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, July 19, 2015

My sister Norma Jean

Norma Jean Stewart
I recently sent my sister Norma Jean a birthday card to celebrate her upcoming seventieth birthday. Before I write here again, she will join me, her older sister, in the dubious honor of marking the beginning of her eighth decade of life. I had found the most perfect card for her, which said that there are worse things than having a birthday: your mom could still be cutting your bangs! I looked for this picture but couldn't find it, so I sent one with my own bangs cut similarly by our mom. When she received the card, she sent this picture to me, saying "is this the one you were looking for?"

Norma Jean has always been blond. I love the way her braids and bangs are multicolored from the sun. She is wearing a coat and hat that Mama had made, one for each of us, out of burgundy corduroy fabric. I can still see those coats clearly in my mind's eye. Back in the days when we were small, we were often dressed alike, and it has always made me curious about whether it was just the times we lived in or whether Mama actually enjoyed dressing up her little girls.
Norma Jean and me
I know we were always together, even though two-and-a-half years separated us in age. And we have always been very different people. Recently I read an article disputing the adage that birth order affects siblings in a predictable fashion. (I just tried to find it but was unsuccessful.) I've often wondered if being the older sister made me naturally protective, or whether it is the reason I seem to be naturally bossy. I know that I have always been a risk-taker, and Norma Jean is naturally risk averse. That comes from our very different personalities, I think, nothing to do with birth order.

Nobody, least of all me, could have predicted our lives as they unfolded. Norma Jean met and married her husband, had two children, a boy and a girl, and stayed married until Pete died in February 2011. I also married and had two children, two boys, but both of them have died and I had three turbulent and rather disastrous marriages, before marrying again successfully at the age of fifty. Norma Jean has two grandchildren and I have none, but I enjoy hearing about their exploits from her, and I love to be around small children when I can give them back after awhile. My coffee shop buddies includes little Leo, who is now six, and I see him several times a week. He's not a morning person, though, and sometimes these days he doesn't want to talk or visit with me, but other times he's very gregarious. When he was younger, we played together daily.

I have other siblings, but because we were so close, I consider Norma Jean to be the sister of my heart. When her husband Pete died, I flew to Florida and spent three weeks with her, and at that time I realized that if life had turned out differently, we could have been the kind of sisters that end up together after our children and husbands were gone. Instead, I have a wonderful relationship with Smart Guy, my partner and life companion for the past quarter century. I visit my sister and we use video chat for a few hours every month to keep in touch. Her son Peter lives with her now, and just in the past few weeks her daughter Allison has moved nearby. This means that Norma Jean will see her grandchildren often. I'm sure that when I visit I will also get to spend time with them. Her life is full and she no longer needs any sort of protection from her big sister.

It's interesting to see how the tables have turned: I now get very anxious when for some reason we don't get to have our usual two-hour video chat. That family connection I derive from her is very important to me, and it's a rare day that I don't spend some time thinking about her, whether it's a memory from the past, or wondering how she's doing with various projects she's got going. Our connection fills a very definite need in my life. I'm so glad to have my beautiful sister in my life, and now that she is also turning seventy, we have seven decades of shared memories together. She has never known a world without her big sister, and I don't remember my world without her in it.

We now have the opportunity, I sincerely hope, to be old women growing older and sharing the trials and tribulations of aging with one another. She is as active as I am, swimming a mile five days a week, vigorous walking if she doesn't swim. She also takes one day off from exercise, as I do, unless of course she ends up playing golf with some of her friends in the 55-and-older community where she lives.

She is an avid reader, taking after our mother in that respect. Mama would go to the library and check out a box of books (a BIG box) and read every single one. Norma Jean reserves books online from the library that she wants to read or she downloads them to her Kindle. One of the things we both do is watch for books that we think the other would enjoy. She reads mysteries, which I don't, and I read science fiction, which she doesn't. But there have been many books over the past few years that we have both enjoyed very much. Right now I seem to be into memoirs, a genre we both enjoy. Finding a book to recommend to her is a pleasure. I wanted to give her one for her birthday that I particularly liked, but she told me to keep it, since she doesn't like to have actual books cluttering up her home; these days everything is either electronic or borrowed and returned to the library.

I realized just now that I am pretty much the same these days. I ordered and downloaded a book to my Kindle and have five books checked out from the library sitting next to my favorite chair. The only reason I have so many right now is that I put a hold on them and for some reason many of them will arrive at the library at the same time. Even my favorite independent bookstore, which I make an effort to support, now offers books electronically. They are a little more expensive than getting them from Amazon, but it's worth spending a little more to keep that store around. I had to download their electronic reader but it works quite well on my Kindle or iPad. How times have changed!

I marvel at how different the world will be for today's young ones who have never known a world without electronic gadgets. I do hope that actual books and libraries will survive this period, because there is nothing quite like holding a book in your hands, turning pages and getting lost in another place. But our world will continue to evolve and change. I just hope that I get to share it with my sister Norma Jean for a long time to come. Happy birthday!

And for the rest of you, my dear readers, I wish you a very full and happy week until we meet here again next week.


Linda Reeder said...

OK, I can start my Sunday now. I've read your blog. Now I can reflect on my own sibling relationships as I get going on this day. Two have birthdays this week, right after mine. One brother is giving us all kinds of grief over a trust agreement we are trying to set up for our Rockaway Beach cabin. My two sisters and I are very much of one mind in this project. I guess we'll have to "gang up" on him. He thinks we do that anyway. It's very interesting how kids born of the same parents and raised in the same home can be so very different. The five of us certainly are. While birth order may have something to do with it, now it just seems like life experiences have heightened our personality differences.
Happy Birthday to Norma Jean. Happy week to you.

Gwen said...

What a lovely tribute to your sister. I could connect on so much, even though my sister could not be more estranged from her family.

re Kindles, I get an email about the newest free Kindle books, every day. I will forward to you or come back here and give you the link when the next one arrives. I rarely have paid for a Kindle book. Only for my favorite authors.

Have a beautiful Sunday.

p.s. I am on my 3rd marriage, but #1 and 2 were the same man. ;)

Linda Myers said...

You have such warm memories, DJan! My sister and I were never close until after our mother died in 2008. Alyx was born on my seventh birthday. She's had a tumultuous life but appears to have settled down now that she'll be 60 this year. She and her husband live in their RV on our property and we are enjoying the fruits of siblingship.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

What a beautiful tribute to your sister! I hope she reads your blog!

Anonymous said...

It's a wonderful thing when two sisters get along so well as you do. Not many can say that.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Happy Birthday to your Norma Jean! It sounds like she is busy and her life must be really full with her grands and children so close to her.
I was sixteen when my sister was born and we are very different:)

Rian said...

DJan, I too envy the relationship you have with your sister. My sister was 10 years older - so when growing up, we seemed to live in very different worlds. But once we were both older and married, we had just started to really get to know each other as adults when she died of cancer. So relish this time with your sister. I know that sisters can have a very special bond. My mother and her 2 sisters were blessed to grow old together - and us kids enjoyed sharing in this closeness.
Happy Birthday to Norma Jean!
And that picture is adorable!

Gigi said...

Happy birthday to your beautiful sister!

I've often wished I had a sister; but I don't. So I make do with my various girlfriends.

Elephant's Child said...

No sister here either. Which I am sorry for.
I love the connection you and Norma Jean have found, built, maintained.
And I really, really hope that books don't disappear. I do like the weight, the feel, the smell of a 'real' book.

Arkansas Patti said...

What a cutie you two were, you haven't really changed much. Laughed at those bangs. Looks like the time my Dad cut mine.
Always wanted a sister but had to settle for brothers, one I fought with and now adore and one who was like another father to me but has passed. My step sisters are wonderful but we didn't grow up together like you and Norma Jean did. Shared history makes a difference. I too hope she reads your blog.
Happy Birthday Norma Jean.

Red said...

It's surprising how close you look at both ages. The main features are there. With globalization we have long distance relationships. At one time family remained close enough to interact on daily or weekly basis. I'm the only one of my family who left. I've missed the regular contact. My daughter is in Chicago and my son is not that far from Bellingham. So I see my kids about once a year.

troutbirder said...

Lots of thought provoking in your last two posts. I need to think somemore about this. Thanks though....:)

Jackie said...

There are few blogs that I get lost in. Yours is one of them, Jan.
You write from the heart, and I literally can not stop reading. You have a gift of words....and a love of family that touches my heart.

Glenda Beall said...

My sister, Gay, and I are two and a half years apart in age also. I am oldest and we have always been so close my brothers thought we had the same opinions so they would ask one of us and assume the other felt the same way. But we grew up two very different people in many ways. That doesn't change the fact that we love each other and will be there anytime we are needed. We were seven children, three girls, and now we are three - one brother and the youngest two, Gay and me.
Keeping touch with family means so much and even more as we grow older. We share those early memories that younger generation do not know about.
Your sister, Norma Jean, is lovely and I am so happy you have each other.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, As is usually the case, your post this week caused me to want to lean back in the chair here at the computer and take a while to reflect on things, in this case, my own life and relationship with my one sibling. She is 16 years senior and I wouldn’t feel good about putting much online but let’s just say the relationship is not that great. I do admire your good relationship with Norma Jean. It does seem that a life-long relationship (or nearly so) would yield some interesting perspective on things. In my own case our lives have been so different that there is little to draw on and that adds to the distance between us. Now, getting back to current times … I thought your comments on my last couple of posts were exceptionally kind. I thank you for that and want you to know that I do look forward to reading Eye on the Edge each week. Hope you have a wonderful week.