April on Tinker, circa 1970 Photo owned by www.shelleygoldbeck.com
Today, my baby sister, April celebrates her 50th birthday.
It’s hard to imagine her being 50. I wonder how my parents feel: their baby is 50!
What to get a 50-year-old woman who has a very happy life? She wants for nothing. She has family, friends, a nice home.
A party is out of the question. She hates being the centre of attention. She once threatened my life if I even thought of a surprise party like the one we threw for her husband’s 50th birthday.
Finally inspiration. A Letter to the Living. A few years ago I wrote about the importance of telling people how you feel about them before their eulogy. I call them, “Letters to the Living.”
And I have never sent one to my sister. So here goes.
I remember the day you came to this planet. Mom announced to Dad that the baby was coming and our brother and I were shipped off to Grandma’s. I remember staying home with Dad a few days too. He fed us and cared for us but he didn’t wash one dish. I remember Mom facing a pile of dirty dishes when she got home with you.
Dad’s parents were immediately taken aback by your name, as no Germans are named April. Named after a month! How absurd! All discussions ceased when Mom reminded them of Great-Uncle August. I happen to think April is a pretty name.
You changed our family. Our parents were finally old enough to be parents and they showered you with love, as much as they were able. In fact, Grandpa exclaimed that at last he saw “Mutterliebe”, mother love in our mother when she brought you home.
Brother and I loved kissing your soft baby arms, cooing, “Chicken wings, chicken wings!” You would giggle and then pinch us so hard we would cry.
In typical sibling fashion your presence was barely tolerated at times. Other times, I was fiercely protective of you. I remember a friend of mine excluding you when I was eight and you were two. I insisted on your inclusion. She had no siblings. I concluded she didn’t understand love for a little sister.
Brother and I quickly figured out Mom and Dad had a soft spot for you. You became our ambassador, our negotiator. If we could convince you to ask them on our behalf, we reasoned, odds were in our favour of scoring.
Alas, you soon learned of the power you held and you often wielded it for your own good and against us. You adeptly extracted favours for your petitions to parents or you out and out refused us. I suspect you savoured your power over us.
You were ten when I left home. I have often regretted being wrapped up in my own life and not being a mentor or even a good big sister to you, especially as a teenager. Somehow you grew up and became someone that I have long considered a lifelong friend.
Sisters we may be but we are different in so many ways. I have always known that you were the most intelligent of our parents’ children, though I wouldn’t admit it when I was young. Of course I let on that I was the smartest, but deep down, I knew.
As an adult, I enjoy the intelligent conversations we have. I relish sharing books with you, knowing you have the capacity to understand them as I do. It’s not easy to find intellectual equals, but I have my sister.
There were times I was jealous of your relationship with Mom and Dad. Thankfully, I grew to value it. You did much to teach them how to love their children and to teach all of us how to have good relationships with our parents and children.
I remember a time when I doubted you would ever be a mother or much of one. How wrong was I?
One of my proudest thoughts has been of you tenderly rearing your children to be the fine citizens they are. I often boast about the accomplishments of my niece and nephew; we all know their mother was integral to their success. Thank you for having a son, whom I think of as a son. He holds a special place in our family of girls.
I am grateful for your thoughtfulness to my daughters and for being an example and mentor for them. They regard you highly, and they recognize the impact you’ve had on their life choices.
I admire how you handled being a stepmother and a grandmother at a really young age. I witnessed that you were always fair and loving towards your stepdaughters. I see you continuing to support them as they raise their families, exploding that whole evil stepmother myth. Well done!
I have you to thank for getting my business books in order. My detail-orientation gene is not as strong as yours. When you did our books I enjoyed the regular interaction it forced. I miss that.
Your devotion to Grandma in her last years left an indelible mark on my heart. I couldn’t be there but I was comforted that you were and you would defend her to the death. And you did. Thank you for carrying that burden for our family. You did us all a great service.
I can’t think of many others I would enlist to plan a special event or navigate through government bureaucracy. I’m glad you’re the younger sister. You are better equipped to organize my geriatric care than I am yours!
I admire your ability to keep house so much better than I can. I simply didn’t inherit Grandmother’s neat freak tendencies and my priorities are different. But I sure do enjoy walking into your beautiful, neat, clean and orderly home.
Your ability to rise above life’s hurdles and mud holes is inspiring. It’s not easy to crawl from the depths and fashion a brand new life but you did it. You held up your head. You did the hard work. And you emerged a wonderful woman, wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend.
I honour the day you were born, 50 years ago today. I am thankful for the day I was given a sister. I am proud to call you my friend.
Happy Birthday, April!