Did I ever mention that I am the oldest of five? My sister, Mary, is just 19 months younger. During our growing-up years, Mary and I had lots of adventures together and shared a room until we hit our teenage years. Today it seems a lifetime ago.
My favorite photograph of my sister is one that resides on a shelf in my sewing room. In the black and white pic, Mary is sitting confidently atop a furry-maned Shetland pony. I feel certain she was about three years old. The cutie pie has short blond hair and a round face with a smile that says, “Let’s get this party started!”
My mom tells the story of how one day a man with a pony and a camera walked around our neighborhood offering to photograph children. He even came prepared with a cowboy hat and chaps for the kids to don. The chaps had a lasso and the initials “RR” embroidered inside the lasso loop on the lower leg. I like to think the initials stood for Roy Rogers and not the dude with the camera.
Actually, Mary and I both had our photos made that day. The only difference is the way we held our cowboy hat with our right hand up in the air. Today Mary and I sit side-by-side, frozen in time, in a double frame.
Then there was the time Mary lost her two front baby teeth. Not a remarkable incident, except the permanent ones were taking forever to make their appearance. While most kids were singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Mary proudly sang, “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” with a lisp. When her front teeth finally did appear, there was a little gap. It was just enough to squirt water through.
When we got a little older, Mary and I would escape the house on Saturday for the local movie theater, leaving our little brothers and sister in the dust. Back in the Stone Age, a movie ticket cost 35 cents and bought two movies, cartoons and previews. For ticket money, we scoured the neighborhood ditches for glass soda-pop bottles. At two cents deposit a pop, it didn’t take long to hit our goal. A quick trip to the drugstore for candy and our mom didn’t see us for hours.
It didn’t matter what kid-friendly movies were playing. We watched them all. I do recall one that scared the bejeebers out of both of us. It was an Edgar Allen Poe-inspired flick entitled “The Mask of the Red Death,” starring Vincent Price. Imagine trying to crawl under the seats as the tension builds on the screen. We crouched on the sticky concrete floor waiting for the scary part to be over. It never happened. I think we lasted 30 minutes before running toward the exit and all the way home.
Fast forward a bunch of years. Mary and I married our respective sweethearts six months apart. We even lived a short distance away from each other for a time. I remember the day Rick and I got the call in the middle of the night to drive Mary to the hospital. She was in labor with her first child, Christy. Since her husband was a fireman stationed downtown, Rick and I were the designated backup drivers.
When we arrived to pick Mary up, I will never forget finding my sister calmly watering her plants, feeding the fish, and straightening up the kitchen. She obviously was not in a hurry … but we were. After finally getting her loaded in the passenger seat of our little Toyota Corolla, Rick sped toward downtown where Greg would be waiting at the hospital’s front door. Each time my sister made a peep, Rick would start to sweat. We were not trained in labor and delivery. Then Mary let out a wail at a red light.
“Geez, it’s three in the morning. There is absolutely no traffic. Do you think it would be OK to just go through the red lights?” Rick stuttered. Not even waiting for a response, he put the pedal to the metal and we arrived 20 minutes later at the hospital to a waiting Greg.
My sister, Mary, died the day after Easter of ovarian cancer. The disease took her just seven months after diagnosis. She was 62 years young.
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