Sister Said

Sister Said

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Sister Said

He gives not best who gives most; but he gives most who gives best.

Arthur Warwick

No two words in the English language could send our household into more of a tizzy than those two words, “Sister said.” So when I announced shortly after Thanksgiving that the nuns at my elementary school said I was going to be one of the angels in the Christmas play, it set the wheels in motion for the most frenzied of activities. My grandma rummaged through a trunk of yard goods, looking for the whitest of white scraps, while my father measured me shoulder to shoulder, neckline to shoe top. My mother searched the drawers and cupboards for the little bit of gold ribbon Sister said we were to wear around our waists. My father outlined wings on huge pieces of cardboard, wings that Sister said were to measure fourteen inches long and ten inches wide at the center. My daily messages of “Sister said” brought occasional moans and groans from my dressmakers as plans were changed and sleeves had to cover our fingertips, not stop at the wrist as those on my robe did. Another day, Sister said the hem should be at least four inches deep and we should wear a pink slip under the robe, not a white one such as my grandma had just finished making.

When my brother Tom came home one night two weeks before Christmas and said that his Sister had said that our family had to come to the Scout meeting that night, my father groaned the loudest and said, “But tonight I’m supposed to cut out those wings because Sister said Jeanie had to hand them in tomorrow for inspection!”

“Now, Raymond, you know perfectly well that I can cut out those wings,” Grandma said. “You all go right ahead to that meeting, just like Sister said.”

“Well, I don’t know,” my mother said. “You’ve been so tired lately. And you’ve taken that angel robe apart so many times the material is almost as worn as you.”

“I’ll be just fine,” Grandma snapped. “Every stitch of the angel robe is made of love, and that’s what keeps me going.”

For the next few days and nights, my parents were too caught up with the Scouts’ Christmas program to help much with the creation of my angel robe, so when, late one Friday night, I said that Sister said the angels had to wear white shoes, my grandma promised, “We’ll go right downtown tomorrow, Jeanie, just the two of us, and shop for those shoes. You parents have put enough wear and tear on their car for the time being.”

Even though my mother exclaimed that the real wear and tear was more apparent on my grandmother, Grandma Thomas would hear none of it. Once again, she recited her line about every stitch of that robe being made of love.

Eight days before the play, Sister said it would be nice if all the angels had curls in their hair the night of the play, but not too many curls. Out came Grandma’s bag of rags and each night before bedtime, she rolled up my hair, practicing, hoping to find that fine line between curly and not too curly. She listened patiently, too, as I sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” a song Sister said we had to sing every night until we had the words down pat.

Each ensuing evening I had new and often contradictory tales of what Sister had said that day in regard to the angel robe. In their struggles to comply, my parents’ nerves were often set on edge. Was it any wonder that when I came home four days before the play and tearfully said that Sister said I couldn’t be an angel after all because I seemed too fat, my father thundered, “That does it! That does it! Too fat? Why, if you weighed an ounce less, you’d BE an angel, I fear. I do not ever want to hear ‘Sister said’ again in this house!”

“There must be some mistake,” Grandma Thomas said softly.

“No, no! I know that’s what Sister said,” I cried.

“You march right up to Sister tomorrow, Jeanie,” my mother said, “and get this straightened out. I’m sure there is some mistake. You are not too fat and you never will be.”

“I can’t do that,” I sobbed. “Sister never makes mistakes.”

“Perhaps if I went . . .” Grandma began, but my father said, “Absolutely not!”

“Jeanie must learn to stand on her own two feet,” my mother said. “After all the work, all the love you put into that robe—why, I am sure there has been a mistake.”

Thinking about all that love and how heartbroken my grandmother must have been kept me awake most of the night. The next morning I waited until the very last minute before leaving for school, hoping my grandmother would defy my parents and go with me. Or perhaps my father would not be as angry and would take matters into his own hands. Surely my mother would see I had not slept well. Maybe she would say, “You poor thing. You
must stay home today. I will go talk to Sister myself.”

But none of those dreams came true, and I ended up standing on my own two feet beside Sister’s desk, asking, “Sister, why did you say I seemed too fat to be an angel?”

“Too fat!” Sister said, truly taken aback. “I never said— oh, I think I understand. Jeanie, I never said you seem too fat. I said you ‘sing too flat.’ Besides, I want you to be the narrator. You have a good strong voice and read very well. Will you do that part for me?”

Sing too flat! Not seem too fat! And now I was going to be narrator! The narrator’s part was the best of the whole play!

“Oh, Sister,” I said in a rush. “Oh, Sister, I’ll do my very best. I’d much rather read than sing, you know.”

“Don’t I know!” Sister teased kindly.

“But . . . but, Sister,” I asked, “What does the narrator wear?”

“Anything you want,” Sister said. “You must have a special outfit you want to wear. Think it over and tell me about it when school is out.”

I didn’t need to think it over long, for school had barely begun when I knew the only outfit I wanted to wear. Now if only Sister would say yes, I prayed as the day dragged on.

When the bell rang at 3:30, I stood before Sister’s desk once more.

“Have you decided on your outfit, Jeanie?” Sister asked as she straightened out her desktop.

“Yes, Sister, I have.”

“And what is it made of? Cotton? Rayon? Velvet?”

Cotton? Rayon? Velvet? I didn’t know! I only knew one thing my outfit was made of. Would Sister understand?

I drew a deep breath before I poured out the story of my outfit. At the story’s end, I said, “So you see, Sister, all I know is that every stitch of my outfit is made of love. SO will that be okay?”

Sister bent down, picked me up and hugged me close as she tenderly whispered her reply.

My father wasn’t home yet, so I could safely say “Sister said” without listening to him groan. It’s too bad he wasn’t there, because he didn’t hear me shout as I came in the front door, “Sister said I can wear the angel robe! Sister said it’s made of exactly what Christmas is made of! Lots and lots of love!”

And you know Sister. Sister never made a mistake.

Jean Jeffrey Gietzen

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