Randi Kreiss

Family stories help the healing


If you don’t have a sister, I urge you to get one, preferably a younger one, so you can boss her around. But in a pinch, any age will do, and life is all about pinches.
My husband recently had surgery to replace a pacemaker, an easy, relatively pain-free event, unless it’s your pacemaker, and your body being altered. My guy is stoic, but he came out of surgery with a corneal abrasion, which was inexplicable on many levels, since the procedure was for his heart. The pain was extreme and, although I’m good in a crisis, I found his distress and my helplessness terribly unsettling.
Lots of people offered to help in any way they could. The calls and notes and get-well gifts all lifted us up. But only my sister called and said she was on her way. She had booked her flight, she was coming for five days, and that was that.
She isn’t the take-over type; that’s my job as the older sister. Once she got here, I still cooked for the three of us and walked the dog and fetched the meds for the patient. Really, she didn’t do much, unless you count saving my sanity. We discussed important world events, like our hair, and exchanged meaningful gifts: I gave her my Dry Bar brush and she gave me her hot rollers.
Like most sibs our age, we’re the only people on Earth who shared childhood with the same parents. Ours died in old age, at 95 and 97, so until the last few years, we took care of them together. This shared experience doesn’t imply shared memories, because we have wildly different accounts of our childhood in Cedarhurst with Mom and Dad.

What we do when we’re together is mostly nothing, aside from talking or sharing companionable silence while we read or do stuff on our devices. She paints. I write. We agree on most things in the world except her dog, Moe, a.k.a. Cujo, who is the love of her life, and the only Chihuahua who could take down a cheetah.
We tell stories when we sit around, share the news of our kids and grandkids, and realize that memory is unreliable but that it doesn’t matter. The stories we tell weave the cloth that holds us together.
I remember the Thanksgiving her 3-year-old daughter decided she hated the tiny bows on her pink velvet pants and jacket. My brother-in-law, who died many years ago, called a timeout, got a scissors and snipped off every one of the dozens of tiny bows. My sister doesn’t remember this at all. I thought it was a remarkable demonstration of parental forbearance.
She also doesn’t remember that our mother assigned me to walk her to her kindergarten when I was in third grade. Every single awful day, my sister would throw herself on the ground, grab my feet and beg me not to leave her there. It didn’t take more than seven or eight years of therapy to deal with that.
One story we both remember was our mother’s “talk” with us about sex. She told us an elaborate story about what the male chicken does with the female chicken.
When I offered intelligent feedback, starting with, “So you mean when you wanted to make a baby, Dad and you…?”
“No!” she screamed. “That’s just with chickens.”
My sister and I tend to like the same things: We are political allies, and support folks who are trying to keep our democracy from running aground. Of course, there are exceptions to our harmony. I love kale, and she says she would rather chew on her lawn. I suspect she eats pot pie, which to me is dead chicken in a watery grave.
She asked me if I remembered the time I was being bullied in sixth grade. I walked her to school and told her I would kiss her goodbye before we got to school so the other kids wouldn’t see. She remembered that I didn’t skip the kiss.
I don’t remember that, but I do remember that when I was making out with my boyfriend (now my husband), in the family den back in high school, she would come clomping down the stairs in her rollers and slippers and would accept a quarter to clomp back up. She says she wouldn’t have scrammed for less than 50 cents.
So, you see, while my husband healed, my sister and I passed the time with stories. She didn’t do much, unless you count just showing up. Which was everything.

Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.