Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy Birthday to My Sister

She was born at 4:27 p.m. this day in 1939. She repeats that detail today in our phone conversation. Her birth came at the end of one of the worst years in the Twentieth Century, yet she represented the start of our parents' creation of a family. They were painfully naive and awkwardly finding their way. Her birth was hard, and her life also has been fraught; she is, according to her horoscope today in the Akron Beacon Journal, which she reads to me, "a stalwart pragmatist." She knows the word "stalwart" well enough to say it, but spells out "p-r-a-g-m-a-t-i-s-t," and seems to enjoy my description of what I think it means: strong and practical, sturdy in the world.

She took herself to Belgrade Gardens for her birthday -- a Hungarian chicken restaurant in Barberton, Ohio where she lives. Disappointed that this capacious family enterprise no longer serves wine, a treat she allocates for herself once or twice a year, she ordered Diet Coke and fish, which she said was too crusty and hard to eat. But there was a bright spot: across from her, an unaccompanied gentleman watched her closely.

Finally he said, "Excuse me, ma'am, but were you a bell ringer for Salvation Army at the Norton Acme?"

She said indeed she was. She was a champion bell ringer this year. One day somebody wrote a check for $2,000 and said explicitly it should be added into the take of the woman he described to be my sister two days before Christmas.

"Would you care to join me for dinner?" the gentleman said, and my sister said, "Yes, I would."

"I hear it's your birthday," the gentleman eventually said. "Would you allow me to buy you a piece of pie?"

"Sir, I'm very full already," my sister said. But she told me it was coconut cream and it was delicious.

My husband and I have just climbed out of our giant oval tub after a long conjugal bubble bath on our last afternoon in San Pedro for awhile. It has been a stressful interlude, for a lot of reasons, but this afternoon I am at peace. I lie back on our bed, loving the sound of my sister's voice in my ear. She sounds so happy. My husband, still steamy and pink, naps serenely at my side.

"And he paid for the pie," my sister says. She and the gentleman sat there and talked -- about world events, she says, and how things have changed since the Forties. And then she came home, to her three cats and a four-pack of wine coolers in the frig -- her treat for the holiday. She wants to make sauerkraut and ribs for New Year's Eve, just for herself, and asks if I remember our mother's recipe. I don't offhand but look it up on Google, find one that sounds right, and read it to her over the phone. She writes it down, reading each item and instruction back precisely, as the cursor blinks congenially in front of me, and our mother, long dead, is a loving presence between us.

My sister seems to have been perfectly content to spend this day by herself, pursuing her own adventures.

I love my sister.

1 comment:

bonniejo said...

Nice to hear about you sister here, and her bell ringing and the mysterious gentleman. Life is rich, eh?