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 31, 2021

The siblings

Me, Norma Jean, PJ, Buz, Markee, Fia

After last week when I traveled back in time forty years ago, it seems almost like yesterday that I look back only ten years ago to this picture. It is the last one that was taken of me with all my siblings. We are arranged, as usual, in birth order, with me on the left as the oldest, and Fia at the right, the youngest. Almost exactly twenty years separate us, with me born in fall 1942, and Fia in the fall of 1962.

We are in the home of my brother Buz and his wife Phyllis and had gathered to mark the passing of Norma Jean's husband Pete, who died in February 2011. I just realized that it has been a decade since then. PJ died in February 2014, three years after this picture was taken. For years, we had a private blog, started by Buz, which is called "The Sixlings." It still exists on Wordpress, but nobody seems to visit it, other than Buz who keeps our family anniversaries and birthdays up to date.  (I just went over to see if I can still log in but have forgotten the password. Story of my life.)

When I went to bed last night, I thought about PJ and her life, and lo and behold, she came to visit me in my dreams. As usual, she was creating something crafty, even in my dream. Only her family called her "PJ," her initials (Patricia June) and was "Pat" to everybody else. She was always the least healthy of us, suffering from both diabetes and heart disease. I remember being surprised during this visit that she could only walk very slowly and hardly at all when faced with a hill to navigate. She looked quite healthy to me, but she was not. 

She not only liked to create needlepoint samplers, jewelry, and the like, but she also liked to give them away. PJ also loved to care for others who were less fortunate, and for many years she helped a young man who had been paralyzed to be able to communicate. I remember how hard she labored to find a way for him to use a computer system, and she was eventually successful. She was also an inveterate gamer and always showed up at family gatherings with plenty of them to share. It was because of her that I was pulled in to play when I didn't want to, and she was right: I enjoyed them very much once I got over my reticence. 

She doted on her four grandchildren and was very involved in their upbringing. When I visited family and she was around, she always had many stories about them and their progress. Now they are teenagers (hard to fathom) and I know I would hear so much more about them were she still alive. Although I rarely log on to Facebook any more, other than to look at pictures of my buddies' hiking exploits, and now skiing and snowshoe trips, I just went to her remembrance page to think about her once again.

PJ was seven years younger than me, and because of her place in the family hierarchy, she didn't have a sibling close to her as I had with Norma Jean. Buz was born many years later, and he grew up close to his two younger sisters. I do know that he was much more involved with PJ than I was, since they lived in nearby cities, and PJ was quite close to Fia as well, as I remember, for the same reason. 

The only family member than I see on a regular basis is Norma Jean. She and I will have a FaceTime call this coming Wednesday, which turns out would have been her late husband's 77th birthday. That is entirely by coincidence, as we have the calls pre-scheduled for every fourth Wednesday, and I noticed the date and was reminded of it. It's hard to realize that he has been gone for a decade now. When you get to a certain age, not only do the weeks and months fly by, but also the years and even decades.

During this year of "Uncovering," I suspect there will be many memories of times and people who are still present in my recollections that will emerge. PJ's visit in my dreams last night was quite pleasant, as she instructed me on how to generate a needlepoint creation (something I would never do in real life). In my dream, I could hear her voice as clearly as if she were still alive, and I could also hear her easy laughter as I struggled to pull the needle through the cloth. 

"Here, let me show you." She took the cloth from my hands, and I watched her pretty small fingers as she magically made it look easy indeed. PJ was very petite, the smallest of the siblings, although she struggled to keep her weight under control. It's always harder when you're small, I think, when you've got one mouth just like everybody else, and it seems wrong that you cannot eat much without weight gain. I know she struggled with it and was moderately successful for much of her life. She lived to be 63, had two children, both boys. She was very successful in her chosen profession and became quite a whiz at creating Microsoft excel spreadsheets, which she taught to others. 

I cannot say that I miss her often, because she was not part of my everyday life. But we will never be able to gather all of us together again, because she is gone forever. Her memory will live on among her siblings, and when we gather together again, we will think of her and miss her presence. With the pandemic still raging, it's difficult to think when that might be. It has been two years since I visited Florida, and who knows when I will feel safe traveling on a plane again? Not any time soon.

Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating. —O. Henry

And with this recollection of my sister PJ, I will now continue with the rest of my day. It's time to think of what lies ahead, and to visit the coffee shop and my friend John, before deciding what I will do with the rest of it. The weather is mild and pleasant, so I might go for a nice walk. Or maybe back to my latest book in my favorite chair. Or both. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I can feel myself ready to make some new memories. I have so much to be grateful for, and you, my dear reader, figure quite prominently in there, too. I hope you have a wonderful day and week ahead. Be well until we meet again. 


gigi-hawaii said...

What a nice tribute to your sister. So many nice memories of her talents and gifts with that sweet laugh of hers. Blessings for happy memories!

Linda Reeder said...

You are the only person I am aware of who has meaningful, coherent dreams. This dream of PJ certainly fits in the category of "sweet dreams".
I have lost two sisters, neither of them very close to me. One, Penny, had severe Downs Syndrome, and lived institutionally for most of her 40 years. I remember her early years. My youngest sister, Betty Jo, called Jo, strayed from the path most of my siblings stood firmly on, and died of alcohol poisonings at age 33. I also remember her early childhood days, but then I moved on to college and adult life away from home and she became estranged from the family, except to cause our parents torment. Tragedy often strikes someone in big families. Like you, five of us remain.

Elephant's Child said...

That sounds like a lovely dream. PJ come to visit? My siblings are all alive though my eldest brother's health is precarious. My brothers don't talk directly to each other if they can avoid it and communicate through an intermediary. Me. Families are odd beasts.
Have a truly wonderful week dear friend.

ApacheDug said...

This was such a nice tribute to PJ (or should I say Pat), how interesting she came to you in a dream. She sounds like such a kind & creative person. And even though the photo is 10 years old, it’s still very nice to see all of you. Boy, do you & Norma Jean look alike! I also found the age range (with birthdates from 1942 to 1962) pretty remarkable.)

Y’know DJan, I appreciated your honesty here, sharing your “family dynamics”. I want one sister of mine to read this. Like you, there are six of us siblings. We were born from 1958 to 1976. (Not 20 years like your own, but close.) We are not “equally close” (much to my one sister’s lament) and I often tell her it’s more an age variance than anything. I just really “got” what you were saying here. Well, even though you love them all, I’m glad you have Norma Jean to be closest to and I hope you two have a nice visit this week. And I envy you your mild weather, we’re in the middle of a big snow on the East coast! I hope you have a good week ahead.

Gigi said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of your sweet sister. And you are fortunate that she came to visit in your dreams. I rarely dream - or if I do, I never remember them.

Have a wonderful week!

Susan Sawatzky said...

How interesting Jan, we have in common, besides John, family. My family wasspread out just as yours. I'm the oldest, born in 1943 and my youngest sister was born in 1963, 2 months after my oldest child. We are the only ones left, one sister was killed in a car accident in 1976 when she was just 19, my brother 2 yrs younger than I, died in October of 2017, my sister 4 yrs younger died in 2016, and my brother 10 yrs younger died in 2019. We were not a close family but I do miss talking with my brother. He made sure to call every year on my birthday and we talked fairly frequently in between.

Susan in PT

William Kendall said...

A wonderful tribute to your sister.

I am the second youngest of seven. My two eldest brothers died- the eldest by cancer several years ago, the second by drowning as a boy.

I haven't spoken to either of my sisters in years, which was a decision I had to make for my own mental well being.

Galen Pearl said...

We travel down the paths of memory, sometimes to joyful memories, sometimes to sad. But there is always the awareness that we will not travel that way again, so sometimes even joyful memories carry a touch of grief. Your uncoverings are sweet and poignant. Thank you for sharing them with us.

Red said...

Nice family memories. My youngest brother was 2 1/2 years old when I left home. It's difficult for us as we have experienced very little of life together.

Margaret said...

Wonderful memories and picture. I lost two younger brothers when I was in my twenties. The memories aren't as vivid any more as they used to be. PJ sounds like a talented person, and 63 is much too young to die. :(

Linda Myers said...

I love your Sunday posts, especially the rememberings.

Marie Smith said...

I cannot imagine what it is like in a family of six children. I had one brother and my husband is an only child. I can imagine it is possible not to be close to all of them as the older ones are grown when the youngest ones arrive in the family.

My brother and I communicate quite often via Messenger and I keep in contact with his wife and to a lesser extent, his daughter. It’s easier when you only have one sibling obviously. I’d like to have had a sister too though.

Hope you have a great week Jan. Take care.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Good memories of your sister! I do hope you can see the rest of your siblings sometime soon. You may have to driver to Florida to see Norma Jean...although they saying flying is safe...but I am not so sure about that! Have a great week!

Betsy said...

I enjoyed reading about your family history and especially the memories of your sister. My oldest brother died in May from Covid but I am close to my other brother and especially my sister, although they are in Nebraska and I'm in Washington State. I plan to see them much more often after our move back home this year.
What a blessings siblings can be. There is always a thread that pulls you together.

Anvilcloud said...

Twenty years is such a huge difference, but you seemed to share a unity of sorts.

Glenda Beall said...

The proximity of age between siblings is important as to closeness, I think. My younger sister, 2 1/2 years younger, has always been my dearest friend. But the oldest of my family was fifteen when I was born and after I was older she and I became close as well. In fact, the three of us sisters loved to spend time together. I liked getting to know Pat and your dream about her. Sounds like a great dream.

Rita said...

I was never close with my siblings. You are so lucky to have Norma Jean!
Wonderful dream. Have a fabulous week! :)

Dee said...

Dear DJan, after reading your first sentence or so, I went back to your posting on Peru and enjoyed reading it before coming back to this one on your sister PJ. You have such good memories of her; memories that--whenever she slips into your consciousness--you treasure and I bet, you also smile. I am so fortunate that my brother (Mom and Dad had only the two of us) is still alive and very much a part of my life. We both enjoy the same sense of humor and when we laugh together I feel great joy in being part of his life--just as you must when you visit with Norma Jean, whether through technology or actually being there with her in Florida. Sometimes it seems we are caught in an alternate universe that isn't letting us go easily, but when we get the vaccinations then, I so hope, you'll be able to travel again in the world that's been our reality all these years. Peace.