A Father's Journal / A story of sisters
The other night I was congratulating myself on how well my daughters got along when I heard the door slam and my younger daughter scream, "I hate you." I assume she was screaming at her sister. However, it could have been at my wife or me. Sometimes, it is hard to tell exactly who is being hated.
While I had both boys and girls in my family growing up, my mother was born into a family of all girls. The Lavelles had five girls; four made it to adulthood. While I'm sure they fought, most of the stories my mother tells are of how they stuck together. They went through difficulties -- a sister died in childhood, and my grandmother died when my mother was 16.
My mother tells of how the oldest sisters helped carry the family. Growing up, we would hear about sacrifices my aunts made, yet my mother always managed to make even the worst stories funny. My Aunt Geraldine (Jerry) used to send us money so we had a Christmas every year. She along with my Aunt Rita bought us the World Book; 90 percent of all of our school reports were copied from those pages. After each of the sisters was widowed, they turned to the other sisters for support.
My mother and my Aunt Jerry are now the last two sisters. My aunt is in a nursing home. My mother talks on the phone daily with her. My mother lives 3,000 miles away from her only remaining sister. Therefore, every four or five months over the last few years, mom has taken a trip to see her. On each trip, one of my eight siblings accompanies my mother to help with driving and logistics. This last trip was my turn. I thought I was doing it as a way to somehow repay my aunt for the wonderful things she did for us as children.
My mom got off the "red eye" flight in a wheelchair. This was going to be a long trip. As we drove, and my mother got closer to her sister, she seemed to get stronger and sharper. She had not slept on the overnight flight. "Too keyed up," she said. She took a short nap, but as we neared Des Moines, she woke up and proceeded to tell me every turn to take even though she had never driven in Des Moines, normally is very bad with directions and had been up for 36 hours. We did not miss a turn. She directed me where to park, and I had barely come to a stop before she was out of the car.
What I saw during the next week was amazing. My mother looked 10 years younger and seemed to gain a few inches in height. One day my aunt wanted to get out of the nursing home for the day. We decided that the mall was the best because of the rain. I drove up on the sidewalk to get my aunt out at the mall. I got some ugly stares from people, but my mother did not want her sister to get wet. We went to the food court, had lunch, and checked out the stores.
My aunt, who doesn't see very well, wanted to go into Aeropostale, a store that caters to a much younger and more active clientele than the three of us. I pushed my aunt's wheelchair in; my mother followed dragging my aunt's walker, in case my aunt wanted to stand up. We had a difficult time at the front of the store, briefly blocking the entrance. I thought if you looked into the store, we were the only ones people could see. We are certainly not the models that the store wanted to portray. After a moment, it occurred to me that the store could do a lot worse than having these sisters as models. They may not sell as much of the tighter-fitting clothing. But they would be great role models. They are the models of sisters I point out every day to my daughters. If my two daughters bond half as much as the Lavelle sisters, they will always have someone in their corner when things go wrong.
On the last day of our visit, as I prepared to see my aunt for the last time, I told mom that I wanted to thank Jerry for everything. My mother turned to me and warned. "Don't you dare cry. You can cry in the car." I wish I could say I made it to the car.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters, and he can be reached at tlawlor@.communications.com. "A Father's Journal" appears monthly.