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Becky and me at Scotty's Castle, Death Valley, CA

Becky and me at Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley, CA

My Sister:  A Life So Precious

My sister Becky passed away on April 14, 2010, in Evansville, IN. We drove from Las Vegas, NV, non-stop, in about 30 hours to attend her funeral. My sister’s life was so precious to me and to so many people. She was truly one of the “good” people in the world. And even though she was 11 years older than me, I thought she’d outlive me.While there in my hometown I spent time with her family (kids, grandkids, great-grandkids.) Besides the loss of my sister, it was also a saddening realization that we will move heaven and earth to gather together for the dead, but make no such herculean effort to gather for the living. Families these days are scattered so far away from one another, and although it was comforting to be with family, it hurt that she wasn’t there, because she always was…..

We gathered in the evening at her house, but I couldn’t bring myself to go inside…it just wouldn’t be the same without her there. I sat in a chair outside in the back yard with the family. We laughed and cried over her memory and it was a comfort to all of us to be together. Her house has since been sold and I have never returned, and likely never will, to Evansville.Had she lived, she would have been 87 years old the 14th of May, 2015. She helped raise me, as I told in my story “Putting Away Childish Things,” written in the ’90s.  Momma had a total of seven children including a set of twins (boy and girl) and a boy who died in infancy. Since I was the baby of the family, I never knew the three who died. My only knowledge of siblings were my two brothers, Bill and Calvin (known as C.W.), and my sister Becky.

Becky-and-me-1940sWith the help of my sister’s strong spirit, I managed to speak of her at her funeral without breaking down. I told my story about her selfless raising of her baby sister, when times were hard and Momma had to work. I spoke of how there were no child care organizations in those days, families helped each other.  I told about how my sister, 11 years older than me, gave up her youth to be a second mom to me. Becky was always cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing and doing all the things that kept a household on an even keel. It couldn’t have been easy, because many times I was a bratty little kid and screamed at her “You’re not my mother! I don’t have to do what you say.” After all that, and as tired as she must have been at night, she never, ever, failed to tuck me in and hug me and tell me she loved me.

She was only 15-16  years old when she did all this. The world was hard at best in those days back in the 1940’s with none of the  labor saving devices we have now. We lived in a Kentucky coal mine town, where we had to carry in our drinking and washing water from a spigot outside, and carry in coal by the bucket to heat our homes. There were no modern conveniences. Anything we needed required hard physical labor, nothing was easy.These days we take for granted the automatic washers and dryers and dishwashers; there were no such things in those days.  As for central heating and cooling, we had none. There was a fireplace in each room, where we burned coal to stay warm in the winter, and a cook stove in the kitchen, which also required coal. In the summertime, we opened the windows hoping for a bit of a breeze.

My sister’s entire life was spent taking care of others. After her coal miner husband died from lung cancer, she met the challenge by learning to drive, getting a job, and raising 5 children, struggling each day to make ends meet. Later she also took on the responsibility of raising a grandson. Looking back on our lives, I realize the sacrifices she made for us.

And I realize that not once did she ever tell me I was selfish in living my own life in another state, while she looked after our mother after Dad died. Whenever I came home to visit, she always met me with open arms and a joyful heart for her baby sister.

The writer Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again,” and he was so right. My mother passed away in 1995 and my sister in 2010. Both my anchors to my old life were gone. Oh yes, I could travel to the town, but “home” is in the mind and heart, and it’s no longer the same without the two most important people in my life. “Home” no longer exists without them.

During her lifetime Becky finally managed visit me in Las Vegas where we took her sightseeing, and then to Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and Death Valley. For probably the first time in her life, she had no chores, no worries, and could just relax and have a good time.  I’m glad that I was able to do that for her. I wish I could’ve made her life easier, but I was only able to do that for a short period of time. She was so precious to me, and I will forever miss being able to talk to her.