Saturday, January 26, 2008
My sister and I were best friends and confidantes for many years. I miss her more than I can say.
Maggie was fourteen years older than I. My brother was eleven years older. When they took me out when I was a small child, people often mistook them for my parents. In truth, Maggie was like a second mother to me for a long time. She was everyone's mother. This is a picture of her with our brother, around 1921. She seems to have been in training for a lifetime of mothering people.
I often look at old family photographs and think that she looked much older when she was in high school than she did several years later. In this shot of the two of us, she was only sixteen or seventeen.
When I was that little, I did not appreciate her as a baby sitter, and I would throw temper tantrums. Her solution for that one was to carry me upstairs, turn on the shower, and hold my head under it. Very effective. But most of the time, we got along very well and I adored her. She kept me busy drawing pictures or reading stories to me, like Alice in Wonderful Land, as I called it then.
I loved to spend time in her bedroom with her, watching her use such grown up things as makeup and nail polish. She had a porcelain box in the shape of an old fashioned girl in a yellow dress. She kept hairpins in it. I thought that was the most wonderful thing ever.
Maggie graduated from high school the year before I started kindergarten. I frequently heard our mother bemoan, "Twenty-four years in the PTA!" But it was Maggie who walked me to and from my first day of school, and it was she who took me to Sunday School every week. She also taught Sunday School to the older girls. It was she who sewed dresses and hats and coats for my many dolls. And when I became a teenager, it was she who made my prom dresses, and later altered them so they would look new and different for other dances.
In those days she was "Big Sister". Once I was out of school, she became "Best Friend". By then she had married and had a baby daughter. Her husband sometimes worked at night, and I would spend the evenings with her. We would eat ice cream - chocolate marshmallow and butterscotch vanilla - and watch I Love Lucy on TV together, and talk endlessly.
During my twenty-one years in New York, we exchanged dozens of letters and photos, and made as many visits to one another as possible. My family and hers put in a whole lot of miles on the Garden State Parkway. Meantime, my sister was busy with caring for her family, then first for our father in his final years, and later for Mom, who by then was living in a house next to hers. Two years after Ralph's death we moved down to Cape May County, just in time for Mom's move to a local nursing home, when her condition had gone beyond our ability to care for her at home.
Aunt Maggie was much like a grandmother to my children, who also loved her dearly. When the only grandparent they had known was slipping away into the misty world of Alzheimer's, and no longer knew who they were, Aunt Maggie was still there. I tried to relieve her a bit from the burden of care. I visited Mom at least four times a week. By then, my brother-in-law was also in need of constant care.
All too soon, Maggie herself was having problems with her heart and with emphysema. We still talked every day and I visited her often. Our Sunday visits became tradition. Eventually she, too, entered a nursing home. This happened not long before my own retirement, so I was able to visit almost daily.
Maggie's passing seven years ago left me feeling lost. I no longer knew what to do with myself. When Ralph died I had our children to care for. When my mother died I was still working. When my sister died I felt I had nothing to do - nowhere to go. Whenever I passed the end of her street I instinctively felt I should turn in there. I didn't. I would continue driving, but forget for a moment where I was going. It still happens. And I sometimes reach for the telephone to share something I know she would enjoy.