Today is my big sister’s birthday. Over the years, I’ve occasionally been johnny on the spot about acknowledging this day: sending a card, maybe even a gift if I think about it far enough in advance (Jenny and I haven’t lived in the same city for over 20 years; proper recognition of a birthday means a trip to the post office). More often than not, I’ve allowed my sister’s birthday to pass with nothing more than a brief email or a phone call that I knew would likely go to voicemail.
The worst part? My sister is one of the most thoughtful gift givers I know. If the woman has ever bought a gift card I haven’t been witness to it. She thinks about the gifts she gives. She remembers that obscure item that you mentioned you were coveting or she seeks out the perfect accessory to your latest hobby. The hobby you told her about in passing three months ago. Or she makes you something wonderful with her hands. Because, besides being a thoughtful gift giver, my sister is also the good kind of crafty. Over the years, she’s gifted to me an assortment of handmade quilts, pillows, scarves, mittens, ornaments, and jewelry. Treasures, every one of them.
Here’s the thing. Today is my big sister’s birthday and I have no idea what to give her. I look at her and the life she’s lovingly created for herself and I see someone who truly seems to have it all; at least everything that counts. And I just couldn’t give her another gift card. So I’m sharing this list with her (and with you) in the hopes that she’ll enjoy it and cherish it and know that it comes from the very heart of me. For the woman who taught me that sometimes the gifts you make with your own hands are the finest gifts of all, here’s something I’ve made for you:
Things I Know About My Big Sister:
She rarely ever curses. Instead, she says things like “fiddlesticks” and “fudgecakes.” And when she does curse, she really can’t pull it off (not that we’d ever tell her that).
She went to a Men at Work concert with her friend Eden Sommerville when Men at Work was all the rage. I sat on her bedroom floor and watched the two of them get ready, in their color-coordinated outfits — neon bodysuits under identical black skirts — with “Who Can It Be Now” playing on the stereo and my nine-year old self thought “My sister is the coolest girl in the world.”
“Nifty” is her favorite word.
She favors dresses and skirts, never pants. Except that I recently introduced her to black leggings. Those she likes.
She calls me way more than I call her. I need to work on that.
She loves being a grandmother. Dorothy lights her up.
The quilt she made me, the one I call Strawberry Shortcake Necktie Quilt, is one of the things I’d grab in the event of a fire. The other quilt, Green and Brown Stained Quilt, isn’t. But I’d think of it fondly later.
She sleeps naked.
She is gracious and kind and polite, but if you fuck with her kids, she’ll cut you.
She is really good at her job and her job makes her happy. But her family is her life, it’s what sustains her and lifts her up and is the essence of who she is.
She and our dad could talk for hours and hours about things that failed to capture the interest of most of the rest of us. He delighted in her conversation.
She’s a wiz with numbers and can make sense of tax codes and regulations that read like gibberish to us common folk. (Seriously, if you need an accountant I can hook you up.)
She loves her husband. So much. They met because of Dungeons & Dragons. His first name is John, but only men of the cloth call him that.
You can tell when she’s genuinely tickled or happy or amused because her eyes shine. She’s got a beautiful smile, my sister.
Last February 10, she sat in a dark hospital room with me and held my hand and her breath while the numbers on the heart monitor went from 88 to 78 to 68 all the way to zero. She was present during the most profound moment of my life and she made me feel safe and surrounded and thankful.
She took ballet classes when she was a kid. Yet, she’s not super graceful.
She’s good to my mother. I admire their relationship.
When we were younger, she ate sunflower seeds by the bagful. She also ate paper.
She says “I’m sorry” way more than someone who doesn’t often have anything to be sorry for should.
She calls Mrs. Johnny Rocket every night on her way home, never fail. They talk for a while and then Jenny goes through a no service area and she loses the connection, never fail. She always calls back.
She has a weakness for McDonald’s french fries, but she also has some serious willpower. Usually, the willpower wins.
I love her and I know I’d be lost if she weren’t around. I thank my lucky stars for her.
And, being the daughters of an astronomer, we know stars.
She’s a good big sister. The very best.
Happy birthday, Jennifer Anne.