I’ve always thought of myself as the oldest child and only girl in a family of six, but if I reach back into my memory I recall that I had an older sister. By the time I was eleven, I had five younger brothers and so naturally I ran with it. We romped through the neighborhood, climbing trees, jumping off roofs, investigating construction sites, breaking into abandoned homes and playing Cowboys and Indians, Combat, Baseball, Football, Hide and Seek and Who Dies the Best.
Who Dies the Best was a uniquely East Coast version of Hide and Seek. The “Shooter” hid their eyes and counted while the rest of us scrambled for hiding places. One by one, the shooter would call out a name and that child would rush at him in ambush. Inevitably, the shooter would kill the ambusher and then rate their death based on believability and acrobatics. A back flip over a piece of lawn furniture, for example was sure to get you a high rating. After all of us lay strewn about the yard, the winner was named shooter for the next round.
The only time I got to be around a female family member in my age range was when Mom drove us from Jersey to Upstate New York to visit her older sister, Jeanette. Out of necessity, my cousin Barbara shared her bed with me. She was also an only daughter and my only female cousin and when we were together we generally put aside our boyish ways and behaved a bit more like little girls.
When I was seventeen, my brother John fell in love with Darla and I did, too. She and John married a few years after that and has been my sister for more than forty years. Darla was followed by Deb, Bob’s wife and James’ wife Kathryn. Over the years the four of us have shared many conversations spanning a diverse range of topics, from recipe tips to the nebulous state of our family’s mental health.
I recently reconnected with Barbara who I had last seen in 1985. She goes by the name Grace now and our lively telephone conversations are as deeply nourishing as if we’d been talking every day for the past thirty years.
Grace and my other sisters fill a niche no one else can fill. They are as invested in my family as I am and we can talk for hours about matters which would probably bore anyone else
But back to my older sister. To this day, the phrase “Mind your sister,” conjures up a clear picture of Sister, my Nana’s dog, an amorphous black lab. With the help of a few photographs and stories, I learned that Sister, or Sissy as Nana sometimes called her was my babysitter when I was a wee baby.
The deal was Nana would set me down on a blanket under the big oak tree and put Sissy in charge. Her job was to make sure I didn’t crawl off of that blanket and from what I hear she did it well. This may explain why I was slow to talk, preferring instead to bark and scamper around on all fours.
So, despite being reared in a whorl of male energy, and for a time believing that I was a dog, I turned out pretty normal. It just goes to show you that nothing in life is set in stone and that eventually everything evens out. And that even if you think you’re the only girl/boy/dog/etc. – you’re not.