STARS AND STRIPES AND SISTERS FOREVER
“Game on,” was the thought Tana said was going through her twelve year old mind when I arrived as their new babysitter.
Except that in 1984, that phrase had not yet been coined.
It was probably something like: “We’ve run off all the other babysitters, and we will run you off, too.” Or, “You have no idea what you’re getting into, but we plan to show you.”
It probably didn’t help that one of the first things I said after the initial introduction, upon meeting their cat was “I don’t like cats.” I proceeded to show them that if you blew in a cat’s ear, it would shake its head vigorously.
I thought it was funny. They didn’t. Neither did Cinnamon.
That was 34 years ago, and, having survived those crucial first few weeks, we are now bonded forever. I’m not exactly sure what I did to win their trust after that cat incident, or what I did to make it strong enough for them to decide they wouldn’t run me off, but I apparently did something right.
And—mercifully, I have a new respect for cats.
Tana and Amy were twelve and eight respectively when we met. They spent the summers with their dad on the farm, which was close to ours. They lived with their mother in Arizona during the school year. Their dad was a busy farmer, and he needed a babysitter, as well as a household manager.
I made the grade well enough to keep coming back for many more summers. Even when they were no longer in need of babysitting, they brought me back. It was a great summer gig for a college girl. And when that was over, we kept each other—as friends.
Every year for the last I-can’t-remember-how-many, they come to visit for the July 4th holiday from their homes in the Phoenix area. They bring their husbands and children, who have grown up knowing that “Kathleen’s house” is the Independence Day destination, as well as their summer vacation. According to their mothers, they begin asking months in advance “How long until we go to Kansas?” and “Why can’t we stay longer?” and “Can’t we go in the winter too?” I take all these as confirmation that I did indeed make the grade as their mothers’ babysitter all those years ago.
“My friends ask me ‘So, what do you do there?’” Tana said. “And I say ‘Nothing. We do nothing.’ And they look at me like I’m crazy.”
But a lot of nothing is what we do indeed. Nothings like working on puzzles.
And, of course, eating. After we bake and cook, we eat.
This “nothing” is what makes it so much fun. All three of us feel that having a plan and packing a vacation full of activities is sometimes counterproductive, creating stress of its own, which is exactly what vacations are meant to avoid.
We did take a day trip to their hometown, the same town they were born in. Gail, Suzanne and I were born there, too. “I’s born in Osborne…”
Our two-car convoy approaches their small town.
Lunching at the Pizza Hut there is a highlight, the Pizza Hut we ate at all those years ago, and the one Gail managed for years–just in a new building now.
Stopping along the way at the newly re-opened family market on the way home in Lucas is a highlight. We stopped there on our way to Osborne for the Loads of Sisters (November 19th) post to procure some of the locally famous meats from this iconic market, the market that was our dad’s favorite place to stop for meat and conversation.
Then, having passed by too many times before, we finally took the tour of the locally—and regionally—famous Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. And yes, there really is a visibly entombed dead guy there. He built this unique creation, and it was his wish to be preserved as such. If you are ever in the vicinity, it’s worth the stop.
The second-place finisher in a national public restroom contest, this work of art is not to be missed. Whether or not you have to go, you have to go.
Nothing is too sacred to be added to the mosaic art that makes this restroom unique, the mosaic art that validates my favorite form of art to create.
The food and libations, the company and conversation, the heat, the pool—it’s all part of the porch experience at our house.
Besides all this, there are some secrets this porch holds, memories that require one to be present to win.
Tana gave this gift to me at the end of the trip, and I treasure it.
Independence Day has come and gone again, just like holidays, and every other day does. The guests have returned home, and it’s back to work for me Monday. The memories remain, and the seeds of anticipation for next year have been planted in all our minds.
This Independence as a nation, as well as our personal independence, needs to be celebrated every day. We are a free country, thanks once again to the brave men and women who made—and keep it that way.
Just like the soldiers fulfill their duty, each of us has a duty to ourselves to free ourselves from anything that holds us back from living our lives to their fullest. Too many people, I learn more each day, are held in chains by their own bitterness and regret, their closely guarded pride and useless fears, and lack of complete awareness of all things beautiful that surround them. I can write this only because I am one of them still. I feel a continued evolution away from all of these, but I know it will be a lifelong journey. A journey it is, not a destination. If I—or any of us—think we have it all perfected, perhaps another look would enlighten us to yet more joy we could unearth and hold within.
Not to be confused with happiness, I have learned that joy is the deeper of the two, the feeling that no matter what sadness may befall us, we have a deep well within to sustain us, a well that will never run dry, even when happiness is in a drought spell.
Happiness, if you dissect the word, looks too much like “happen,” “happening” or “happenstance,” all of which suggest it depends on external things that we may have no control over.
The longer I live, the more I realize it is my duty to myself first, then to my fellow human beings, to find any and all things that make me happy and add to that well of joy, so that I may first savor it for myself, and then share it with others.
As a sister to Gail and Suzanne, I find deep joy having them in my life. This blog, I hope, gives you an insight into this well within me that seems to become deeper with time, thanks in large part to them. I am so grateful that Tana and Amy kept me, long after they needed me. They didn’t have to. They have made my well inside deeper.
Like most sisters, we have had heartbreak in our own lives and within our family. So, too, have Tana and Amy. Like us, they have stuck together through thin and thick. They were the only two children of their parents, having each other as constants when they divorced. They rode through storms of many other forms of loss and sadness, and came out victorious, and with a stronger bond after the storms cleared.
Some sisters, I know too well, do not have this resilience. Some sisters, sadly, don’t ride out the storm.
I recall being struck by this statement I read after our parents died: The two people who knew you the longest are gone. Sisters and brothers are second only to parents for most of us in terms of relationship longevity.
I know, sadly, from seeing others struggle with their families, that the peace I have with my sisters, and the peace Tana and Amy have, is not universal, not a gift granted. It may take work, and for some sisters, no solution can be found. Some sisters—and brothers too—cannot find that middle ground to meet upon; cannot bridge the chasm that lies between them.
Once again—the third time within The Sister Lode, I will make a reference to a profound lyric from a classic 70’s song: “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me and we just disagree.”
Tana and I had the privilege of seeing this rock icon who first performed this classic song, right here in the downtown of our small city: (Amy departed that day, so she wasn’t able to join us.)
Sometimes, if we step back and simply try to see the situation through their eyes, we may come closer to meeting in that beautiful middle; not being a good guy or a bad guy.
Stars and stripes are forever, and so are sisters. Forever is a long time. Except when it’s not. Forever could come tomorrow for any of us. Please make the most of whatever is left of forever; none of us know how long that could be.
I hate to brag, but I am kind of an authority on this subject: life can change forever in one second, loved ones can be gone in a blink. If you are at peace with your sisters and any other loved ones, celebrate it every day. If you aren’t, do what you can to meet in the middle, and perhaps just disagree. I get that some people will not budge one inch toward the middle, and we have to leave them in their far left or far right. As long as you have tried. If they were gone tomorrow, I hope you would find peace with whatever efforts you made. If you think perhaps there is more work you can do, then do it.
Until every day is Independence Day.
My life is coming full circle– I find myself liking cats once again. Thank you, Tana and Amy, for giving me a second chance after my failed first impression with Cinnamon.
Suzanne was able to join us for our July 4th celebration, but Gail was not. Gail was here for Memorial Day weekend, and we celebrated then, as we always do.
In her absence, Suzanne and I had our own little pool party yesterday. Anytime there is laughter, Gail is there in spirit.