My sister Susan is on the plane, flying back home to Ayer, Massachusetts, where her cats are eagerly awaiting her. We are very sad to see her go, but no one is sadder than the dog, who has been horribly spoiled by her. We put him in the pantry when we are at work, and it seems he sleeps all day. Then from the moment I get home, we play fetch — winter or summer, rain or shine, indoors or out — until bed time.
But my sister is used to being indulgent to animals. Her cats are in and out all day long, and she’s the unpaid doorman. She remarked that when winter comes and the first snow falls, the cats are always very peeved when she opens the door onto a White Christmas poster. She says they whine and say, “We want the summer door!”
So for three weeks, our dog has been playing fetch for about fifteen hours a day. If my sister and I didn’t throw like girls, the dog would be a master by now, and John would want to take him hunting. Only thing is he refuses to get wet, so maybe not duck hunting. But if there’s ever a need for a dog to retrieve balls, he’s your man.
We’ve had a great time. She got to see the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, the Winona County History Center, the three Great River Shakespeare Festival productions — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry IV, part 1, and The Fantasticks. She’s not much of a shopper, but we did look around for a gift for our other sister in the downtown shops. We went to Alma. We went out on the river. But if anyone in Massachusetts asks what she did on her vacation, she’ll have to say she “worked with dogs.”
She and I have a long history. I am oldest, and she is third, of six kids. She and I shared a room as kids. I had the top bunk, she had the lower bunk. I was not the kindest of big sisters. She was a neatnik and I left my clothes everywhere, especially draped over the desk chair, where she would have like to sit to do her homework. She was a diligent student, and smart to boot, whereas I was a last-minute seat-of-my-pants kind of student.
We both went to St. Stephen’s school, where we wore uniforms — navy blue jumpers over blue blouses with either a navy or plaid tie (depending on how adventurous you were feeling on a particular day). One night, I was out babysitting, and came home, still dressed in my uniform, waking her up as I came into the room. “What are you doing?” she asked, rubbing her sleepy eyes. “I’m getting ready for school,” I said. “You’d better hurry.”
She jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom, came back to the bedroom and quickly dressed in her uniform and ran downstairs. I, of course, undressed and got into bed. It was great fun while it lasted. I hadn’t factored in that my parents were still up, reading in the living room, and had to tell her to go back to bed. I was in a little bit of trouble over that one for quite a while.
I got married the year that my sister graduated from high school, and she was my maid of honor. My younger sisters and John’s sister were also in the wedding party, wearing yellow jumpers with yellow polka-dot blouses, white picture hats and carrying flowers in baskets. My children were horrified when they saw pictures of the wedding. But my bridesmaids were still in their teens, two not even that. Their mothers wouldn’t allow them to wear black strapless dresses with slits up the thigh, which is the sort of dress my girls must think bridesmaids should wear.
My sister moved to St. Paul after college, and we saw a lot of her. She bought her first car from Nystrom Motors and we had to teach her how to drive a stick shift out in a parking lot at Prairie Island. After a few years, she moved back to Massachusetts. But she has been a big part of my kids’ lives over the years, being around for the big moments. She also has been my nurse through two — at least — sieges with health problems, staying several months each time.
We all wish she lived closer. My granddaughter, Peyton, said she would miss Susan. I told her I would miss her, too, since she is my little sister. “Ooh,” said Peyton, “then you’ll really miss her!” I asked if when Peyton and Andie, her little sister are grown up and moved away from each other, would she miss Andie. “Oh, yes,” she said, “but I will call her every day and we’ll have sleepovers!”
Just like my sister and me!