrible. He would fall for her sister in sixty seconds then be deflated by Marta’s quick dispensing of things: a crash landing.

She debated whether or not to go down. If the staircase didn’t descend right in front of the front door, she’d tiptoe down and eavesdrop in the foyer. Oh, why not? She’d do it, walk right outdoors to get her own view, give input, save Marta. Be a decoy so Marta could beg off.

“Hello, hello, who have we here this auspicious afternoon?” Junie stepped out the door, turned, put  hands on her hips and flashed her teeth, which were good.

“Why, it’s my new pen pal, Guy Alton, you remember, don’t you?” Marta was smiling but her eyes warned her to tone it down.

“Of course I do, a pleasure to meet you, Guy. I’m Junie, her sister.” She sat between the two, pressing Marta over with a quick shove of her bony hip. Guy smelled sort of tangy, maybe Old Spice. No, better than that, green leaves and sweat. “You’re the friend of Shelley’s cousin, Dale, correct? Now that’s clear, what do you think of my sister? You’ve been the mystery man a long while– the tension has been killing us. Me.” His jittery thigh touched hers so she moved it, scooted closer to Marta.

Guy snickered as he cast a hand over his forehead, then left it there as he propped his head up, elbow on back of the swing. “Junie. Well, I’m a bit confused. Dale said–”

“Confused about what?” Marta widened those maple brown eyes, pouty lips curving upward. “Dale said what, I’d like to know?”

“Yes, tell all, Dale said what of which of us? Or was it Marta, my gorgeous sister?” She couldn’t help but turn to look him in the eyes. Clear deep blue, like inviting summer pools.

Guy shifted uncomfortably. Perhaps better to get away from overbearing sisters, one pretty as noted, the other really curious. But he stayed put.

“Well, Dale did say and so did Shelley that Marta was the goodhearted life of any party and lovely while Junie was talented, outspoken. Different. I mean, you two ladies were different.”

A hum of uncertain silence met his words. Junie crossed her arms across her chest, suppressed a smile. He was so close she could hear the soft wheeze of each inhale and exhale of breath. Marta pushed off the floor with a sandaled foot, making the swing move.

“That’s the truth, we’re like night and day,” she said. “So can we start over? Tell me about your trip down here and if you’re looking forward to more college and so on. I feel we’ve just picked at the outer wrappings.” She elbowed her sister to get off and leave.

Junie about said she knew Guy better than that and she shared quite a bit but just caught herself. It was too late to fix the thing, Marta had fluffed her feathers a little, shown interest, and he was not missing much so far. Best to disappear. Let things take their course. It was more fun than she’d had in awhile but it was over and done.

“Yeah, that’s right, she’s the hot shot, I’m the lowly caterpillar of a scribe who’s not yet come out of her voluminous cocoon. I’ll let you two get on with it. But I have to say I’m pleased I got to meet you, anyway.” She slipped off the swing, cocked her head at him.

“Yeah, me, too… but I’m trying to figure it out.” He sat forward, forearms on thighs, hands clasped together and stopped the swing’s motion. “Who actually wrote the letters?” He looked back at Marta, then at Junie, who was at the door, hand on the brass pull.

Marta let loose her silvery jangle of a laugh. “Who do you think? I wrote you! I was interested in knowing you better and found it sweet to send and receive letters–wasn’t it? She just tidied and typed them for me! Credit where credit is due, of course, but I wanted to meet you. Not her.” She pointed at her sister as if accusing her.

Junie froze. Narrowed her eyes.

“I’m not so sure. I think it might have been her. Junie, you talk just like those letters are written…what’s going on?”

Marta’s mouth fell open and she stared at her sister. “Oh, no.”

Junie ran inside, slamming the door shut and then trotted upstairs, down the hallway, out the narrow door to the back sleeping porch. Then she sat on the little folding camp chair she’d kept the last ten years so she could view constellations or storm clouds or creatures in high trees. Sometimes she even dragged along her sleeping bag and lumpy goose down pillow and slept there. Alone, without distraction of sister or parents. This would be another good night for it if it didn’t rain as forecast. She gnawed at a hangnail, anxious about her sister’s reaction and payback.

A half hour later, the sleeping porch door squeaked open and shut. Marta lowered herself on a square pillow she’d grabbed.

“I sent him away. He knows it was you. I read a letter you sent him.” She yawned. “It was a good one.”

The wind rattled tangled branches of oaks and chestnuts. Clouds bunched and scudded across a darkening sky.

“He said to say goodbye and he’d write you when he gets to Hartford. He is quite intrigued by you, Junie. He was a gentleman, honestly. It’s all okay. But wow, that took real nerve, Junie.”

“I ruined it, I don’t know what I thought I was doing!”

“No, sister, he wasn’t someone I could go for but maybe he’ll become yours to figure out.”

“The guy named ‘Guy’, is that for real?…too much!”

They slapped at each other in a fit of giggles.

“He’s kinda old, 19–watch out.”

“My oh my, I will manage, especially with your long experience and nuggets of wisdom to guide me.” Junie grabbed her sister’s arm, squeezed it for emphasis. “My great letter caper, what a bust! I had high hopes it’d work out for you but he got much more interesting. It was a challenge I couldn’t refuse. And then he said he’d take you– me!–trout or bass fishing sometime and that did it.”

“Thank goodness it really is you, not me!”

“You just never know how things will really be–it’s weird.”

She slipped off the camp stool, onto the floor by Marta. They lay back with limbs outstretched when, eyes fluttering and voices screeching, the first dashes and dabs of rain raced through overhanging leaves and made tiny splashes on their warm skin. They let the brisk wetness soak them, such a relief after the interminable, fire-scouring, holding-one’s-breath-for-what’s-next summer.

 

 

Sights Set on Siblings (how about you and yours?)

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My dear Allanya, younger of my two older sisters and the only one left me. And it sure seems hats have become a family thing for shade and fashion…I must get with it! (T-shirt is one of several designed/hand drawn by her partner, a fine artist.)

I keep planning on getting back to more thought-provoking or inspirational narratives. (A good working title grabbed my attention yesterday. Since I like how titles pop up and grab hold, I may use it later; an idea is already making a comfy spot inside my mind.) But…early summer is upon us which means more time outdoors, sights to see, people to visit with–more basic and ofttimes long-awaited (while it rained for seven months) fun to  enjoy. Even–maybe especially– amid the heart-trouncing times when we are apt to feel too often helpless. So I do feel compelled to go out and find a variety of joys to add to my store, as well as share them.

That was easy to achieve with a visit from the younger of my two older brothers and my sister-in-law, Wayne and Judy. They are near-constant world travelers and zealous photographers (and exhibit their photographs). This time they only drove from back East across the United States, up the West coast and then paused in Oregon for about a week. So we got to hang out. I last was in Wayne’s company at my oldest sister’s funeral service in Texas two years ago. Our other sister and brother, Allanya and Gary, joined in during the visit, as well. We four are in our sixties through late seventies and are generally up to discovering whatever is curious, entertaining or educational–or otherwise are ready to something happen.

We share a few characteristics as family members do: mostly large blue or blue-grey eyes and generally early grey hair (mine came late in early sixties); musical talent; a lifelong love of learning added to a deep passion for all the arts; resilience and industriousness; heart disease and related issues; enjoyment of facile to ponderous conversation, often peppered with puns, light sarcasm or teasing; and an abiding sense of God’s Presence in one way or another. Of course, we sport many differences but you can tell we’re blood family when you see and hear us together.  We’re all creative so are a bit nutty, some of us more than others. (We also have some quirks, etc., of course–but that is not for this post!)

No one wants to think while telling tales, guffawing while scarfing down a tasty meal, strolling among refined gardens or indulging in nostalgia that this visit may be the last time we are all together…Those of us yet here, that is. If our oldest sibling, Marinell, could pass on sooner than expected–a sister so kind and capable, lively and eager to enjoy another day until she became rapidly, critically ill– we have to realistically accept that any of our troupe can also surprise us, one day stepping out the back door. We are trying to win this battle with a genetic tendency to falter and quit life due to heart ailments. But you cannot pull it off forever, likely–certainly not that exit from one world to another.

So I revel in our fewer times together–I, the last to be born, who felt a bit left behind at thirteen. They had all left for college in rapid succession. So I am yet the last one in line, still the one feeling: Hold on, stay longer, let’s make this gathering last and last. I am not ready to lose any other but then, we seldom if ever areI am terribly grateful for all the family I was given.

Over the last three days our simple, satisfying pleasures were such that I decided to post a sampling here. There are a few pictures of my siblings but not one of us all together due to our varying schedules, with meetings shared as best we could manage.

Have you seen your siblings in a while? I entirely recommend it. Think you have some differences of opinion that may create a wedge? Overlook or ignore them. Nursing an ancient grudge from childhood or a new one that has not been managed well? I hope you find a way to rectify the situation or just determine to improve that ill will. There is nothing like a brother or sister with whom to share a meandering story, a delicious meal, a belly laugh and an encompassing, deeply familiar and loving hug.

So to begin. You can see I was happy and excited waiting by my dining table with with a favorite yellow tablecloth and slightly wild flowers. I always have flowers about if possible. I’m thinking: ten minutes til the first hugs!

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We dined well on Thai take out as no, I do not cook much, anymore, and Marc declined due to being tired from business travel. He is not in this story as he flew out early the next day. (You might note that the left hand photo on the wall is brother Wayne’s; I believe it was taken on Santorini.) We caught up quite a lot, ate and later parted ways until the next day when we went to Washington Park for photographic explorations with more yakking.

Below is Mt. Hood rising regally beyond Portland from a viewpoint within our close-to-city-center Washington Park. It is a lush 410 acres of steeply wooded land and connects to our 5000 acre Forest Park in the urban area. It holds within it an array of delights including Oregon Zoo, Japanese Garden, International Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, a small train to ride and a forestry center and more.

We focused on the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden. Near the bottom is brother Wayne and me.

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W's and J's visit and more 050

Following becoming half-drunk on 550 varieties of about 7000 rose plants’ wiles, their beauty and perfumes, we headed to the Japanese Garden, considered entirely authentic. I have posted many seasonal pictures of this garden. One of my favorite places in the city, I spent many hours there seeking refuge and solace (as did so many others) after 9/11. I very much value how it brings people together from around the world who visit our state. I continue to find it a healing place. High up above the city, the murmuring air and sweet green light imbues all. Enjoy a slideshow of some sights.

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Below are pictures of my brother focusing on a shot as well as Wayne and Judy trying to capture the leisurely yet oddly elusive koi with their cameras. They were so exacting as they looked for shots while I am snapping away at everything that caught my continually sweeping vision. Sister Allanya was caught off guard but good-natured when I snapped her in the last frame. (Note the hat on Wayne.)

We had a delicious salmon dinner at Allanya’s and her partner’s house and enjoyed lots of talk of books we were reading, and odd or fabulous foods we’d eaten. Snake wine, anyone? (Per brother and his wife, they were not able to drink that one.) That night we also went to hear oldest brother Gary play with his band Kung Pao Chickens at Laurelthirst Public House. They play Gypsy jazz/swing/bossa nova and have recorded several albums. Couples were enthusiastically dancing to the swing music. We met a niece and her guy there. At 79, my brother remains a hard-working, very respected jazz musician around these parts. He plays multiple instruments and also sings the old jazz standards, the same ones I used to love to sing. We didn’t tell him in advance we were coming; he was very pleased and surprised to see us. (Note the hat on Gary.)

The next day we visited Matthews Memory Lane Motors, Inc. Why? All of us love classic cars! We had a blast oggling, oohing and aahing, then taking a few pictures. It was hard to get full body shots as they were packed in rather tightly. But here are a few; feast your eyes. I’ll take the black Thunderbird, please. Or maybe the Packard.

We later stopped by Gary’s place. I like the outdoor spaces as you step through french doors, onto a curving back deck and beyond where my brother has a music clubhouse and his lady, Annie, a wonderful painter and print maker, has a light-filled art studio. There was a busy, bobbing chicken scratching around out there, too, but I failed to nab her portrait before she hid.

We ate a last shared meal dinner at Cafe Mingo, a fine Italian restaurant, and then it was finally farewell. My brother and sister-in-law were off to a photography workshop for five days in the State of Washington. Following that they are making their way through at least two more national parks before heading home. Altogether, I think it will be a 6-8 week road trip. Stout stuff they are made of, for certain but then, they’ve been to dozens of unfamiliar places, the Galapagos Islands and Patagonia and such.And have the photography files to prove it, which I love to peruse.

It was a happy visit, a good time had by each in our own ways. I am gratified that another year did not go by without my seeing all of us together again. I admire my siblings for all their accomplishments but mostly, I just love them (plus their spouses) simply because we are family. We are connected, no matter what.

We missed you and your sparkling laugh, Marinell.

Graduation Night at Hearth and Vine

Photo by George Brassai
Photo by George Brassai

Something is going to happen; I feel it. I can tell that even from the kitchen where I’m held hostage by Father and the crew. I want to know what it will be, the surprise, and keep taking a look. I stand on tiptoe to peer out a small foggy window in the swinging doors but can barely see. He nabs me now, says never mind, keep your nose out of other people’s business, we have many things to do in here. As if I can do much. I do know how to just stack up and put dishes in the dishwasher, he says, and carry things. That’s true. I’ve been doing it ever since I could walk, the carrying part, even if just a wooden spoon or egg beater. That’s the restaurant business, he says, cook, carry, wash, repeat. I don’t cook yet. I’m only eleven and you have to be over eighteen to be trusted with beef fillet and trout and new potatoes and french green beans. And certainly desserts. As if these are rare and fantastic things. The last, okay, yes.

I’d rather be out there. In the dining room where the band is playing, people eating and talking all at once. It’s not the usual crowd. It’s my sister’s graduation party. Father closed the restaurant to all outsiders for the night. He says, No one can get in except for showing their invitations, not tonight and he told Mother to stand guard at the reception area by the sign in and seating book we usually keep. This time it’s a special one for Heidi, my big sister. I don’t know why it’s all that important even is she is leaving high school. Don’t we want paying guests, too? We’re in this by ourselves, paying for flowers and special lights, not just food but music, too. You’d think she was being crowned Queen of Something Remarkable. Mother purses her lips at me when I bring any of this up and shakes her head as if I am asking too many questions again.

But it’s not like we’re super rich or she’s a debutante, exactly. You can’t be a debutante in Millside, PA. I know, I read the New York Times that Father gets first thing every morning. I wait until he’s done on the week-end to snatch the good parts he ignores. Like sometimes the society page because I am nosy, Father is correct, but also gardening and crossword pages.

“What do you know, anyway, this is as good as any New York ‘Deb Ball’,” Heidi said last week, laughing at me. “But you’re just my kid sister, you have no real rights yet and little understanding of the important things. Go play with dolls a couple more years, Lissa.”

Which gets me, as she knows. I don’t play with dolls anymore but she doesn’t care, she’s so busy with “important things.” I play chess when Father has time, and I play piano when I can’t get out of it. I take dance classes, of course; who doesn’t around here? It’s okay, so far, especially the tap dancing part. I swim a lot at the river in summer; that’s soon coming up. But mostly I read, take care of Duke our black standard poodle, go to school and study and help when I have to at our restaurant, Hearth and Vine.

Like tonight. I carry a huge chilled glass bowl of fruit compote to Fritz, the head waiter, then quite a few empty water pitchers to Ann, my second cousin who works here for special events, and then I slip out, supposedly to check on the state of the white linens on two small buffet tables.

I see them again. Heidi and Rodney. He’s squeezing her awful tight and she giggles, her head back but then he steals a kiss on her neck and she pulls her chin down and looks to the side. She doesn’t see me. They’ve been going together for about eight months now. That’s just about how long she hasn’t much talked to me unless I distract her with a pinch on her forearm or a really smart question she wants to answer. I could get to know more about Rodney but the main thing is that he is an ace swimmer and he knows a lot about cards. And card tricks. He can entertain us for quite a while when he comes over. Then Heidi starts to tap her foot against the coffee table and Father says a lot of Hmmm and I need a smoke and then I almost got that one and then Rodney turns his attention to Mother but she just faintly smiles and shrugs and goes on with embroidery work and from time to time glancing at a gardening book open on a side table.

What the parents want to know is what is he going to do with his life? Besides go to  Penn State and study political science. Is he going to make a decent living, I hear Father say to Heidi, as if she could even know. She’s not thinking about anyone making a living, she’s thinking about what dresses she’s going to design and sew before summer is gone. Heidi has a heap of fabric and scraps. She ought to make me a quilt out of but likely never will get to it. Shes got the touch with the Singer.

The one thing she did tell me around the time Rodney popped into sight was she doesn’t really want to teach English to “snotty nosed kids who just pick on each other and swap silly notes” even if she is going to have to get a practical teaching degree at Penn State.

“I wish I could start my own house of fashion,” she said, staring out her bedroom window at three colorful rugs airing on the clothes line.

“Are you kidding? Who’d buy those odd, sometimes boring dresses except people in Millside–because they know you and want to be nice?”

She fell silent for quite a while and I realized I shouldn’t have made fun of her. She was my annoying big sister and I didn’t think her dresses were awful, just not what I might wear, and she can be stuck up and has it out for me most of the time but this doesn’t mean she has no feelings.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.

“If you had a dream, you’d get what I mean–but you’re too young to know very much. But the true fact is, I so want to be a designer!”

The force of her words got to me. “I do so have a dream. I want to be chess champion of the fifth and sixth graders this summer at camp.” I fiddled with a pencil I’d been using for homework and it tapped the paper a few times, hard.

“Stop, you’re such a nuisance! And you will be, I suspect.”

“Anyway, I think you should design your fashions if that’s what you really, honestly, truly want.”

She lay back on my bed beside me and looked over. “You think so? You think I’m good enough to do that?”

“Sure you are.” I rubbed out the math answer I’d put down without thinking and out a new one down. “Anyone can see that. I just like to bug you.”

“Rodney can’t see it.”

“Well, Rodney’s a dimwit sometimes. Why do you listen to him?”

She stretched her arms above her head of thick, fluffy blonde hair. “Because. He’s my boyfriend, I guess.”

“Uh, not a good reason.” I started on the next monotonous math problem. “These are boring.”

“That’s your favorite word.”

She laughed and ruffled my just cropped red hair. It felt comforting, good, but I didn’t say anything. She sat up straight, then pushed herself off.

“You might be right, Lissa. I’ll think on it.”

“A first! One point, my side.”

I eyed her as she left my room, her deep green skirt following her like swaying summer grass with feet. It surprised me that she had said that last part, and I wondered how much she did want to do something different, how Rodney felt about it. He seemed to think they were teammates in all things. I thought he was nice enough, a bit tiring except for the card stuff. But it wasn’t any of my business.

So now I slink around and watch the best dancers, peek at my sister and her boyfriend.

And wait.

“Melissa Sue, back in the kitchen, I need you to help bring out more hard rolls and put them on the tables. Father is on a tear about the Bolognese sauce and the rest of us have to get ready to help serve.”

Mother is wide-eyed and flushed, typical at times like this. She yanks at my sweater sleeve. I pull it back but follow and steal another glance at the dancers. I’d like to join them. Heidi has her eyes closed. Rodney does, too, then opens them and glances at me and waves but I pretend I don’t notice, I don’t know why.

******

It is getting late. I know this without looking at a clock. I’m tired and so are my parents but they smiled in the kitchen last time I checked. Everyone has eaten the main courses, at last. The waiters–some extra family members, too–have cleared things away, the band is starting up with some quiet pieces. In a little while there will be coffee and our amazing burnt almond torte, nothing like it for toppers.

There are sixty almost-grown-up-kids out there, many moving away from tables to the springy outdoors for fresh air. I slip away from Mother’s reach, pause beside the French doors. The sky has cleared up; stars wink away. Earlier it rained enough that Heidi was up in arms about how no one would be able to enjoy the night on the best part of our scrumptious Hearth and Vine restaurant: the wide terrace that wraps around three sides. I see her and Rodney wedged between three other couples, a laughing circle of fancy dresses and dark suits, the guys patting their stomachs as if proud of something great they’ve done, the girls pulling out little mirrors from clutches to perfect their hair or lipstick. They are all talking a lot.

One girl pulls in her stomach as I walk by, presses her shoulders back so her chest rises up and whispers loudly at me.  Poor Leanne, always loud despite her trying not to be.

“Do I look five pounds fatter after your father’s meal? Gads. But it was so good, right? You look considerably prettier in that navy and polka dot dress, by the way.”

“You look… really okay. Yes, the food is always great here.” I grin at her, then hurry past.

“Oh, there’s Lissa.” My sister steps out of the circle. “Can you go get my purse? It’s at our table, by the stage.”

She frowns. I hesitate, thinking she might say more but she turns back. Everyone seems gleeful, chattering, laughing, looking out over the half-acre of lawn that was freshly mowed this morning. I think the flowers on the terrace are especially good and pat a bunch of white and yellow daisies in a big blue pot as I pass. Every now and then I think about what I would like to do different here. I enjoy cooking but what I like more is this old stately building and lawn. I guess I can’t be a Hearth and Vine gardener, that would be strange and silly. Especially for The Future Chess Champion of All Time. But I feel happy I helped pick out new potted flowers and then watered them early this morning.

It was for my sister this time. For Heidi, who’s leaving in three months. And it all looks and feels entirely delicious.

I race in undetected by Mother, who is talking to a real waiter in his tidy white and black uniform. There’s the purse, a blue shiny number with a rhinestone clasp, Heidi told me, but it looks like diamonds. I snatch it and place it under my arm, step toward the terrace.

“What are you up to, dear?”

“Nothing, Mother, taking this to Heidi.”

“Is she still with Rodney?”

I look up at her face, see the faintest lines of worry deepen around her taut mouth.

“Yeah. Of course.”

She nods and sends me off with a little pat on the back. I’m relieved she didn’t say anything about bedtime yet. There are the tortes, mainly, but also some speeches, Father said.

I hand off the purse to Heidi and she tucks it under her armpit, presses her hands together as if she’s a Chinese lady. This time her circle is talking about colleges close and far and who is leaving the state. I notice Rodney has his arm around Heidi and she looks down at his hand on her shoulder as if, well, she might want to flick it off. But won’t, due to excellent manners.

From the long stone balustrade, I can see the piercing stars above and clumps of teenagers who already act like they’re closer to my parents’ age than mine, and also the innards of the restaurant. It makes a good number of pictures when I frame them with my hands, ones I’d like to keep awhile. The music ripples outward with swift notes and the crowd starts to dance even on the terrace, some cheek to cheek, lips whispering things special and secret. I wonder what it’s like to be held that close and the thought makes me squirm. I notice Rodney is trying to kiss my sister again.

Once Heidi taught me how to dance a waltz to a scratchy record Father has; we broke down giggling often but I caught on. Then we swooped about, the easy-to-follow rhythm and silky classical notes making us glide about as if we were ladies-in-training from another time and place. Then I started to tap dance like a maniac and that got her going, too, so we tapped our way onto the porch and then down the sidewalk to the drugstore on Tenth and Hale. Just for the heck of it. Because it was summer and we liked it and why not? Old man Jenkins clapped for us; he was smoking his pipe as he whiled away the afternoon on a bench under the store’s white and blue striped awning. Everything was shining. It’s one of the best memories I have so far.

******

Suddenly the music stops. There’s an announcement over the microphone for all to come inside. I can see waiters and even Mother serving the torte and getting ready to pour steaming coffee from silver carafes but I don’t want to go in. I notice Heidi smooth the waist of her slim grey-blue dress with its unusual cuffs and collar–it’s unlike other girls’ attire but several have complimented her. She pushes her wavy bangs away from her eyes. Turns to study the glowing emerald yard, eyes not even registering me. She opens her purse and takes something small and white out but I’m too far away to make out what it is. She stares hard at it. Rodney has gone on, his arm linked in a buddy’s. Just as I’m about to run up to her, she moves through a terrace doorway and into the darkened room alone as others gather stage front.

Father is saying something about how lovely it is that all could come together for this celebration of one door closing but the next leads to others even better, exciting to enter. He thinks he’s a regular MC, and maybe he does have flare because everyone is rapt as he gestures, smiles and gabs. He invites the graduating class to come on up and say a few words if they want to, nothing formal, just what they think of graduating or where they’re headed now. A half-dozen do and I close my heavy eyelids, lean back in a chair against a wall. I so want my serving of burnt almond torte but maybe it can wait until tomorrow.

“Hi kids, so glad you’re here. I’d like to say a few things, too.”

My eyes pop open. I stand up.

Heidi clears her throat. “First off, Father, this was a wonderful way to close my senior year, thank you! I wasn’t so sure at first, I mean, having my own party in my family’s restaurant seemed…a little tacky! I was thinking a gala affair would be far more ‘gala’ elsewhere.” She laughed and others joined in but some called out It’s perfect, the food is great and Father bowed slightly and walked off the stage. “I’ve been so lucky. I see that now. I have far better than standard parents, that’s for sure. And such loyal friends. And a little sister who is smart, good-hearted and a tad wild–“she points at me but I hang my head low so no one finds me–“just how I like her.”

I am getting scared. This does not sound like my sister Heidi; it’s like another person crept into her skin. She isn’t this straight forward about things and she never praises me, certainly not in public. I want to shrink into a dusty corner. I wonder if she stole some wine or if she’s feeling crazed by all the celebrating and leaving for Penn State before too long.

“Anyway, I thought this was as good a time as any to share something amazing.”

She looks over the crowd, locating Mother and Father who are standing mid-way in the clots of partiers, fully attentive. I look for Rodney and see him to the left of stage steps, one foot on the top step, one foot getting ready to join it.

“I have here–” she shakily opens something up in her hands and it is a creased piece of paper, like typing paper–“I have here a letter. It’s from a place that means a lot to me. It holds information that will change my life. It’s an admission letter. And more.”

Rodney steps forward, strides right up to her. She sees him but ignores him as he puts his arm around her shoulders as if he owns her so it’s his news, too. I feel her stiffen and wonder if others do, too, as they whisper among themselves. Penn State is old news, what’s the fuss here?

But I take a deep breath. Something is going to happen; there should be a drum roll.

“It’s from Pratt Institute. To study art and fashion design in Brooklyn, New York! I am not going to study teaching at Penn State. I have this letter right here that says I’m being awarded a major scholarship from Pratt Institute!”

She holds out the letter to the crowd, proof of a miracle.

Rodney gapes at her, then falls away as if a gust of wind tore him away. Heidi is smiling hugely, for her rose red lips have told a beautiful story. Our parents start forward, hands to mouths. The crowd murmurs. Some mouthy guy shouts, “You can’t do that, don’t be a traitor to Penn!”

So I head toward my sister. She’s standing there, her small face falling, and I am pushing and prying my way though dense globs of kids, trying to get to her before our Father does or Rodney says something bad or stupid or my sister faints from nerves.

“Excuse me, excuse me please!” I plunge on until I get to the stage steps and gallop up to be with Heidi.

She looks down at me with surprise. Then takes my hand. Squeezes it three times for I love you. I stand on my tiptoes to the microphone and shout into it so my voice rings and echoes.

“Hooray for Heidi! She’s going to be a fashion designer! Come on, give my sister a round of applause, ladies and gents!”

For a full five seconds I think no one will do this small, very necessary and kind thing. That my sister will stand there forever frozen, feeling small and let down, embarrassed and sad she ever had the courage to reveal so publicly–her friends and classmates, boyfriend and family–her surprising news. That she will fear she disappoints our parents, too. But I know better. Our parents will be proud of her very soon if they aren’t quite yet. How can they not know her?

Then at last applause amps up, the hoots and hollers and cheers. The re-energized band strikes up a peppy tune. That’s when my parents join us. They take hold of our free hands and lift them up. We stand there together in victory. Look out at our wonderful place with lights and food and friends. When they start to hug her, though, I try to make a getaway.

And then Heidi does it.

“I just want to say here and now that if it wasn’t for my little sister, Melissa, I wouldn’t have even applied. I had this crazy dream but she just told me to go for it. So thank you, Lissa. You’re truly the best.”

I look at her sky-blue eyes filling up and that’s my cue. I can see the tortes sitting like regal sugar-stuffed creations on their white and silver plates and grab the mike and say with a flourish: “Guess what? It’s finally dessert time, a crowning achievement of our fab restaurant!”

Heidi bends down to me and says, “You should do PR work, Lissa.”

I don’t even know what she means, but I can tell it’s another compliment

Another cheer goes up and they chant my name along with Heidi’s. I have to say it’s a stupendous ending to one more successful night at Hearth and Vine. Rodney might not agree. But then, he left before the grand finale. He’ll never know the half of it, poor dope.