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When sisters talk (09/19/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Two women, both talking at the same time, walk briskly past display windows at the mall, oblivious to others, mindlessly turning around to head back where they had begun, arms flailing in emotional expressions. When they laugh, it's the same laugh. They walk in unison, the same frisky gait. They must be sisters!

Mary is one year younger than I am. She's the city gal, the outgoing one, who went to school for nursing, and has been examining eyes at Mayo for years. When Mary and her husband Ray visited Pat and me up at our Chetek campsite in August, we took an excursion to the nearby berg of Weyerhaeuser, Wisconsin, to a place I knew they would find interesting.

Gene's Antiques, in five shabby buildings with dirt floors, a sprawling outdoors display of the antiquated, rusty, and dilapidated, lead many a browser back in time. An aura of "old home" sensations immediately engulfed us sisters, as the men laughed at the conglomeration of "junk," through aisles barely passable, most items not priced.

There's security in familiarity - just knowing what the other is thinking and feeling. What emotions can be culled that are more heartwarming and mystical than a silence shared between sisters? Amid the maze of stuff, at nostalgic junctures, our eyes would fill with tears, alighting upon a piece of our past. "Oh, look" is a compelling invitation to remember. The mint-green-handled kitchen utensils and a casserole dish in Mother's pattern drew us in. Mom was proud of the shiny, heirloom glass, the Fostoria goblets, and Sunday dishes in her built-in china hutch.

I picked up one of those round tin covers with a faded, amateur painting in the center, which hides the unsightly hole in older kitchen walls. Dad stoked some blazing fires in both a kitchen and a basement wood burner, where Mom hung clothes in winter, washed in her wringer washer, drying stiff and scented with the aroma of stale ash and lye soap.

That took us back to the dank cement basement, where Dad threw down chunks of wood he'd chopped, for us kids to stack, for the hungry black stoves. That gave him the privilege to bathe in a wash tub, in a darkened, cozy kitchen on winters' Saturday nights, the teakettle steaming on his behalf. We had a claw-footed tub upstairs where it got goosebump nippy come winter.

One recollection led to another. Dad acted as his own "chimney sweep," dropping a log chain down through the stove pipe from the roof. Mom waited at the bottom with a cardboard box to catch the black, dust-like mess. It always horrified us to see Mother's pretty, cheerful face discolored with soot. That reminded Mary and me of our neighbor Wally Kletzke, who unloaded coal from train cars down at the Lewiston depot.

Then he'd get loaded himself, swaying from one side of the sidewalk to the other, on his way home. We chuckled as we recalled, both at the same time, how our brother Ronnie came running home after dark and was forced to jump over old Wally, sprawled across the sidewalk. Wally had a language of his own, often out by his bees, wallowing in swarms as they covered his small body. No yelps from stings were ever heard.

As we Lewis girls canvassed the dusty, soiled mementos, there was a casual, intimate exchange. There was Aunt Alma's ceramic cream pitcher, which showed up on an abundant kitchen table daily, out on the farm. Greenish pop bottles reminded us of Aunt Ellen, who liked to put milk in her Pepsi on steamy days, as she mowed the rambling yard (her appointed duty).

So much more comfortable in our own skins, sisters in midlife have long-since grown past any immature rivalry. On the same wavelength, sisters seem to be tuned into one another - that is, if they have the good fortune of being friends...across the miles or hand in hand.

In Carol Saline's coffee table book "Sisters," that Mary gave me as a gift "just because," an enclosed card read, "With a sister like you, I know I'll always have a friend...and so will you."

Angels wink when sisters talk. 


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