Monday, November 24, 2008

Giving thanks, Part IV

When my parents divorced in 1957, my mom was left to raise my 14-year-old brother, 10-year-old me, and my 6-year-old sister by herself. Although dad hadn't really been part of our lives for many years, this was official: a divorced woman, 1950s, three kids. Somehow, we made it.

My brother joined the Navy in 1961 and went across the country and, eventually, across the world. I married my first husband in 1964 and began my own life's journey. My sister and the man she eventually married moved to this corner of the world in 1972. Over the years, through marriages, divorces, the births of children, moves both near and far, we - my siblings and I - did not stay close, but did stay in touch. And we all remembered the difficulties of growing up together and the stigma of being "children of divorce."

We remembered stopping at the 7-11 on the way home from mowing yards (my brother) or babysitting to pick up a loaf of bread, milk, cigarettes - the staples of life that required our earnings to help purchase. We remembered the evenings mom had to work when she sold cars, or encyclopedias, or Avon; evenings we had to fend for ourselves and fend off our siblings! We remembered when she worked in an office and the last one home from school made the obligatory phone call to let her know we had all arrived. We remembered arguments, fights, tattling on each other, putting off our required chores till the last minute (you can clean an entire house between 5:15 and 5:30 if your older brother is yelling, demanding, threatening - and all of you work to get it done!). My sister called our brother "The Chief Spanker-in-Charge."

We also remembered our mother's oft-repeated fear that, if we didn't behave when she wasn't there we ran the risk of being "taken" from her and separated from each other. That seemed to be her biggest fear. I still don't know if it was true, but it had the desired impact. Most of the time.

Fast forward to 1992, when mom went into the hospital in Portland. We all feared the worst (and, indeed, we were right), so I flew out here from Florida and my brother (who hates to fly) came from Colorado. We stayed with my sister in her home as we made our 3 or 4 daily visits to the hospital, walking three abreast down hospital corridors to confront doctors, locate clergy, or find the coffee stand. For almost a week we were together again, this time looking after each other and our mother. When the doctor told me he wouldn't allow me to see mom if I was crying (it will upset her, he said), both of my sibs turned on him and said, "It would upset her more if Cheryle wasn't crying; that's what she does!" When the family (Episcopal) priest commented on my brother's cowboy hat, saying, "I need one of those! Maybe it would attract women!" we all laughed and Peggy and I looked at our tall, handsome brother with pride. When each of us had to return to our respective homes, my brother and I knowing we were leaving our sister to make hard decisions, we both said to her, "Whatever you decide, whenever it becomes necessary to do it, we are with you in our hearts. We will never allow anyone to second-guess your decision and we will accept it as if we had all made it." And we have stayed true to that promise, knowing that she had to do something a child should never have to do: tell the doctor when to let mom go.

After the emotion of that time, we took up the strands of our separate lives but tried to be better about staying in touch. It's been easy for us sisters; we now live near each other and spend time together whenever we can. Our brother still lives in Colorado and we don't see him very often. And he's a man who was raised in a time and place when men kept feelings mostly to themselves and relied on no one. But we email back and forth and speak fairly often. At our insistence he keeps up updated on his wife's ongoing battle with cancer.

My big brother has brought into our family the gift of his dear wife, our sister-in-law, whom we love and worry about. A few years ago, his daughter, whom he had not seen since she was an infant, was reunited with us and added her husband and son to our family. The "Chief Spanker-in-Charge" has become a doting father and grandfather even as he approaches late life.

My little sister - the only one who is still married to her original spouse! - has added to the family not only her husband but two wonderful kids - my niece, who taught me that I could love another child as much as I love my own; and my nephew, the baby of the family, who always wraps me in his arms and gives me wonderful hugs when we meet and when we part. She and her husband gave us a home when we moved to Oregon, and provided lots of emotional and moral support while we adjusted to our new lives.

My siblings - Martin and Peggy. Shared memories. Shared DNA. Shared lives. Shared love. Undivided gratitude for the many ways they enrich my life.

1 comment:

  1. What I remember about the visit in '92 was breakfast at IHOP towards the end of the visit. We all went. And even though the occasion was somber, I remember it being filled with love. And it was the first time I had had fruit-compote-filled crepes, and I ate them ALL.

    You and Uncle Martin are some of the coolest relatives a girl in a sea of boys could have.