It has always been an interest of mine to consider the nuances involved in my encounters with others, those that are nourishing and even those that are more distasteful for some reason. In recent years, my interest has broadened to include encounters with animals, nature, books, movies and now, online conversations with people who I treasure yet may never meet.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Four Sisters

            If our mother and father had not been so in ‘love,’ not all of the four of us would have made it into the world. Carl and Eva had their first all-day date on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day. Though Carl had recently been discharged from the Army after serving in Panama, he re-enlisted and for the next two years while in England wrote a slew of poems and love letters to his Eva.

            Meanwhile, Eva was in Nurse’s training at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. She was planning to enlist as an RN yet WWII ended, Carl made it home and they were married one month after her graduation. My sister, Carlene, showed up in about 10 months during the month of September and my entry as Doreen occurred in late January 15 months later. Kathleen entered the family earlier in January of the following year and Marlene showed up in mid-January of the year after that. Our mom baked a few birthday cakes in January!

            My sisters and I do not remember our dad. We remember his essence, all the stories about him told to us by others; that he was so much fun, very kind like his mother and that he loved his girls. Our dad had written each of us a special poem.

About 1 ½ years after Marty was born, our dad was doing some extra tree-trimming work for the city, doing something he loved. Eva had had a minor surgical procedure so Carl came home for lunch to check on her. As reported by my aunt, his last words to my mom were, ‘I’ll be home at 4:00 to take the kids to the lake. I love you, Querida!’ Before 4:00 arrived, however, our dad’s safety line broke and he fell to the street from the top of an old, large oak tree.

It was family that got my mom through those first tough years. Her much younger sister moved in and took care of us girls. Another sister and her husband lived next door. Like most siblings, we squabbled A LOT and fought over play-acting roles, clothing, toys and whose turn it was to sit by the windows in the car. Next door, 3 male cousins entered the world during the next three years and we became ‘the young’uns.’ We had assigned chores yet were also given time to play. There were Chinaberry fights with homemade slingshots, sliding down a dirt hill on cardboard and on rainy days, we played ‘office’, ‘doctor’ or had singing contests. My mom did private duty nursing on an evening shift in order to bring in more income. There was a stepfather for a few years yet when my mom became aware that he was unhealthy for her girls, she divorced him, not an easy thing for a Christian woman to do during that period of time. She became a Public Health nurse, allowing her to be home in the evenings with her growing-up-fast daughters.

As teenagers, we each began to branch off into our own social groups. Our mom somehow managed to make it through the emergence of her girls’ more headstrong personalities. Truth be told, we were not easy! Behind every scolding, however, was her encouragement for us to be independent, to ‘leave the nest’ and to walk with our heads held high no matter what mistakes we made. Each of us got plenty of opportunities to practice this. Our lives took us in different directions and our mom was the hub that kept us linked throughout our early adult years. We have since forged strong friendship connections with each other.

I was the daughter who has lived life as a ‘rolling stone,’ living out of state for a while, having an adventuresome career path. It was so interesting to reread all the letters that I had written to my mom over the years. In the mid-1990s, our mom had a TIA (mini-stroke).  It seemed fitting for me then to stay close so I became her roommate. Our mom recovered well from most TIAs so I continued to live my life, to commute to wherever my job happened to be. My aunt and my mom were able to support each other for doctor visits and fun outings.  In 2006, though, an onset of dementia ramped into a faster pace.

            It was not easy to let go my job as a group counselor for expelled teens yet a greater adventure awaited me.  Though I stepped in to be our mom’s full-time caregiver, her Care Bear, I was never alone emotionally. My sisters tagged team for me when they could throughout those 3 years. Every decision that had to be made was discussed with my sisters. I cannot recall one argument or disagreement regarding any aspect of our mother’s care. One sister had already been through a very tough caregiver situation with her husband. The other two had had their own brands of calamitous situations to weather. We were able to keep our mother at home and all of us were with her when her body took its last breath.

            Every time I hear stories of adult family members who squabble continuously, often not speaking to each other for years, I feel so very grateful for the relationships that my sisters and I have with each other.  They were forged by the love between our parents and by the seeds of unconditional love shown to us by our mother.