From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

At Every Turn

I was an only child, hungry for siblings. I confess that I harbored envy toward my cousins. They had sisters, built-in playmates. I had none. I kept asking my parents for a sister. Even a baby brother would do. But they never listened. Okay. So I’d have to find my own sister. I could do that.

My first sister was my imaginary playmate. Punky urged me to act on my fantasies. We wandered the fields and climbed the leafy cottonwoods along the irrigation ditches. Late at night we held whispered conferences about the day. Punky encouraged me to resist parental control and share my adventuring exclusively with her. We never told about the kittens we rescued from the bottom of the outhouse. My father never understood why the sheep ran from me when I entered their pens. Who would’ve thought sheep could remember who chased them? And my mother asked, but neither Punky nor I ever answered her questions about the sudden decline in egg production. Watching hens flutter in fright from their nests was so entertaining. Punky and I were inseparable. But then the yellow school bus stopped for me. And Punky was left behind.

At school, I discovered hanging from the monkey bars and swinging across the rocky ground. Susie brushed me off when I fell from those bars and led me to the nurse’s office for repairs. From then on, we were inseparable. We ate lunch together. We fended off marauding cowboys who rode up to us on stick horses. Clutching Dick and Jane to our bony chests, we ached for a kitten as cute as Puff or a dog as lively as Spot. We ate our first tacos and watched crawdads lay eggs and reproduce in the class aquarium. Life was rich.

In high school, my circle of sisterhood widened. On Saturday afternoons, my sister friends and I shopped at Joplin’s, stroking pastel mohair sweaters while assuring ourselves that the pleats of our woolen skirts were knife sharp. Lipstick and secret information about the heartthrob of the day were freely shared. We spent hours teasing our hair and consoling each other when pimples threatened our social life. A secret ride home in a hot rod ’57 Chevy was later dissected moment by moment, with freeze-frame precision. We went to Saturday night movies together but separated in the darkness to meet unnamed boys who set our hearts afire. Relationships flowered, and we burst forth like a garden of color in our taffeta formals, wrists corsage decorated. We celebrated love and learned how to fill a senior ring with layers of white glue coated with fingernail polish so it would fit our thin fingers. And we cried together when love ended. Throughout it all, our circle of sisterhood survived, a little scratched but intact.

My collegiate sisters came from different places and offered me glimpses of other lives. We shared the thrills of fending off frostbite while wearing miniskirts and navigating icy sidewalks in stacked leather heel boots. We giggled as we threw panties at the last-ever panty raid and caught mashed potatoes in a cafeteria food fight. We sampled beer served from a pony keg out in the boonies and worried that we might not get back to our dorms before the doors were locked for the night. Professors extolled the philosophy of Kant and Aristotle. We wondered why we should care about these ancient philosophers when Bob Dylan sang his messages. Candles passed in the sorority announced the receipt of love in the form of a lavaliere, pin or, the ultimate, an engagement ring. Then it was graduation, and we moved back to our own worlds.

I have been blessed with adult sisters who have mentored and shared my travails as a wife, mother and teacher. We supported each other through childbirth, breast-feeding, divorces and career changes. While our children played in the dappled light of a spring day, we drank high-octane fruit juice and giggled. On camping trips we shared cooking duties, wiping s’more-coated children with cold mountain spring water while our husbands sipped the same cold water, only theirs was brewed in the Rocky Mountains. We baked Christmas cookies and traded them at cookie swaps. When our aging parents orphaned us, upsetting our world order, tears and hugs gave comfort like no words could. We released pent-up sighs of relief when our own children successfully moved into adulthood. And we shared advice on transforming newly embraced daughters- and sons-in-law from strangers into family without alienating them or ourselves. We listened to tales about recalcitrant bosses and professional successes.

At every turn, I have found my sisters. They have flowed through my life, renewing and enriching me with their presence. And I can’t wait to meet the next one. I think she just moved in next door. Wonder if she likes to climb trees?

Lee Schafer Atonna

“You know you’re having a bad day when you put your dirty clothes to bed and the kids in the hamper.”

Reprinted with permission of Vahan Shirvanian.

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