Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sistah Friend

Most of you know that I'm part of a matched set.

My parents, who both came from large families, (Dad 1 of 12 Kentucky born; Mom, 1 of 7 kids raised in the logging, fishing and agriculture environs of Idaho) opted to have 2 kids. Just 2. Just me and Lynda, my sister, who is 19 months older than me.

Now that we're adults, everyone thinks I'm older because I have 4 kids and she has 1; and because my oldest is going on 20 and 6-foot-2, and her little one is 5 and almost up to your hip. Lynda is shamelessly exploitive of this misperception, by the way. She perpetuates it. She lies and says she is younger. She gloats. I hate when she gloats. And I'm at a loss to understand how, just because of my being an early achiever, a get-down-to-brass-tacks kinda gal who grew up, got married in college (good grief) and got straight to the kid producing, that somehow I'm being punished for my expeditiousness. Oh, well, she'll get hers. She'll be 55 when Ellie graduates from high school. Ha. Ha. Ha.

But, I've skipped ahead. Let me back up. My earliest memories are of Lynda and me growing up on the Lake Erie shore. Feeding stale popcorn to the seagulls in the winter. (She doesn't remember doing this.) Burying the dead fish that washed up on the shore. (She doesn't remember this either.) The neighbors riding by on their tandem bicycle with funny little elf shoes with curled up toes. (She also claims not to remember the elf shoes. I can't account for her dreadful memory. Must be age.) Playing in the woods across the street from our house, where I uttered my first cuss word (I was 6; it was the "d" word and she threatened to tell Mom, but promised she wouldn't if I would go wash my mouth out with soap. Oh, I ran for the house and shoved that big bar of soap in my mouth gratefully, gratefully praising Lynda's mercy for not telling on me.) Washing Dad's grey Nova in our swimsuits. Piling leaves and jumping in them. Walking to the candy store on Saturday mornings. Fighting over whose turn it was to turn off the light in our room at night. Fighting over whose turn it was to use the record player. Going to see Donny and Marie. Hating it when she made us watch the Mike Douglas Show. (I mean, really. Mike Douglas?! She was 8, not 80.)

Lynda and I began performing together at an early age. We choreographed back up dances to our friend who would impersonate Elvis. (While Elvis was still alive, mind you.) Oh, the choreography was divine, complete with springing from closets with fantastic foreword somersaults ending in energetic jumps with arms splayed, legs split high, then dropping to the floor and executing the oh, so graceful bicycle move. Picture it: we would prop our hips on our hands, elbows balancing us with our shoulders pressed to the floor and bicycling energetically while J.D. (aka Elvis), sang along to "Blue Suede Shoes." Then, we'd sway and spin expressively as we slowed it down for a rousing, sorrowful rendition of "In the Ghetto," which I couldn't help but sing along to, full-voiced, with J.D./Elvis, in spite of being a background singer/dancer. When you feel it, you just can't hold back.

Lyn and I had our big group productions, then we had the small skits that just the two of us would put on. At Easter one year, we donned our dance leotards and tights and cut out cardboard bunny ears to attach to our swimming caps, then we taped wads of cotton balls to our hineys. Actually, there were only enough cotton balls for one respectable bunny tail, so I was chosen to wear it. Which means the person immortalized in the cotton ball butt photo is yours truly. Kodak gold, that's what that is.

I don't remember what the content of the Easter skit was, but the costuming was fabulous. We would charge Mom and Dad a dime to enter our room to watch our productions, where we would serve watered down Kool Aid and stale crescent rolls leftover from dinner. Food they had bought, mind you. But it didn't matter. It was art, and art comes with a price.

At night, like every other American child, we'd sneak flashlights under our blankets and read after we'd been told to go to bed, then tremble in fear when we'd hear Dad coming down the hall, because he had had to call out to us to quit giggling one too many times and we knew we had it coming. Not that "it" was usually anything more than that awful, stern look Dad could give that I swear would make you think you were going to wet your pants.

He did try spanking us a few times over the years, but that didn't work out so well. Primarily because my response to fear is nervous laughter that sounds an awful lot like regular laughter, and that doesn't go over real well with a dad that's already good and mad. Poor Lynda. We'd hear Dad coming down the hall after already having warned us that a spanking was going to be the punishment for the umpty-ump times he'd told us to be quiet and go to sleep, and I'd start giggling. Lynda would plead with me to stop laughing because it was just going to make Dad madder, but I couldn't help myself. Even as he'd spank her, I'd be laughing. I'd bury my face in my pillow and try to stop the shaking while he made his way over to my bed to give me a swat or two, and I tried as hard as I could to keep him from knowing that I was laughing my head off.

Finally, it'd be over and Lynda would be looking at me with confusion and anger and betrayal, tears streaming down her face after Dad left the room, and I'd be helplessly shaking in my bed, having flipped over onto my back, and clamping both hands over my mouth working so hard to keep my gales of laughter silent until Dad was far enough back down the hall that he wouldn't hear me. Oh, Lynda wanted to kill me.

That wasn't the only time I laughed inappropriately when Lynda was in distress. The last time I remember doing it at a really inappropriate moment, there were far more witnesses and it wasn't Lynda staring at me like I was nuts. She would have, I'm sure, but couldn't because she was unconscious. See, a whole group of friends and our church youth group had gone to Snowflake to the roller rink to do that rollerskating/ dance thing that was all the rage in the mid-80s. There was a fast song and a big group of kids linked hands and had one of those long snakes going, and Lynda was at the tail end. Well, that snake came whipping around one end of the rink and somehow Lynda broke free, but the velocity was so great that she found herself rolling out of control towards a bank of video games lining the rink and there was nothing to stop her from crashing headlong into those games and slamming to the floor unconscious. I, who wasn't part of the snake, came skating up just as she bounced back off the big black video game and was horrified as I heard her head smack the concrete rink; so of course, I did what any horrified sister would do in such a situation.

I began laughing uncontrollably.

And the friends standing in a circle around Lynda, and those kneeling next to her, cradling her head, trying to bring her around, all looked over at me with the same look of incredulity and disgust -- the very expression that every 12-year-old girl hopes to elicit from a group of 15 or so older kids that she had been desperately trying to impress roughly 24 hours of every day of every week prior to this night. It was my shining moment. (Lynda was fine, by the way. Probably had a mild concussion, but since no grown up witnessed the fall, Lynda and the rest of us weren't willing to let a little thing like a possible brain injury cut the night short.)

I can't explain why I always laughed at inappropriate times and I felt so bad that it caused Lynda so much consternation, but I couldn't help it. Unfortunately, I still can't. I am mortified when something serious is going on and I get a fit of giggles. What is that? And why on earth have I not been able to master it, yet?? I heard a spunky 70-year-old woman admit in church this morning that she still had some growing up to do; oh, I'm right there with you, sistah.

Lynda and I were each other's built-in friends when we moved from Ohio to Arizona the year or so after Elvis and our Grandpa Fraley died. We had each other, so it kept worry about whether we'd make friends in our new life a less anxious prospect than it might otherwise have been. We had many good years, exploring the Arizona high desert together.

Of course, eventually we became teenagers, so that meant we had to start resenting each other over boyfriends, intrusion on each other's time with friends, and other silly things that those gross early teen years amplify. We mostly left each other alone and led separate lives while getting along OK during high school, and that was fine.

My going off to college was a lot less anxiety-ridden than Lyn's experience because she'd already been there a year by the time I showed up, so she had the 411, which made my first year away from home a piece of cake.

At some point, I'll probably go into the amazing aunt she's been to my kiddos, the adventures we've had as adults and the great friendship we now share, still riddled with all of my bratty little sister tendencies that must annoy her to no end, but a great friendship all the same. But I'll go into that another time.

What I will say now, though, is that during times of trial, we pull together, and we become ever more attuned to one another. And, boy, am I attuned to her right now. Lately, I resist the urge to call her up constantly and text her constantly to see how she's doing or regale her with some stupid anecdote. (Oh, Lyn, trust me, I've been exercising restraint. It could be so much worse.)

I'm especially attuned to her right now because we'll be heading to the Valley with Mom in 2 weeks for a little shopping, dining and surgery to remove Lynda's cancerous thyroid.

Frankly, we weren't all that surprised to find out Lyn has cancer. We all knew something was going on, and it had been taking awhile to figure it out, but we all 3 knew that Lyn needed to keep at it until we got to the bottom of her illnesses. Mom rather prophetically pronounced in January that she felt like this was going to be an important year for our family, and we all felt she was right. We didn't feel like it was going to be tragic, just important. Now we understand why.

It's reassuring that collectively, the 3 of us feel peaceful about the whole thing, like everything is going to be just fine. We're hearing a lot of "If you gotta have cancer, thyroid's the one to have...." and have talked with so many thyroid cancer survivors and friends and families of thyroid cancer survivors, that our peace feels well founded.

But I'm also feeling fiercely protective of Lyn through the whole thing - I am grateful for the peace, I know she'll be OK, but it doesn't alter the fact that the disease has already made her feel lousy, she's still going to be going through surgery and radiation, and as good as we feel about it, I don't expect we'll breathe completely freely until we're on the other side of this and get the "no evidence of disease" pronouncement.

I am so grateful, though, for a Heavenly Father who grants peace. And grants sisterly relationships, which means Lyn can say things like, "Hey, you HAVE to go out to the car and get that book for me...I have cancer," or, "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeze will you go get me a soda? I have cancer." And I can say things like, "Hey, if you die, can I have your jewelry?" only because I know she's going to be just fine. Well, actually, knowing us, we'd be saying these inappropriate things even if we knew one of us had one foot in the grave. (Just not in front of Dad, because I bet after 35 years, he could still muster "the look" if he had to.)

The thing is, Lyn's not crying in fear, and I'm not giggling nervously, so I'm sure we'll get through this threatening little episode just fine. But you can bet, during that 3 days that she's glowing from the radiation pill she'll be taking, we'll both be filing away all of the terribly inappropriate jokes we can muster to share as soon as it's safe to be in the same room together.

Who am I kidding? We'll be hollering them through the door while she's quarantined.

We're sisters. That's just how we roll.

Love from the farm,

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