When I was 8 years old, my mother was expecting another baby (I already had a 4-year-old brother). I desperately wanted a baby sister. People were speculating about the gender of the baby, and at age 8, I thought it was an election! I was very political at a young age and was already deeply involved in the Nixon v. Kennedy election coming up that year, so I thought that everyone who said the baby might be a boy was VOTING and if enough people voted for a boy, that is what the baby would be.
Luckily I was wrong, and I was beyond thrilled when my baby sister was born. 53+ years later, I still feel the same way.
I loved getting up early in the morning and changing her diaper while my parents slept in. When she was a little older, my idea of big fun was to wheel her in her stroller to the public library five blocks away, where I would pick out books while she waited patiently. I loved just being with her, and she loved being with me.
We shared a bedroom for many years, until I was 17 and she was 9 and we moved to a new house. Even though we each had a bedroom, she begged me to sleep in her room, and I did so for many months. I missed her just as much as she missed me.
Then I went to college. When I had breaks from school and came home, her life went into suspended animation. All her friends knew that no one was to bother her when HER SISTER WAS HOME FROM COLLEGE! This pattern has continued ever since: when I visit her even now, her friends know it’s sacred time and she will be unavailable for a few days.
One time the Philadelphia schools were on strike and my sister came to spend several days with me on campus. She was probably 11 or 12. She hung around with my friends, went to classes with me, and had the time of her life. I was always very proud of her because she was bubbly and fun and enthusiastic about the most mundane aspects of college life.
My first son was born in 1981, and my second son in 1986. Her first son was born 2 weeks after my second son! Suddenly we were peers, instead of my being the idol and she the worshipper. But that just added another dimension to the relationship. We talked about raising our sons, and made sure each cousin was very involved in the doings of the others. We spoke on the phone every single day, and as a result, all the cousins are very close to one another, despite living almost 200 miles apart.
In the 1980s and 1990s when my sister and I made these daily phone calls, we had to wait until 5 pm when the phone rates went down. My monthly long-distance bill was still enormous. How ironic is it that as the kids grew up and we became busier, we stopped the daily calls just when long-distance charges became a thing of the past!
All the children are grown up now, but still very close to one another. I don’t visit Philadelphia that much anymore, for a variety of reasons, but my sister and I have a new tradition: we meet in New York City two or three times a year, usually to have lunch and see a play. It’s always a fabulous fun time, even when the play isn’t so great. Last weekend, we saw “The Commons of Pensacola,” with Sara Jessica Parker (we are both big “Sex and the City” fans), which was just ok. We had a great lunch at Café Americain, with plenty of hysterical laughing.
One of the most exciting theatrical events for us was standing outside the stage door of “Nine,” to see John Stamos. She is a huge fan and I staked out the stage door maneuvers the night before (I was already in NYC for a legal argument), to make sure we did it exactly right the next day. It was absolutely hilarious when Eartha Kitt came out first and SNATCHED the Playbill out of my sister’s hand to sign it! That’s not the autograph she wanted! I gave her my pristine Playbill for John, and even got a picture of the two of them together.
My sister is always wishing that we would run into famous people while in NYC. Once we saw Dick Clark walking down the street (before his unfortunate stroke). A couple of years ago, we went to see “The MotherF***er With the Hat,” and Philip Seymour Hoffman was seated a few rows behind us. I hope it’s just a coincidence that they (along with Eartha) have gone to meet their maker.
We used to watch the Miss America pageant while talking over the phone every year. We would buy the pageant guide and rate all the women and pick our top ten. She used to lament the fact that one day, one of us would die (probably me, being so much older) and THEN WHAT?! Bizarrely, the pageant morphed into something ridiculous, went on the Country Music Channel and that was the end of that.
We also shared a subscription to People Magazine, and ANNOTATED every issue with comments for each other, and then responded to the other person’s comments. Reading each issue at least 3 times is what has given me my enormous knowledge of pop culture. We did this for over 20 years, and would shlep big bags of annotated Peoples whenever we visited each other. Again, we never thought it would end, but when People turned into a ridiculous trashy magazine that glorified Kate Gosselin and other reality bimbos, we were done. The joint subscription ended after decades, although we still have YEARS of magazines to annotate for each other, stored in our respective closets. Since the advent of the smart phone for bathroom entertainment, somehow I do not think we will ever get around to annotating them.
For those of you raising little kids, I wanted you to see what a magical relationship your kids may someday have. I was very lucky to get the sister I wanted, and to have evolved with her the way we did. My sister is my best friend and always will be. I laugh with her in a way that I laugh with no one else. We have 1 million private jokes, even though she CLAIMS I am losing my memory. Probably we would have 2 million, if I could remember them all. We text each other constantly, because we have the need to verify our existence with each other (“I can verify that,” is one of our private jokes – a famous line from what movie?). She makes my life technicolor, wide-screen, surround-sound complete.