It’s amazing how memories are wrapped around our senses. Fresh baked cookies can transport even the oldest of people back to younger days. A song can evoke emotions experienced during a particular time; love, anger, sadness, victory…defeat.
I close my eyes and think of her…I can smell the faint fragrance of Aqua Net hairspray as sleeveless shift-dresses in multi-prints of florescent colors dance across my mind’s eye accompanied by white go-go boots. The Temptations and The Supremes ring in my ears.
She was nine when I was born and immediately I adored her. Try as I might I cannot remember her any younger than as a teenager. She was perfectly coiffed with manicured nails and just the right amount of make-up. I was proud to be Carol’s little sister.
Her mother and my father were divorced. My parent’s “start-over” house had three bedrooms; one for them, one for the girls, and one for the boys. On the weekends when she and my brother, Dave, came to stay our small house must have been bursting at the seams with this blended family of his, hers, and theirs. To quote my sister, Deb, “The Brady Bunch we were not.”
Sometimes our older cousin, Diane, would come over and the hair-fixing would commence as stacks of 45’s rotated on the little suit-case style record player. Make-up was applied, hair was teased, and a variety of outfits with matching shoes was passed around and tried 0n. When the big girls were satisfied they looked their best, the attention was turned to my little sister, Barbie and me. From oldest to youngest our small group of sisters and one cousin looked mod and groovy, man. Then and only then would the record player be turned up as loud as it could go and we would all dance like we were on American Bandstand.
That tiny bedroom seemed huge in my small child eyes. Along one wall was a set of bunk beds shared by Barbie and Deb. Along another was the twin sized bed I slept in when Carol was not there and the tall highboy dresser we all shared. It was a magical place filled with laughter and love.
I’ll never forget her showing up unannounced [to me anyway] and she was driving…by herself! Something was going on, I knew it, because Mother had shuttled us all quickly to our bedrooms. We snuck out when she wasn’t looking and hid in the little alcove by the heater at Butch and Dave’s bedroom door. As I peaked around the corner I could barely see her…platinum blond with her bouffant hairdo ending in a perfect flip at the top of her shoulders. She was crying. I remember her saying, “But Daddy, I love him. I really love him.” I was eight or nine when she married Frank and I realized for the first time she was an adult.
Though our family visited often, we drifted apart…me into teenagedom and she into motherhood. It wasn’t until I was seventeen that we resumed the closeness I once felt as a young child. She was kind of mad when she found out the reason I moved to Texas was because I was pregnant. After I moved back home our first heart-to-heart conversation began with the question, “Why didn’t you call me?” And it ended with the assurance that she would always there for me…no matter what.
I spent many weekends in Sheridan babysitting while she worked in her beauty shop. She treated me like an adult all the while teaching me to take care of my baby and turning me into a strong woman who could stand on my own two feet. True to her word, she was always there…through two husbands, and one divorce… She cheered on my successes and hounded and nagged me to get out of my abusive marriage. She even offered to rent a place for me and dared my husband at the time to step foot on her turf. She was the kind of sister who told you like it was not what you wanted to hear. One always knew where they stood with Carol.
She was twenty-eight or nine when her battle with breast cancer began. I always knew she would get well…knew it…without a doubt. I needed her too much for her to lose. Most of the time I would take the night shift. Frank had his camper trailer parked in the back lot at Saint Vincent’s and he was glad someone was with her. I would start out in the chair but as the evening wore on Carol would scoot over and I would climb up in bed with her just like I had done as a child.
For two years the battle raged on, sometimes in remission only to be attacked again when our guard was let down. I prayed constantly that she would win this war…that she would get well…that life would go back to normal. She told me she wasn’t going to make it and I refused to admit it to myself. She had to get well…what would I do without her? She knew I was not going to take her death well and warned Mother to be sure and pay attention.
One hot summer in mid-July she was admitted to the hospital for the last time. I think she knew her time was up. She had made her peace with God and was drifting in and out of consciousness as her mother and my mother looked out the window and tried to silently comfort each other. She would pat the bed for me to sit down beside her, then pull me down and hug me so tightly I could scarcely breathe. I would sit back up for a moment only to have her reach up and pull me back down to her embrace. This process was repeated all day…she could barely speak but she wanted me to know she loved me and it was not her choice that she wouldn’t always be there.
That night was the first time I ever prayed that if she wasn’t going to get well that God would just take her home… she was in so much pain… and He did. The next couple of weeks were a blur. I have never felt grief so powerful, so strong…my heart was ripped in two. If only I had continued to pray for her to get well that night. As the days wore on I knew what I had to do… I had to make some changes in my life, if only to please her… to honor her… to finally do what she had been telling me for years to do.
Yesterday she would have turned 58 and for the first time since her funeral both sets of her siblings and her children got together for a luncheon in tribute to her influence on us. We shared stories and laughed, teared-up, and laughed some more. I think she would have liked it.
If I could tell her one thing it would be that her death opened my eyes and all that advice she had given me…I took. If she could only see me now!