I smile ...
because you're my sister.
I laugh ...
because there's nothing you can do about it.
So reads the plaque sister Lesta sent me for my birthday along with a card expressing sympathy "during this difficult time."
She's right about one thing. There was a time when - if I could have done something about having her for a sister - I would have.
I am the Alpha Sister ... or at least the eldest of four Henry daughters. Lesta is close behind me ... too close ... WAY too close. Thirteen-and-a-half months is far too little time to be an only child, if you ask me.
From an early age, Lesta and I had our relationship struggles, and it is a small miracle that we survived our teenage years without killing each other. Lesta was the sister who let me take the blame when it was she who snapped Dad's fishing pole by shutting the car door on it. And I was the sister who never, EVER washed a dish, causing her to have a chronic and near-fatal case of dishpan hands.
As a child, my mother also found herself in the role of Dishpan Dora. She and her sister Bernice, the youngest in a family of 12 children, were supposed to alternate dishwashing duties. That worked until Bernice caught her younger sister burning their mother's hairnets and used that information to blackmail Mom into taking over her dishwashing duties.
When relating the story decades later, Mom said she just couldn't resist taking a match to Grandma's "invisible" hairnets.
"It was fun," Mom admitted. "They'd just go POOF! and be gone in an instant."
If Mom tried to resist taking her sister's turn, Bernice would simply call, "Mama, I caught June ..." and that was sufficient to quell Mom's rebellion. Mom was likely correct in her assumption that her crime of burning Grandma's hairnets would garner a harsher punishment than Bernice's crime of blackmail.
When I look back on Mom's relationship with her five sisters, it surprises me to realize that she, the youngest, often served as her family's peacemaker. She had a loving relationship with each of her sisters even though the disparity in age is so great that two of my Aunt Alpha's children were born before Mom.
Grandma Ruth, my paternal grandmother, had two sisters, but I only knew Great-aunt Mary, whose disposition was as cloudy as Grams' was sunny. Aunt Mary, two years Grams' senior, delighted in asking people - with my prematurely white-haired Grams present - which sister they thought was older.
When it became obvious that Lesta inherited Grams' gene for prematurely white hair, I never asked people which of us they thought was oldest. However, that didn't stop an unobservant salesclerk from assuming Lesta was my mother while I was trying on clothes. When I asked Lesta to bring me a skirt in a different color, the clerk asked, "Didn't she like it? Well, don't worry, dear, I can't please my daughter either."
My friend Darlene is so close to her sister, they might as well be joined at the hip. Frankly, I think the fact that they live 1,500 miles apart has a lot to do with that closeness because my experience tells me that it's much easier to feel close to a sister when she lives halfway across the country instead of in the next bedroom.
The exception to that rule were my friends Emily and Gen who not only shared - but constructed - a home together. It seemed to me that their relationship, like their house, was built on a sturdy foundation. Only, instead of cement, the foundation of their relationship was based on mutual respect infused with a healthy dose of humor.
All relationships work better when parties to them are blessed with a good sense of humor. That is why I was able to laugh at the gift and card Lesta sent for my birthday. But when she lived in Nebraska, she failed to appreciate the humor of my birthday greeting that appeared as an ad in the Omaha newspaper:
Happy birthday, Lesta
Happy birthday to you
You don't look a day over 42
You carry your years with such aplomb
You barely look old enough
To be my mom.
Her lack of appreciation may have been due to the fact that the base commander sent a copy of the ad to my lieutenant colonel brother-in-law with the message, "Dick, do you and Lesta have a dependent daughter named Marsha? If so, happy birthday to Lesta."
Hopefully, she'll find humor in my next birthday greeting. I still have several weeks to think up a beaut!