Written for the September Writing Prompts by Putting My Feet in the Dirt: the absence of her.
As I am writing my memoir, I cannot help but remember my sister. Her name was Joann, and she was the strongest person that I have ever known at a compact 5 feet, 2 inches tall. She was two years older than me in age, but dozens more years older in experience and trials. She was the one constant in my life until I was 21 years old, for she was the only person who never left or abandoned me. It is the absence of her that I still feel so deeply, nearly 46 years after her death.
When I was about age 9, I asked her if she was my mother, for wherever we lived, she was always given the tasks of taking care of me. She bathed me, fought my battles at school, and at night when we were left alone in an apartment, two little girls younger under age 10, she would wrap herself around me to protect me from the rats that scurried over us.
She was my shero, someone who met life’s challenges head-on without allowing them to break her. By the time she was 12 years old, she believed that crying was a sign of weakness and that it allowed adults to feel superior over children. So, she decided that, even under duress, she would never cry again when being whipped.
It almost drove those older women crazy when this young girl would not cry no matter how long or how hard they hit her. They would call her nasty grownup names, such as the b-word that rhymes with witch, and she would just stand there as if she was absorbing the hits, never even flinching, but also not smirking or showing disrespect. One aunt stopped beating her, saying that she was afraid that one day she might kill her, because Joann’s silence frustrated her so much.
My aunts saw her refusal to cry as a challenge to their authority. I know that she was trying not to let them think that they could hurt her, but I also believe that because we had no say in where we stayed and did not see either parent for nearly years, my sister wanted to feel like she had some control over some part of her life.
I asked her one day how she could not cry. She said that she just put her mind on other things. I will admit that told her to just cry, to let them have their victories, so that they would stop hitting her. But, she said that she couldn’t do that, even for me, and she usually would do anything for me.
Once, my mother’s 28-year-old sister started to beat Joann for using the wrong toothpaste. It was an honest mistake, as we used the same brand as her children. I don’t know why we had to have separate tubes, but she got upset and started to hit Joann. I came into the room and I asked her why she was beating my sister.
As she turned and started to hit me with the belt, Joann, then maybe age 12, tried to protect me, so she grabbed the belt out of my aunt’s hand and begin to beat her with it. As I watched in horror, my sister seemed to let all of her pain, suffering, and frustrations out, hitting our young aunt as hard as she could manage. Needless to say, by the end of the day, our things had been packed up and we were moved to another strange and unknown house.
Today, I am thinking of Joann a lot, as I pursue the events and recollections of my childhood for my book. I have raised her four children, giving the stable home that we lacked as children, hopefully repaying my sister by loving, caring, and protecting her four beautiful children, the only reminders in the world that my sister ever lived.
Today, I am still thankful that God saw fit to give me an older sister who loved me like she was my mother and fought my battles like she was my friend. She died at age 23, and I hope to see her on the other side of Glory, to hug her once again, and to tell her that I did my best for her children. I wish that I had just one picture of her, but alas, there are none for me or her children.
I have learned from our experiences that it is important to treat children with the love of God, whether they are your children or belong to someone else, even in disciplining them. It is our becoming like children and having faith in God with unlimited trust in His love for us that makes us heavenbound.
Matthew 19:14 states, “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Joann never had a childhood on earth, so I hope she is enjoying one with our gracious and merciful Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.