Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sisters, the Ocean, and other Loveliness

There's just something about sisters.

They just "get" you like no one else. And you can stand in the stairway in the house at the coast and pull aside the silky gray curtains across the doorway and proclaim, "We will now be performing The Tea Rose!" and she laughs as a sister ought, and then you trade places and she pulls the curtain aside and says dramatically, "But the eye, Master Schneider!" and then you both howl while the kids look like, "Mother? Would you mind?"*

My sister Rebecca, as I may have explained before, left Yemen soon after Mom hurt her feet and came to take care of her. She and I overlapped for a day, and then Rebecca stayed with the folks for two more weeks and to her blessed credit got a bunch of things worked out so they can continue to be on their own, such as a LifeLine in case they fall and can't get up, and a lady to help with the cleaning.

I should insert a story here. The social worker came out to evaluate Mom and Dad and what level of care they need. She said to Rebecca, "You say last week your sister was here from, where was it?"
Rebecca: Oregon
Social worker: And now you're here from overseas, aren't you?
Rebecca: Yes, from Yemen.
SW: And next week you have a brother coming from Oklahoma, is that right?
Rebecca: Yes.
SW: [turning to Mom and Dad in amazement] I want to know how you raised your family!

You know, that's something I had never thought about, that Mom and Dad taught us, more by example than anything, that you drop everything and help if your parents need help.

Meanwhile things kept getting nastier in Yemen, where Rebecca's husband Rod and youngest son Derek still resided. The city was mostly out of electricity and gasoline, so they had to do their email in the middle of the night when the power was on, and siphon gas out of the needing-repair car to use in the one that still worked.

And meanwhile out in Seattle, Rod's dad offered them the use of his car for the summer.

So after Rebecca handed things off to Fred and Loraine in Minnesota, she flew to Seattle, got the car, and headed south through the rain, to Portland, where she picked up their oldest son Jason, who was finished with college in Virginia.

And oh happy day, they came to our house.

As always, I dumped the housework duties on the girls and talked obsessively with Rebecca over cups of tea. We went to garage sales. We yacked in Pennsylvania Dutch. We laughed a lot and gave each other lots of empathy and affirmation and dissected everyone in our lives.

While we are very different in some areas, we are very alike in more. It was nice in a sad sort of way to be around someone else who gets vicious coughing fits and has to snatch an inhaler out of her purse. We went out to eat at the little Mexican restaurant in Harrisburg and suddenly Rebecca said, "Dorcas, this is just bizarre. We ordered the exact same thing for lunch, we both got iced tea, we both stirred in one packet of Splenda, and then we both took off our glasses before we ate."

Meanwhile, for an end-of-year gift, the school board gave Paul two free nights at a house on the coast, between Waldport and Yachats. I wanted to make a family event out of it before Amy leaves for Jamaica for a year, and the time that worked best would overlap with the last night of Rebecca and Jason's visit.

Why not? So we packed up lots of food and Paul worked out the complicated logistics with vehicles, and off we went in three cars.

The house is an old one on the east side of Highway 101, a short walk from the beach. We invaded the place and made ourselves at home and went for a walk on the beach as the misty rain blew in our faces. Then in the evening Paul played games with the children while Rebecca and I sat on the couch and tried to stay awake in this last precious time together but like two old grandmas we kept nodding off and finally it wasn't worth the battle and we went to bed.

Someday, when we're both sitting on a couch in the Peaceful Rest Home For The Aged, with our oxygen tanks beside us, we will just gently fall asleep because we'll have all the time in the world to finish our stories after our naps. Or maybe that will be in Heaven, minus the O2 tanks.

I need to commend Jason at this point, because he was endlessly patient with all of this and also with the two boys he slept in the same room as, and with Jenny who adores him and talked his ear off all the way out to the coast, and a lot more besides.

Jason and Rebecca got up early and left Monday morning, headed for Minnesota first, and then on to Virginia.

Where Rod and Derek are now, safely, at last, because they squeaked out of Yemen at unnerving peril and since they left there's been lots more fighting in the streets and the situation grows ever more dire.

Meanwhile we decided to drive down to Cape Perpetua, and climb it. For some reason I've had this mental block for the last ten years that I simply don't have what it takes to climb that mountain. It is a tough hike if you're not in shape--700 feet of elevation gain on a 1-mile trail. So I would always offer to drive the van the back way to the top and set up the picnic.

But this time, who knows why, I decided to take the hike. It wasn't easy, but I made it, and today I finished writing a column about it, so I won't repeat it all here.

But I really think the positive messages from FlyLady and people such as my friend Robin finally accumulated into a big enough pile that it tipped me into doing it.

I made it to the top, too.

The view up there is astonishing. All those cliched words like awesome are not cliched for this situation, and when you've earned it by hiking up, it is sweet indeed.

Yes well. Then we went back to the house and that evening we ate at Mo's in Newport, and Matt joined us, and it was wonderful to have all our six children together and to eat and have a lovely time.

At the next table a youngish man sat with a girl maybe nine years old. He kept watching us. When Amy got up to take a picture, he immediately offered to take it for her so we could all be in the picture. Emily overheard the girl asking him, "Why do you always stay in a hotel when you come to visit us? Why don't you stay at our house?"

So their story was easy to guess, as was the reason for his wistful face, and as I sat surrounded by Paul and these amazing young people laughing and talking and enjoying the clam chowder and each other and even their parents, I felt like I had more blessings than anyone else on earth, far far beyond what I deserved or would have thought to ask for.

Of course it rained, since we're on the subject of blessings. [It does that in Oregon, and Rebecca, who is used to Yemen's endless sunshine, was getting jittery after two days of it. "How do you stand it all winter, not seeing the sun?" Hmmm. Well, you take lots of vitamins and try not to think about it.] You can still walk on the beach in rain, but a downpour is a bit much even for Oregon people, but Jenny wanted one more jaunt to the beach before she went to bed. So she and I, laughing like excited hyenas, pulled on our coats and sandals, dashed through the puddles and down the road and across 101 and down the path and onto the beach while the wind blew and the rain poured. Then, shrieking and shivering, we walked into the edge of the ocean and let the tail end of a wave soak our feet, and then we shrieked and laughed some more and ran back to the house in the dark, drenched and happy.

The next morning the three middle kids left at 6:30 for classes and work.

The rest of us cleaned up the house and changed the sheets and did laundry so we'd get our cleaning deposit back, an abrupt transition back to the realities of life, especially since the ancient brooms looked more suited for Halloween props than sweeping kitchens, and the dryer hardly worked.

Then we ate lunch with Matt and told him goodbye and headed home and ate saltwater taffy from Aunt Belinda's and slept.

An hour after we got home someone remembered that there was a Smucker party at Phil and Rosie's that evening in honor of Laura, who was secretly flown in from Poland for her parents' anniversary party. So we went, exhausted beyond rational thought, and came home early.

And today I churned out a column for the paper, which after a relaxed time at the coast and with a sister felt like sheer punishment.

Meanwhile Life in all its complexities swirls around us and the phone keeps ringing and the cats are hungry and Emily needs a farmer's number before tomorrow for her persuasive paper on field burning and Amy needs a mailing address and Jenny gets sent back out three times before she cleans up the cat litter as specified and of course everyone is hungry, all the time.

My idea of Heaven: some combination of getting away and lots of family close at hand and no cell phone service and Paul grilling hamburgers and the sun shining and walks on the beach and the endless waves rolling in, on and on and on.

*Ok. So we used to put on plays, back in the day when we were young and poor and persecuted by 3 older brothers. We found an old book of stories we dramatized, and curtained off the pantry and got the rest of the family to sit in the kitchen and watch, and acted out a touching story of a poor woman who planted a tea rose in her window and eventually changed the neighborhood. And then we acted out the other story, of an abandoned girl who turned out to be someone's daughter, and of one guy buying a horse from another, and all I remember is he was sure it was a "spavined mare," which I to this day don't know what that is, and he said, shrewdly, "But the eye, Master Schneider!"

I love how sisters just Get It.

And I love how blessed I am even if it's hard to come home again.


  1. Sheer joy. It makes up for life's less than stellar moments.

  2. I just got to spend time with my sis who lives over a thousand miles away and I know of what you speak!! Good times and the husbands and children from both families respond similarly as yours. =)

    I met you at the OK women's day in April. Read your three books and was/am inspired. I enjoy the light reading that ends up having points with a punch. I hope there is more to come. My sis, Mary Ann, says she used to play with your sis, Margaret.

  3. Margaret: Amen.
    Brenda: You were a Stoltzfoos, right? I remember you and Mary Ann both--you'd come to visit your brother as I recall.

  4. Here's the thing. I, too, have an inner hyena, a streak of drama (which not everyone else gets, especially the males that decimate my pantry), and I think that Heaven will have NO O2 tanks, but will have a grand coffee bar. Around which there shall be lots of chatter and endless stories. Oh, and no column deadlines, either.

  5. Amen, Rhonda. Chatter, endless stories, and NO column deadlines--yes, definitely Heaven.

  6. How wonderful that sisters Get it, when one is inclined to not act her age even at 61! Even husbands don't always get it, do they!
    I love the description of your days and demands, it has a familiar ring to it. When one has children and grandchildren out of state and in another country, it gets interesting and sometimes hectic. In heaven, there will be no deadlines and no food to prepare. Yes, and no cell phones.
    Blessings to you and your wonderful family!

  7. Family togetherness is so much more than geographic. This post warmed my heart and renewed my commitment to today's "to do" list: homeschool for my five children, letter (email!) writing to my distant siblings, homekeeping for a happy homecoming for my husband after his long hours. Thank you for this encouragement -- I feel as though I had a beach vacation with you!

  8. I love my family!
    On a side note: If you are interested, I just started my first blog. It's at
    It has crafts, faith stories, book reviews, and more. I would be honored if you would check it out! Thank you! Keep up the awesome work! :)

  9. According to spavined means: "being of or marked by a decrepit or broken-down condition".

    So, now you know what was wrong with the mare. ~Merle

  10. Love the post and yes sisters def. GET IT better than anyone else! But I must admit I have some pretty cool sister in laws that "get it" too!!!!! Loretta

  11. I loved this column! I have sisters who "get it" too, like no one else! Thanks for stating it so well!