This weekend marks another milestone for my family; my big sister’s birthday. I won’t give her age away here; suffice it to say that she and I are not quite Geriatric but we have indeed entered (if not crashed into) our A.A.R.P. years.
Growing up, Maureen was somewhat of an enigma to me. She could have gotten by on her looks alone but has always strived for excellence in all she does. I on the other hand, relied a LOT on my smile. As kids, she was what they called (in our day) an “I.G.C. student” or “Intellectually Gifted Child.” She seemed to love school and was quite studious, which naturally led to very high grades. In fact, she was even “skipped” a year to keep her learning with children who were more on her level. It is only fitting that she should share her birthday with Albert Einstein!
I however hated nothing more than I despised school. I don’t know exactly what it was or why; perhaps it was the feeling of imprisonment or the insecurity of not being able to be with my family. As a child who lost two of their four family members in two years, I remember having a fear that if I was unable to watch over my mother, she too might be next in what I felt at the time was God’s “hit list!”
The problem with someone like me having an older sibling who excelled in school was that there were always those teachers who had Maureen as a student first and foolishly expected the same from me. She didn’t know it, but Maureen had cast a large shadow for me to get lost in. Now don’t get the impression that I was ever jealous or that there was any animosity between my big sister and me; if anything, it was quite the opposite. I was (and am to this day) so very proud of her. I idolized her not only for her ease in learning but for the effortless way she could make friends, take charge, and for being super-responsible.
Now that said, it was also this same sister, who after having new sliding glass doors installed in her bathroom shower to replace the old shower curtain rod, remarked to me while I was admiring the new bath, that the only problem with such doors was that there was absolutely “no way” to be able to clean the small area where they overlapped one another in the center. At first I thought she was joking but after I realized that she was truly perplexed, I used one finger to slide the doors apart from each other in the opposite direction, while I frowned my brow and replied, “I.G.C. right?” thus solving the great bathroom cleaning caper of 1980! Maureen, who always appreciates the humor in any circumstance (even those that involve her) burst out into uproarious laughter, making me vow to my dying day, never to speak about this to anyone… I did keep to my promise; I never said I wouldn’t put it in writing!
Maureen was also the only person besides my mother, who had literally been there my entire life. Even our dad came into our life when I was six years old. Through thick and thin, we have been there for each other gleaning strength from one another when needed, passing out advice, sharing secrets, laughing, crying, and always…ALWAYS supporting each other.
I can hardly believe how quickly the years fly by. It seems that only yesterday I relinquished my fear of swimming by diving into the water of a public pool to bite the leg of an older boy who was holding my sister underwater. Yes I panicked for her safety, and yes I did draw blood – but in my defense, I had begged him to stop and the bubbles where Maureen was held under, had ceased. It was now war… and as the saying goes, “all is fair in love and war.” The teen yelled so loudly that I was able to hear him under the water and my sister popped to the top gasping to regain the breath she was desperately in need of. He thought I was a crazy kid, Maureen simply thought it was a job well-done!
Together Maureen and I have lived a life that was best described by Dickens in his opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities.” You know; “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” We held onto each other when we learned that our father had died and again when we heard the same unthinkable news about our brother. We sat together in the Church of the Annunciation as our mom walked down the aisle to wed the man that became our dad, and we cheered for the birth of our new sisters. We prayed side-by-side on our knees at our bedside each night… and with good reason; we should have been dubbed the “Bad Luck Duo!” We were hit by a truck, and became stuck on a Ferris wheel, under a tree, during an electrical storm! We were almost electrocuted by faulty wiring at a laundry mat and both had the opportunity to save the other from drowning.
Maureen and I also started new schools, took care of our sisters, shared friends, played games, went to hundreds of Saturday movie matinées and spent Sundays (after church) laughing to Abbott and Costello on television’s WPIX channel 11, and then we would switch to WOR channel 9 to view the many trials and tribulations of Shirley Temple on Shirley Temple Theater.
Maureen is now a grandmother, married to the boy next-door and enjoying notoriety as a renowned psychic and tarot card reader. She is still beautiful, still funny, kind of dumb, kind of smart, loyal to her family and to her friends, always there when I need her, and still one of the best blessings (and best friends) I have in my life.
So here’s to my sister, Maureen; may her life always be filled with love, laughter, family, friends, good health, and kindness.