Updated: Apr 20
Most of us have been fortunate enough to be blessed with companions who support us as we walk along our paths. These companions may be teachers, parents, siblings, friends, pets, and sometimes even strangers. My sister Marcia was an important person for me.
Marcia was born two weeks before my first birthday. We slept side by side in separate cribs until we grew big enough to sleep in twin beds. As Dad advanced in his career, our family moved to five different homes in four different states in the Midwest and our twin beds moved right along with us. During that time, we shared a single bedroom for almost twenty years.
Strangers often said we looked alike. I suspect the matching outfits Mom made for us and the fact that we were the same height in our early years contributed to this impression. If one looked more closely, one could see that Marcia’s hair was more chocolate in color. Mine glowed cinnamon in the sunlight. Both blue-eyed, Marcia’s eyes were paler than mine. My freckles more abundant.
Constant companions, we shared many adventures.
My sister and I were barely three and four years old when our brother Bill was born. Grandpa and Grandma Weber came to visit us then and transported us in Grandpa's old Cadillac from our home in Indiana to their farm along the Mississippi River, almost four hundred miles away. I guess Mom and Dad needed rest and time alone with their new baby.
I might have felt homesick if I’d stayed with my grandparents all by myself, but with Marcia, I was at ease. The two of us helped Grandma bake sugar cookies. We picked wild berries with Grandpa. We ate catfish that Grandpa caught in the river and we became accustomed to the smell of haybales and manure. We learned not to be afraid of daddy-long legs 'spiders' too.
At night we slept in a room upstairs and shared a double bed. We scootched closer under the covers if we heard mysterious creaks inside their old house or strange hoots and howls outside our window.
At the age of four and five, we became partners in crime since our baby brother required more of Mom’s attention. On one occasion, left unsupervised in the basement, Mom went upstairs to change our brother’s diaper. While she was gone, we grabbed chunks of coal from our furnace bin and discovered its chalk-like qualities. Using our stick figure drawing skills, we smudged giant renditions of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and other cowboys and cowgirls on one of the basement’s concrete walls. Mom caught us in the act...said we looked like coal miners…ordered us to peel off our dirty clothes and wash up.
Getting in trouble together softened our pain and shame. Afterwards, clean and fresh, criminal evidence erased, we warned our parents to hide the crayons and coal from our little brother since he might someday wreck the walls.
Besides occasional naughtiness, there were times at least one of us was sick. At the age of six, I became ill with Scarlet Fever. Marcia (who had no symptoms) was quarantined at home with me for two weeks. When my fever subsided and I was able to stay awake and sit up, Mom and Dad bought us paper dolls. Cutting out paper outfits while making sure to keep the little dress tabs intact helped me forget my rash and discomfort. Marcia, however, was my security blanket.
We were ambitious girls too. In early grade school years, we aspired to be ballerinas. Mom made costumes for our first recital. We danced as young gypsies, heads wrapped in bandanas. We leaped and twirled in pink satin skirts and vests trimmed with little green pom pom balls. Unfortunately, our first recital proved to be our last. Dad said ballet lessons cost too much. Marcia and I pouted in unison.
Giving up dance and moving on to other possible careers, Marcia and I practiced road construction and engineering. We dug in sand and created roads and earth mound houses for small metal cars. We doctored our uncomplaining baby dolls with the aid of a toy stethoscope and taught school lessons to Meg and Judy, the girls that lived in the houses on either side of us. Marcia and I pretended to be mothers as well. Marcia’s cared for her Tiny Tears and I took charge of my Betsy Wetsy. We fed our babies water from toy bottles into the small hole on each doll’s mouth. Tiny shed tears. Betsy wet her pants.
Our teenage years were slightly bumpy. Marcia’s hormones kicked in a full year before mine. She became a neat freak and according to her, I was a slob. Competing for the same activities in school, we took turns being the lucky winner or the disappointed loser. Still, we remained allies whenever one of us got in trouble.
Once we were married and became mothers, competition disappeared. Navigating new and challenging territory, we once again, leaned on each other. Though we lived in different cities, our connection remained strong. Marcia would be on my mind and she would call. The same happened for Marcia when she thought of me. I would pick up the phone.
We were each other’s sounding board, therapist and trusted friend. We told each other things we would never tell anybody else, not even Mom. Marcia leaned on me when she suffered a miscarriage and I leaned on her through the pain of my divorce.
Just after Marcia’s forty-second birthday and before my forty-third, I traveled from Madison, Wisconsin to visit her at her home in River Forest, Illinois. We went out for lunch to celebrate our birthdays and shopped for shoes. We laughed after we discovered we had unintentionally bought pairs that were identical. As part of the birthday celebration, I wrote her a poem to tell her how much I loved her (something I had never done before) and gave it to her as a gift.
Throughout our visit, we talked about our kids, our jobs, our hopes and desires. Marcia was happy.
At one point in the conversation, she casually mentioned she’d been having bad headaches and was being treated for a sinus infection. I didn’t think much about it… Headaches came and went, but I figured Marcia would always be there.
To be continued…
Who is someone in your life that has been there for you?