Sis

Posted: June 28, 2018 in Family, Inspiration, Memories, Things I Love
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My sister Karen passed away one week ago, and it’s taken me awhile to even think about writing about her. The emotions are still raw and near the surface, and there’s just so much to say that I don’t know where to begin. Since I really have no idea where to start, I guess I’ll go back to the beginning . . .

My Mom and Dad had three children, starting with Karen, then Sara, then myself. I’ve always been really close with both of my sisters, and they’ve helped me out more times and in more ways than you can ever imagine. I love them both deeply. Today I will focus on Karen, who I’ve called Sis for as long as I can remember. I’m just going to write whatever thoughts come to mind, so stay with me . . .

Sis loved me unconditionally. She was my best friend, my secret-keeper, my confidante, my defender, my savior, my music sharer, my role model, my alter ego, and my rock. It didn’t matter what mistake I’d made or what trouble I’d gotten myself into, I knew I could go to her. Oh, she’d tell me if she thought I’d been an idiot or made a wrong decision, but I also knew that, no matter what, she would always love me. You could not find a better protector and defender than my sister Karen. She always had my back.

Sis’s emotions were always near the surface. She’d cry over anything. She’d cry while hearing a song, reading a book, or seeing a commercial on television.  I envied that, because she felt everything. Most of us sort of become hardened over time, jaded and a little immune to showing how we’re feeling, but not Sis. She had no problem showing us exactly how she was feeling, without embarrassment or regret. How many of us can say that?

Sis loved almost everybody. Oh, if you wronged me, another family member or a friend she could be your worst enemy, but she gave virtually everyone a chance. It’s an old cliché, but Sis never met a stranger. I remember being on Oak Island, a place we began visiting in 1978, and we’d just come back from dinner and were relaxing on the deck. Soon a couple walked up the steps, a man and woman I’d never seen before, and they were carrying a bottle of wine. Long story short Sis had walked up the beach earlier in the day, struck up a conversation with them, and ended up inviting them to our beach house. First off, who invites total strangers to your place while on vacation, and secondly, who shows up? That was the power of my sister’s personality.

And believe it or not, this happened several times over the years. Hell, I act like I’m on my phone to avoid people in the supermarket yet my sister made friends with total strangers wherever she went. Amazing.

As I said, Sis was always there for me. When my ex-wife and I split up in the early 00’s, the first person I told was Sis. Before you knew it I was living in the room over her garage, a place I remained for 6-months, and I knew I was welcome to stay longer. In addition, I wasn’t the first or last person to stay in that room. Sis welcomed more than a few people to stay there when they needed a helping hand.

Back in 1964 Sis did something that changed my life forever. I was on the couch in our living room, listening to music on one of those big stereo cabinets that were the size of a coffee table. I was playing an album by somebody, probably Bobby Vinton or Gene Pitney or somebody like that because it’s all we listened to at the time. Mom and Dad were big Al Martino and Dean Martin fans, so we had a few of those LPs in the collection too. Oh, we had some old Elvis records but mostly our home was a rock and roll free zone. But one day, in walks Sis . . .

She’d been to town shopping and immediately pulled the needle off the album that was playing, which annoyed the hell out of me. But before I could say anything, she shushed me and said, “Just listen.”

At that point the guitars kicked in, and the lyrics began: “Well she was just seventeen, if you know what I mean, and the way she looked, was way beyond compare . . .”

Yep, life as I previously knew it was over. Sis had dropped the needle on the album Introducing the Beatles, and I probably listened to it at least 1000 times in the months to follow. Sure, I probably would have discovered them anyway, but thanks to Sis I was clued in from the beginning.

Sis graduated from high school in 1966 and headed to Ohio University, where of course she fell right in with the counterculture movement of the late 60’s. My father, although a middle of the road Democrat, wasn’t real of fond of the long haired, free love, anti-war hippie culture. What made it worse was that Sis happily brainwashed her little brother every chance she got. I clearly recall one Sunday afternoon when my sister and her then boyfriend Jigger were pulling out of our driveway in their little Karmann Ghia, headed back to OU. As they drove off, Sis shot me a peace sign to which I immediately responded with one of my own. I then promptly received an ass-ripping from my Dad, quite clearly making his feelings known about those damn peace loving bohemian flower children. Sis? She was headed to Athens, headband, shades and bellbottoms on, windows down and hair blowing in the breeze.

Damn, she was cool.

Sis was a huge basketball fan, especially college basketball, and she understood the game. It was not uncommon for me to get a call at 10:30pm and suddenly be in the middle of a conversation like this:

“Are you watching Duke and Clemson? Clemson is getting screwed! Coach K is an asshole!”

Just another thing my sister and I had in common. Sis hated Duke.

My mother and Sis were the main reasons I became a teacher. I watched Mom, and then Sis, and the love they had for teaching, which in turn made me want to do it as well. Throughout my career I tried to emulate Sis and the way she treated kids with love and respect. Bottom line, I wouldn’t have been nearly the teacher I became without her influence.

There are a hundred other stories I could tell about Sis, a few that wouldn’t be appropriate for this site.

No worries, Sis. We’ll keep those private.

My sister Karen knew things about me that nobody else on this earth knew, because there’s nobody I trusted more. Like I said, she never judged, and her unconditional love was an incredible thing. I’m going to miss it more than anyone can ever imagine.

As I mentioned earlier, Sis had been going to Oak Island since 1978. A couple weeks ago, even though she was sick, she went one last time. For the 40th straight year she got to breathe in the ocean air and smell the smells of the place she loved so much. I’m so happy her husband Army and the kids made that happen.

We lost Sis last Thursday, June 21st, at 12:03pm. She died at home and was surrounded by the family she loved so much as she passed. She left incredible, unforgettable memories with all of us, and she set an example that we can only hope to try and live up to. There was a steady stream of people at her services on Sunday, and every single person came out of pure love and respect for her.

Sis was everything you wanted in a sister and a best friend.

Sis and I talked every day, whether it be to share a song one of us had heard, a book one of us had read, or to just talk about politics or basketball or something that had happened in the news. Several times since she’s been gone I’ve started to reach out to her about something, only to remember that she’s not here anymore. It breaks my heart.

I know that someday the good memories will begin to outweigh the sad thoughts, and that someday we’ll smile and not cry when we think of her.

Someday.

On Thursday evening, the day Sis passed, I went to a local bar to meet some friends who knew I needed them. It’s a small place, it was early, and I was the first person there. The bartender asked if I wanted some music, I said yes, and she went over to play some tunes.

The first song she played? The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles, one of my big sister’s favorite songs. I asked the bartender why she chose it and she said, “I don’t know. It just came to me.” 

Thanks Sis. I love you.

And I hope that you, Jigger, Andy and the rest are all sitting on a beach somewhere, laughing, telling stories, and remembering all the good times. Lord knows there’s plenty of them, and like you they will never, ever be forgotten.

Gimme a holler.

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