It happens every year in October. I think of my sister, Frances. Of course I think of her more than during this month, but this was her favorite season of the year. The colors, scents and crisp fall air gave her an added spring to her step. Not that she needed any added spring.
Frances was always full of life. She was the middle sister, six years older than I, and six years younger than my oldest sister. Because we got along so well, she and I developed a strong bond with each other. We confided our dreams in secret and forged our way through some extremely difficult periods in life when we had no one else to talk to. She once told me that when she went to her prom, her date tried to kiss her but she pushed him away for fear of getting pregnant. Even at my age I knew this wouldn't happen. To say she was naïve was an understatement. We had our arguments too. All sisters do, but ours were few and far between, and it usually took us about five minutes to be friends again.
It was Frances who taught me how to tie my shoes, to ice skate and was there to catch me when I fell. I learned how to cook at her elbow. Oh, how she loved to cook and eat. When I was young I never cared for tomatoes or eggplant, but she devoured them, often plucking a tomato off the vine to savor with only the aid of a salt shaker. Now that I love them too, I think of her when I grow and cook them for my family.
It was she who comforted me when our mother died. I was twelve, she was eighteen. Losing a parent even at her age is horrendous. We didn't know anyone else who had lost a parent and no one in the family spoke of my mother again. This was how we were taught to grieve, to push it down inside so far that somehow the pain should disappear. And so we turned to each other for support. We shared a bed and she would hold me when I would wake up crying in the middle of the night. Every time she got her heart broken I would be there for her. We would go for long drives and talk and laugh the day away. I do think she ended up feeling better, after I told her for the umpteenth time what a jerk he must have been for leaving her. When the same thing happened to me, she was there with cocoa and a hug.
We could always make each other laugh, even when not intending to do so. One day she parked her car in the driveway in the usual manner. I happened to be looking out of our bedroom window. She closed the door of the car and proceeded into the house. This time however, almost immediately as she came inside, the car began to roll back down the driveway making its way across the street into the neighbors yard. I screamed that her car was rolling backwards in between my peels of laughter. I'd never seen her run as fast as she did that day, chasing her car to get it back home. Every time I think of this incident, I laugh out loud all over again.
In the Fall of 1969 I left for University a thousand miles from home. By this time Frances was teaching high school Latin and Physical Education. She was in love with a great guy, a fellow teacher, and was finally happy. We wrote to each other often and spoke on the phone at least once a week. It was difficult for me to display a brave front to her when I was miserable at school. Even though I had a boyfriend and a few friends I missed my best friend, my sister.
Somehow I made it through that first semester and as the holidays approached, Frances called with the big news that she was getting married and wanted me to be her maid of honor. I was so happy for her that I didn't even care about the emerald green dress she wanted me to wear, complete with a large bow for my hair. My brother, who attended the same school as I, went home for the holidays with me in time for the wedding, on Dec. 19th. Frances and I didn't get to see each other as much as we would have liked and those were some of the saddest days of my life. Little did I know just how sad.
School started back in January and we continued to talk every week. Frances wanted to know all about what was happening in my life on campus. I shared the excitement of the winter carnival with the magnificent ice sculptures and seeing the aurora borealis for the first time. And I was eager to know everything about her new life. It was so good to know that she was with a man who had a great understanding of what she had been through. Life had not been easy for a girl who had been so innocent (I think this was a family trait). But he brought her out of herself and she glowed with her new found light.
On Thursday February 26,1970, my brother and I were summoned home. Frances had felt light headed the day before and had been taken to the hospital. My brother and I spoke not a word to each other during that flight home. We were so scared, most likely from the memories of my mother's passing. When we finally got to the hospital the next day, Frances lay in a coma. She was barely recognizable due to edema. She had suffered a brain aneurism and died on March 4th just one week later. She was twenty-five years old. I was numb, the entire family was numb. Indescribable, insurmountable pain that follows me to this day.
I tend to talk about my sister with anyone who will listen because there is no one in my family who will speak her name. It seems a grave injustice to someone who has passed to pretend they never existed in order to appease one's own selfishness. This action does not make the pain go away; it only delays it.
When we each owned penny loafers Frances used to play with the pennies, pulling them out, holding them up all the while saying, “penny for your thoughts?” Then we would launch into yet another conversation.
I know that my sister is with me still. I know that she sends me pennies from heaven, because I seem to find them when I'm working through a personal problem. That is usually when I receive the clarification that I need and it happens with uncommon frequency. Today, when I was picking some of the last of our tomatoes I found a dime. She must have really wanted me to write her story, even if I barely touched the surface. She surely must have felt it was time someone acknowledged her existence.
I will love you always Francie.
© Christine Geery 2011