I thought about my sister today as I listened to the distant sound of my daughters having a silly argument about whatever off in the kitchen. I couldn’t make out the words, but the tones were all familiar: the “you are mean and unfair” whine of the elder, the indignant “why do you care anyway?” snipe from the younger, the huffy “just forget it” pout from the elder, the sarcastic “okay if that’s what you want” retort from the younger, and so on, and so on, and so on, and so on.
I’ve learned to stay far away from these discussions. If they are real and I do intervene, I quickly get accused of taking sides. In most cases, though, both of them start laughing as they inform me it is all an act. This has happened often enough for me to know that these fake arguments are a game they like to play with one another. I don’t get the point, really, but am also not about to ask them why they do it. It’s their thing. And I know in my heart that they are on the same track as my own sister and I were. We fought all the time right up to the moment she left for college. On that day I learned what it felt like to suddenly lose daily contact with a best friend. I can’t remember ever fighting with her again after that.
Watching my daughters interact always reminds me of my sister. We also share a particular sense of humor that literally no one else understands. How many times have my sister and I gotten nearly hysterical with laughter as the rest of the family sat around watching us with dubious looks on their faces? (Sigh. “There they go again.”)
Once, during our college years, we actually caused a scene. It began harmlessly on an afternoon shopping tour. We found ourselves in a Hallmark-type store and started reading Susan Polis Schutz greeting cards to one another. (In case that name is unfamiliar, these are the sappiest of the sappy-type cards with really bad poetry expressing cheesy dime store emotions surrounded by slightly blurred, second rate pictures of hearts and flowers.) We read them out loud to one another in our serious voices as the effort of keeping a straight face brought tears to our eyes. We both got increasingly hysterical. I am proud to say I won that contest. It was my sister who had to collapse into an awkward sitting position on the floor of the store in a last ditch effort to stave off a more calamitous public embarrassment. I later bought one of these cards on the topic of sisterhood and mailed it to her. Inside I had pasted a close-up of me sticking a finger down my throat. She later self-reported that this card had her sitting awkwardly on the floor for a second time.
That was a great year.
Because my sister’s path from high school diploma to bachelor’s degree was not exactly the shortest distance between the two points, we had the luck to spend a year studying in Madison together. I was still in the dorms and she was living in an apartment with friends, but we met up fairly regularly for lunches at the salad bar and shopping tours like the one above. When she signed up for a computer programming course, our contact intensified. She was having trouble and needed my help – would I go to the computer lab with her while she did her assignments?
I thought she was asking for tutoring, but it turned out that my job was to sit like a lump at the computer next to hers till 2 or 3 in the morning, writing silly letters, checking out the other nerds, and twiddling my thumbs while my sister ran her program and debugged it, ran it and debugged it, ran it and debugged it – waving off my offers to help with the statement “I want to figure this out by myself.”
I should have brought some gumballs with me. That is what she used when we were kids to lure me and the other younger kids in the neighborhood into her play school. She and her friend had spent hours and hours setting up a classroom and preparing worksheets for us to do. I remember it being sort of cool. For about 10 minutes. Then it became clear that we weren’t going to be throwing spitballs and having recess or be sent to the principal’s office – no, my sister’s plan was to actually teach us something. We were supposed to sit at our desks and do work. It turned out she didn’t have enough gumballs and we bailed after the first assignment. Fifteen years later, she got her revenge at a computer lab in the middle of the night.
There are hundreds of other stories I could tell (our shortcut through Cabrini-Green in Chicago comes to mind, or my sister’s piloting skills on a certain houseboat trip down the Wolf River), and maybe some of these will come in time. But I have already used up more than the average attention span of blog readers and now have to find a way to end this. I need something a little special – something only my sister will truly understand and appreciate. Maybe Susan P. Schutz can help me out here . . .
“One is here; one lives there. One is a little taller than the other . . . .” – Uncanny! It’s like she knows us! I think this greeting card perfectly encapsulates who we are – how our uniqueness comes “in so many ways” that it is no longer particularly unique.
We are not only sisters, we are “sisters”. What a blessing!
That’s really what it’s all about.