WELCOME BACK TO THE SISTER LODE!
This week I am honoring not only my sisters, but a special pair of sisters who have been an integral part of my life for many years. Thanks for joining us!
Left to right: Tana, me, Amy
I wish I would have rolled that word around in my mouth a little longer back then, like a piece of hard candy. I wish I would have realized its bitterness before I uttered it, before it had to be swallowed all these years later. Now, it tastes more sour than sweet.
As in, “I am NEVER going to get a tattoo.”
I don’t know how many people I likely uttered it to in the last, oh, say, 30 years or so. Probably at least several, because I thought it many, many, many times.
Life has a strange way of turning us into liars, even when we don’t want to lie. Especially when we so desperately wanted to hang on to the truth as we once knew it.
The truth, however, is that the truth about ourselves changes. It changes with us as we grow, as we evolve into that better person we are now today, different from the person we were yesterday.
And this is a good thing. This is a thing to be honored at all costs.
Eight hours ago, I waved the big driveway wave as my dear friends drove away. They were here for six days, and those six days raced by like six hours. The other half of the group left before sunrise yesterday; we bade adieu before bed two nights ago. Back to Phoenix they went.
These two groups consist of two dear sisters and their families. These two women have been in my life since 1984 when I was a mere 18 years old, and they were 12 and 8.
I was their babysitter. Now, their children are older than they were when I met them. I wasn’t so much a babysitter as a household manager and a companion. They lived with their farmer father during the summers, and their mother in Phoenix for the school year. Their dad was a busy man who covered a lot of ground—farm ground– and he needed help with his daughters during his busy season.
And so it began.
We have pictures from their visits from the last 20-plus years; one such picture shows both me and the older sister pregnant with our now-almost 17 year old sons. And here’s one from several years after that, with my sons flanking hers:
Then, in just a few blinks of an eye, here they are again:
They haven’t missed a year. Their children, they tell me, start asking weeks ahead: “How soon until we leave?”
We do essentially nothing. We drink coffee until noon, work on a puzzle, talk, eat and then swim in our small above-ground pool. We may enjoy a cold libation or two. For the 4th of July, however, we become more festive. We shoot fireworks, go fishing, and the boys hunt bullfrogs— as they are preparing to do above, and cook them for all of us to eat. We have an annual water balloon fight. We simply have fun, because, if you remember from my first post, fun is generally under-rated and under-exercised.
And, of course, we do a puzzle.
The girls and I love to bake; their mothers don’t. This year, it was fresh cherry pie with cherries from our backyard tree, raisin cream pie and baklava.
They enjoy my siblings as well; we stopped to see Suzanne at work.
Gail passed through on her way to Michigan to see her daughter, taking her younger daughter along. Those two sisters got to enjoy each other’s company, something they don’t always get to do.
There are four children and one husband between them. They are the houseguests extraordinaire. They don’t stink after a few days, as the saying may suggest. They are beloved by my husband and boys as well. They know and love my siblings. They keep the wheat separated from the chaff. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They made me get another tattoo with them.
Tana and Amy have stuck together through thin and thick. Through their parents’ divorce. Through the loss of their beloved stepfather. Through a divorce each. Through infertility, adoptions, the loss of one child’s father, estrangements, life and all it had to throw at them. Through it all, they kept coming to see me.
Every summer, they join us for the 4th of July. Every summer, since 1984, we have enjoyed jigsaw puzzles together. Last summer, I was touched and honored by Tana’s idea: “Let’s get matching tattoos of a puzzle piece with the American flag. You have to get a border piece, because you have always held us together.”
And so we did.
This year, to celebrate our wheat farm-girl heritage, we had the same idea separately, from a thousand miles apart: “Let’s get wheat tattoos.”
And so we did.
A single stem of wheat, with the writing of our choice woven into the stem. Tana’s simply says “home,” because she will always think of The Wheat State as home. Amy’s says “ad astra per aspera,” which is the motto on the Kansas state flag. It’s Latin for “to the stars through difficulties.” Mine, because I saw this on an antique poster long ago and have always loved it, says “swheat girl.” Imagine that. It is in my own handwriting. My father likely would have rolled his eyes and laughed at this on earth, but I feel him beaming with honor and approval from above.
Each of these are small, meaningful, tastefully and discreetly placed. That is all you need to know.
Through these difficulties, these “swheat” girls will always have a home in my home as long as they wish to come. May they continue as long as we are all able.
So now I have these tattoos. I swore I never would. Never say never. Greater than that, I am thinking about how I judged—and still judge– others for things besides their tattoos; other actions I have no right to pass judgment on. Few of us ever have the right to do that. Few of us ever have all the information. Few of us can prove a spotless record and the authority that allows us to determine when others are doing something “wrong.” And the definition of “wrong,” as we think we know it, may change over time, or from situation to situation. Or our definition may be different from theirs. I strive to make every day Non-Judgment Day. It will be a lifelong effort for me, but I am trying.
In those early weeks and months after my parents died, I know my actions reflected my state of mind. Unlike tattoos, however, this grief was hidden deep inside, invisible to anyone who didn’t know what was going on in my life. I was likely–in alternate and unequal measures–sad, angry, flippant, depressed, crying, laughing, unaware, grouchy, sullen, short-tempered and any other emotion imaginable. I likely treated people poorly in my efforts to make it through the day—or the moment. If someone had treated me like that, I likely would have judged them—without having all the facts.
Now, when I encounter a grouchy waitress or an unkind stranger, I think, perhaps, “maybe her parents just died.”
I have a friend who has multiple tattoos. She wants more. She swore she never would. Then, her college-age daughter died of cancer. She pays tribute to her in this way. It is one way she honors her daughter’s memory, and that, even though she once thought it was, will never be wrong. Ever.
This post was hard for me to write. It was hard to expose this part of myself. Most of you don’t know me, but if you do, this may surprise you. I was a wallflower for many years. Now, I realize, I have become a wildflower.
“I never would have thought Kathleen would get tattooed.” I hear your thoughts. I still hear them in my head, too. But, in order to honor that truth I spoke of in the beginning of this post, I got them. And I am writing about them. They are meaningful to me, just as other’s tattoos are meaningful to them. They are art for the body, and art is a good and necessary thing—no matter what form it takes.
It’s more fun here on the wildflower side. There was nothing wrong with life as a wallflower, but it was time. Time to listen to the little voice that begged for expression through writing, my other favorite art forms and through the tattoos.
It is highly unlikely that my sisters will ever decide to take the tattoo plunge, and that’s the right thing for them. They have supported my decision, and I am grateful for that.
No regrets, my friends. This is as sure as sisterhood—and the tattoos.
Once again, Happy Independence Day. Keep it alive every day by separating the wheat from the chaff, and honoring the truth about who you are deep inside–even if it changes.
Special thanks to Brandon, our go-to guy for tattoos. Let me know if you need his expertise. And, without the one-and-only Edgar Hake, I would have never met these “swheat” girls.