Friday, January 23, 2015

Wendy and the Billy Goat

This morning as I was plucking a bristle from my chin I thought of my sister Wendy. It’s one of those things that women past a certain age do, but never really discuss. And Wendy actually has a name for it. She calls one of those pesky whiskers a Billy Goat. I don’t know if she invented this or not. I suspect she did because it’s the sort of thing she would come up with. But she may have picked it up somewhere. I often learn new expressions from her. She was the first person I ever saw raise her palm in the air and put it in my face as she said, “Hey, you’re talkin’ to the hand.” In other words, she didn’t want to hear it. She was also the first person I ever heard use the expression, “She just blew up the bathroom.” Again, apt words for the situation.

When we were growing up, I always found my sister annoying. The last summer I went to Camp Luella May, she went, too. She was in her own cabin, so we didn’t have a lot to say to one another because Wendy was in first grade and I was in sixth grade and that’s the way it works. I was going through my ugly duckling phase and basically hated her for being so damn cute. I have to admit she was just about the cutest kid I ever saw. She had curly blond hair and blue eyes with a dimple in her cheek. For the celebrity lookalike contest at camp I thought I was beyond clever when I put a bathing cap on my head and went as Yul Brynner. On the other hand, Wendy did nothing. Absolutely nothing. She went as Shirley Temple and won the prize. I was pissed. Later that week she was swinging on a rafter in her cabin, fell, and broke her nose. She had to wear a hat on her head for the rest of the week that said Don’t touch my nose and I felt guilty because I hadn’t been a very good sister. But hey -- competition, resentment and guilt -- that’s what sisterhood is built on, isn’t it?

I have a history with my sister that I don’t share with any other living soul on this earth. Although we aren’t able to spend much time together, I think of her constantly because my memories of her are triggered by so many common, everyday things. Last week when I was getting my hair cut, I thought of my sister as the hairdresser started snipping around my ears. Once when we were kids I cut Wendy’s hair and accidently took a chunk out of her ear. (She still reminds me of that from time to time.) I think of Wendy whenever I see a cameo pin, an old drop-leaf table, a guinea pig, an OSU football game on TV, a Labrador retriever, a squirrel at my birdfeeder, a Krispy Kreme donut, asparagus…

Yes, asparagus. The sight of it always makes me think of Wendy. Once just the two of us took a trip to the beach. We had eaten one too many Krispy Kreme donuts and needed a good, healthy dinner. So we found a steakhouse. After we sat down to order, we realized that it was outrageously expensive, but we decided to go for it. We could have gotten a side of asparagus for $20 but our bill was already well above $100 and we decided to forgo it. Still, it must have been some unbelievable asparagus for $20, we thought. Then, as someone at a nearby table was being served, Wendy looked at me and whispered, “Nancy! Look at the asparagus!” I looked over and there were two pieces of asparagus. It tickled us so much that we laughed until we cried. “Two pieces of asparagus!” She kept trying to say the words through her laughter, barely able to speak.  We couldn’t stop laughing and could hardly eat our outrageously priced meal. So, yes, I think of Wendy every time I see asparagus.  

The earliest memories that Wendy and I share are connected to our mother. She died when we were in our 20s. By then we were living in different parts of the country and only saw one another once or twice a year. Whenever we got together, it was like a therapy session as we discussed life with Mom and the way she impacted our lives. Mothers and daughters typically go through a process together, as they age, where they work through the complicated mother/daughter relationship. Without our mom, Wendy and I did that with one another. Eventually we worked it out. We came to accept the fact that our mother wasn’t perfect, just as neither of us are perfect. We forgave her for being human and grew up.

There was a time when my sister would say the words, “You’re just like Mom” to me and I would get my hackles up. Now I own up to it. Yes, I’m like my mother in a lot of ways. But then, so is Wendy. The older we get, the more I see it. We’re both hyper-sensitive, and yet we have a tendency to blurt out what’s on our mind in a way that can sometimes seem insensitive. We don’t hold back when we feel strongly about something. And we find humor in the weirdness of life, particularly our own lives. Just like Mom. I have come to the place in my life where I truly enjoy being in the company of someone who is also “Just like Mom” in so many ways. Wendy lives in Massachusetts now and I’m in North Carolina, so we don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time together as I’d like. But when we are together I always feel a little more complete than I do when we’re apart.

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