I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A lifetime together

Norma Jean and Jan
Norma Jean has never known a world without me in it, since she's two-and-a-half years younger. We grew up as siblings who, until I was seven, had no other children in the family with whom we had to share our parents. Daddy was in the Air Force and traveled often, leaving the two of us together with Mama, and these two sisters spent a shared childhood growing up and learning about the world. Considering all this, it's amazing to me how differently we remember events. Since that picture was taken 65 years ago, we have grown old, of course. When we reminisce about our childhood, it's evident that memory has changed our recollections so much that an event I remember can be rendered almost unrecognizable by Norma Jean. And there is nobody to say which is closer to reality.

Although the past has real weight and meaning to me, my memories are definitely faulty. There are some things I will never forget, but the recollection that burned into my brain long ago may bear little resemblance to what actually transpired. I've learned that in my lifetime, I can recall only a very small bit of it, and when something stands out it is usually because of an emotion that helped to distinguish it from other events.

I remember when Daddy took us on a roller coaster ride. We were both terrified, and I have a strong memory of the two of us screaming in terror while Daddy laughed at our fear. In those days you weren't strapped in; I recall a bar that came across our laps that we gripped, but in those days roller coasters were even more scary! I think I have ridden them only a handful of times since then; I have never enjoyed them. Memory is fascinating. When Norma Jean and I discussed the event, she remembers it very differently than I do, but we both remember being frightened.

There is nobody left alive today who shares those childhood memories with me, except for her. We have spent a lifetime together, but we both went our separate ways, for the most part, after we grew up and left home. When I was a young mother, Norma Jean came to live with us. My husband and I had rented a large home and had room for several people to share it with us. We needed other people to help us make the rent, as I recall. My husband at the time, Derald, also had his friend Pete move in with us. We spent at least one Christmas together in the same house.

It was a very auspicious time in our lives, since this is where Norma Jean met Pete, who ended up being her husband of more than 45 years before he died in 2011. I am now sitting in their home, writing this post in the dark before dawn in the living room where they spent many years. Norma Jean is now a widow, and I live on the other side of the country from her. Although we have kept in touch during most of our lives, the three weeks that I spent here with Norma Jean after Pete died changed our relationship, bringing us much closer than before. Actually, the closeness was always there, but she had become part of another family. When her partner died, her two grown children and the sister she grew up with all converged in Florida to support her.

But then we took up our lives again, and I returned to my own partner; her kids went back to their own lives, and Norma Jean stayed on in Florida in the home she shared with Pete since 1998. Last month I made a decision to come and visit her, to leave drizzly Washington state and enjoy both the Florida sunshine and a visit with my sister.

We spent Thanksgiving with our family in Texas, and Norma Jean and I were together then, but there were all the other family members and we didn't have much time to spend alone. Norma Jean picked me up at the airport this past Friday night, and we will have two entire weeks just to be together.

It's been almost two years since I was here, and the home has changed significantly. Pete is everywhere, but not in the same way. His outstanding artwork graces the walls; she has a living frame (where pictures rotate constantly) of their lives together over decades that is displayed prominently in the living room. But what was his office is now a spare bedroom. She says it is now sparsely furnished compared to what it was like when he was alive. He had his computer setup in there and surrounded himself so that everything was at his fingertips. He spent many hours in there every day. Now it is totally different.

Norma Jean's home reflects her inherent neatness. Everything has a place, and the feeling of the home is one of serenity. She shares her home with her little dog Icarus, a nine-pound Papillon. I'll share more about him next Sunday. Yesterday was a beautiful SUNNY day, and as I look at the weather forecast for the coming week, there will be many more days spent in the Florida sunshine together. On Monday I'll go with her to the YMCA, where I can sign up for ten days free of charge (as a current YMCA member in another part of the country). Then I'll be able to swim in the outdoor pool and attend her yoga and Pilates classes with her.

We are busy making senior memories together, at least as long as I can remember them. We have laughed at the number of times I walk from one room to the next, forgetting what I was going to say, or where I was going. It's part of my life these days. It's so nice to be sharing our memories together, and making new ones.


Anonymous said...

How nice is that! To be sharing life past and present with one's sister is simply wonderful, DJan. You inspire me to reach out to my siblings, too.

Teresa Evangeline said...

I was just yesterday thinking about memory and how so many appear to be firmly planted in my mind, but I know I remember things differently than each of my siblings might. There is no right or wrong way to remember something, it is only our way because it is seen through our perceptions. They can't see through our eyes and heart nor we through theirs. I feel as time goes by less and less connected to my sisters, so am heartened to hear that the opposite is happening for you. How fun that you have time to spend together at this stage of life. Have a beautiful time!

Rian said...

DJan, I think it's wonderful that you and your sister can be close. DH and his brothers are that way... talking each week by phone. My parents and siblings have all passed and it's a strange feeling when no one shares your memories or can confirm an event even happened. I do have some cousins in New Orleans. We were close growing up... so I try to keep in touch.

But you are right about memories being different. Sometimes listening to my 3 kids reminisce, I wonder if they were brought up in the same family...

Whitney Lee said...

I always love these posts about your sister as my relationship with my sister is so similar. It is wonderful to have someone who shares so many memories with me, though I can assure you that even now our recollections of the same events differ. I'm not sure it can be attributed solely to memory. It seems that we perceive events differently even as they are occurring and often walk away from the same situation with a different experience.
It's so great that you and Norma Jean are getting some time to yourselves. It's very different to actually spend time together than it is to talk via phone and Skype. I loved that tidbit about Norma Jean and Pete. Before I got to the end of the paragraph I was thinking, "Aha! So that's how they met!!"
I hope you have a fabulous visit. I'm sure it will be treasured by you both.

Arkansas Patti said...

You must be having a wonderful time with your sister all to yourself and Florida sunshine to brighten your days.
My brother and I hated each other when younger but are very close today. Still we, like you two, have vastly different recollections of our youth.
Sometimes he says "are you sure we were in the same family?"
Keep enjoying your visit.

CrazyCris said...

You're going to have a lovely two DJan! Have lots of fun!!! :o)

Olga said...

I so wish I could convince my sister to visit me in Florida. Soak in the sunshine and make lots of memories so you will have something to ponder next winter.

Red said...

Early sibling relationships are an interest to me. My brother and I were less than a year apart. It's amazing the things we remember. Most things are exactly the same for both of us. I left the family after high school and have spent little time back in the nest. We still visit and those times are sweet.

#1Nana said...

Good for you. I'm so glad that you decided to make the trip to spend time with your sister. As we get older those links to the past become rare. My uncle died last week. He was my father's younger brother. When he called to tell me my dad remarked that there isn't anyone left who shares his childhood memories...sad! Enjoy the sunshine. I'm looing forward to reading about your adventures.

Rubye Jack said...

This is so wonderful that you and Norma Jean have this special time together.
I was just wondering if it was just you alone, would you choose to live in Washington or Florida?

Jackie said...

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to sit down and read your posts. I clicked on this blog this morning before church, but clicked off because I wanted to read and savor each word..and I realized that I didn't have time to do that like I wanted to. So, I waited until after church and after lunch to come back to the computer to read your blog. It is always a wonderful time for me to be able to sit and read your writings, Jan. You have an ease about you...the way you write makes me feel comfortable and part of your family. I love the love and closeness that you and your sister have...a beautiful bond. I'm so glad that you are able to spend as much time as you are with her and her with you. Hugs to you both as you make more memories.
Hugs and love to you both,

janzi said...

Love your blog, and you are so right about sharing memories... you both have such happy open faces, I'm sure you will have many happy hours spent together to remember when you get back home.. all the best and hugs from a very wet and windy UK* janzi

Linda Reeder said...

My sisters and I also have different memories of the same times and events. I guess it speaks to how much personality influences perception.
Have a great time and enjoy that warm sun. You're not missing a thing here so far.

Friko said...

It s such a joy to read about the two of you and your closeness. It may be that you remember things differently but at least you have someone to thresh out the memories with.

Keep each other close, there’s nothing I envy more.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

It's wonderful that you and Norma Jean have built a new, deeper, more meaningful relationship. And that she lives where the weather is sunny! :)

Far Side of Fifty said...

Everyone sees and feels differently therefore they remember and recall differently and being children..sometimes the early memories all flow together..It is good that you have some..memories that is!
Have a good time..I am anxious to hear about the dog!
I am not close to my sister..she is 16 years younger than me and we have nothing in common. Sometimes I feel as if I never had a sister...you are lucky DJan. I am very close to my baby brother..but he lives far away..but will retire here in the next few years and spend his summers here just down the road from me. I am looking forward to that.:)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

It's wonderful that you and your sister are so close and share such profound memories - even if your respective versions are sometimes different! Enjoy the Florida weather!

The Broad said...

It's fabulous that you and your sister enjoy each others company and have the time to spend together -- and sunshine to boot! I have two sisters, but the one who is nearest to me in age -- we are 14 months apart -- is special because of the years we spent just the two of us and because of the closeness in years. Looking at the photograph is seems to me we two had very similar dresses to yours!

Linda Myers said...

I am seven years older than my sister, and we were never close until after our mother died in 2008. Now she's the first person I call when I want to talk to someone. I feel very lucky.

Sally Wessely said...

My sister and I also do not remember things the same way. I find it so interesting. Of course, I think my memories are more correct than ours. In reality, I don't thing many of us see things the same way on any given day, so how could our memories be the same. It is still a great comfort to know that you have a sister with whom to share these childhood memories and stories. I find it a great comfort for me. I'm sure it is the same for you. Enjoy your time.

CiCi said...

Special time with your sister is a blessing. First, you are fortunate to have a sister, and then you are able to spend time together in person occasionally. I am happy for you both.

O-town Ramblings said...

Ah, shared sister memories. They're the best. Reading about you and your sister made me very happy. I'm so glad you're getting to spend this time together.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, this is a lovely post. It so gracefully weaves the outline of the relationship between you and Norma Jean. I'm so glad you have this time to spend together and I look forward to learning more about Icarus.

Your thoughts abiyt memory seen so accurate to me. My brother and I remember things differently also. And when I write about my childhood, I'm never quite sure how much I've edited. I seldom say what I think anything means or explore exactly what I understood at the time because I'm simply not sure how much I did understand and how much I've come to understand with counseling.

But I am sure that we do edit our memories, sometimes because that's the only way we can live with them . . . and with ourselves. Thank you for giving me the impetus to think about this. Peace.

Mel said...

I love the picture of you and your sister. I can't imagine a life without my little sister in it, since we're the only people who really understand each other. It's interesting that we share the same vagaries of memory. We can spend hours talking about the past, being surprised how differently we can remember the same event.
Being able to video chat with her daily is one of the best things about modern technology. It makes the distance between us less acute. I'm so glad we each have our sisters!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

My sis and I are 10 years apart and sin e I ha to care for her at times it made it hard for us to be close years ago. And then our spouses did not get on well so for a long spell we drifted apart. For the last three years we are back together . Last week she called me up for an old fav. recipe and again on the same eve to say it had smelled just like in her childhood days when I made it. She was very pleased with her outcome! And I'm happy too.
You are lucky to keep up via video chat. I'm still trying to get my sis more tech davy.