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Abracadabra

The five little grandkids on Halloween: Only agreeable Luke is in posing mode; the girls are too busy talking and Silas is just not having it. Poor Jude tried.

The five little grandkids on Halloween.

Halloween has come and gone – and was fun as usual – but the scary season remains. How I wish I could wave a wand, say “Abracadabra” and have this election cycle behind us.

Even if it turns out to be a liberal’s (even moderate’s) worst nightmare, at least it will be over. The negativity is palpable and seems to have taken residence in my neck and shoulder. Ouch.

Ever the optimist, though, I’ll remain Pollyanna until the last vote has been tallied and the official results are in. Good conquers evil, right?

Guess that’s the No. 1 thing keeping this grandmother from sleeping well at night lately.

The No. 2 thing is much closer to home.

Little Silas has a serious condition that weighs heavy on my heart, eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), also referred to as “failure to thrive” in little ones because they can’t gain weight. If I could wave a magic wand and make that go away – or take it on myself to free him from it – I’d use every ounce of strength I’ve got to do it.

He’s Epi-pen allergic to milk – as in, he can get life-threatening anaphylaxis from dairy products – and also allergic to eggs and peanuts. If he doesn’t respond to being off those and on baby Prevacid, he may have to go off wheat and soy, which showed mild reactions on allergy testing.

I’m not going to go into how bad it can be, but you can follow the link above if you want to read more.

Again, we’re super-optimistic (well, hopeful, anyway) that he’ll do well and outgrow some of it – if people don’t feed him the wrong things. And if the medicine helps.

He’s bright and beautiful and funny. When he starts feeling better, there’s no telling what he can do. I see The Tonight Show in his future. (Look out, Jimmy Fallon. Your replacement has been born.)

We’re lucky to have Dempsey Bakery close by; not only do they have fabulous vegan products, but they love to share their knowledge and help others. What a resource!

We’re lucky Liz and I are already vegetarians – makes it easier to adapt recipes.

Even my little 79-year-old Mother is learning to bake vegan-style so Silas can have Grammy-made treats.

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Get together

Seeing our homeboy President Bill Clinton never gets old.

Seeing homeboy President Bill Clinton never gets old. Behind him are Senator Mark Pryor and former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross.

This political season is one of the ugliest yet. With so much at stake, we really need to get together and get our priorities straight.

But first, let me apologize for the video linked to the title of this piece. The song is great, but the video’s out of sync. Listen, but don’t watch – it’ll make you nuts. Why didn’t I chose a better version, you might ask? Why, that would be because every other one I tried forced you to sit through a vicious political attack ad.

Disgusting.

Better to go with out of sync in video than to share an ad from someone as out of sync as the politicians who would take away basic human rights to give more money to already insanely wealthy campaign donors and oil or stock barons. If by internet voodoo one has appeared anyway, forgive me, please.

This is really intended to be a pleasant post about how great certain elements of the last week were. Like getting to hear Rebecca Darwin, founder and publisher of Garden & Gun magazine, speak at The Clinton School of Public Service. The fabulous lecture series is one of the many benefits of living in Little Rock.

Rebecca Darwin, of "Garden & Gun" magazine discusses "The Southerner's Handbook."

Rebecca Darwin of “Garden & Gun” magazine discusses “The Southerner’s Handbook.”

What was really nice was hearing how the regional magazine, which is often called “the Southern New Yorker,” is so popular in other parts of the country. That’s a nice coming together of people. Speaking of coming together, the place was packed, especially for a workday noon talk.

Former North Little Rock mayor, now congressional candidate Pat Hayes, speaks at the "You Vote, We Win" rally. Flanking him are gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross and former President Bill Clinton.

Former North Little Rock mayor, now congressional candidate Pat Hayes, speaks at the “You Vote, We Win” rally. Flanking him are gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross and former President Bill Clinton.

But not as packed as Argenta, in downtown North Little Rock, on Sunday. What a happy, upbeat, hopeful day. Bill Clinton never fails to inspire (even those of you of a different persuasion have to admit the man is eloquent and brilliant), and the weather was perfect, the crowd polite.

Seeing history made once again outside the store where students of my era and before had to buy our textbooks from seventh grade through graduation was fun. The fact that so many people are shocked to learn books weren’t always furnished serves as a reminder of what can be done when people get together in harmony.

I was proud and happy to see to my friend – from those old textbook-buying days – State Rep. Patti Roberts Julian speak. Prouder and happier to see my kids/kids-in-law and all the grands there. I’m so happy to have children who are engaged, politically minded and willing to make the effort to herd toddlers in a large crowd.

This is a huge election in Arkansas. For two days, I’ve been hearing a paraphrase of Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee in All the President’s Men in my head:

Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.

Substitute the Affordable Care Act, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid for the first two items, and you get my drift.

(And, in a sad twist of fate, I just read that Ben Bradlee has died at 93. One of my idols has fallen, though he’d been ill for a long time. Truly the end of an era. Rest in peace, Mr. Bradlee. You were one of the lions.)

That future is why John and I early voted yesterday. And why I’ve been encouraging everyone to vote and vote early.

The future does hinge on this election. I feel like compassion will win out over greed. But you’ve got to make sure it does.

Smile on your brother and vote your heart.

Please.

Vote

 

Moonlight serenade

The July 12 super moon shot with our Nikon D70, normal lens, no tripod, at about 9:30.

The July 12 super moon shot with our Nikon D70, normal lens, no tripod, at about 9:30.

The first of the three-months-in-a-row super moons gave us quite a moonlight serenade the other night, the same night a PBS show we’d recorded gave me a big surprise earlier in the evening.

John and I had recorded “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller” on History Detectives recently and decided to watch it rather than rent a movie. Cathy and I grew up on Glenn Miller – Daddy was a trombonist and piano player and Glenn Miller was his idol.

Miller died over the English Channel on Dec. 15, 1944, a World War II casualty, when Daddy was 11 years old, but Miller’s music was Daddy’s favorite to play on the trombone, which he did in a dance band.

Daddy was also a huge WWII buff, so I was wistfully but calmly watching and thinking how much I wished he could see the episode – a fascinating story, even if you’re not a Glenn Miller Orchestra fan. (Miller was at the height of his fame and popularity – and drawing in some serious bucks for the day – when he enlisted in 1942.)

Calmly until I wasn’t.

The show cut to footage of a 1940s black telephone ringing on a desk, and, bam – “Pennsylvania 6-5000” started playing in my head (click on the link if you don’t know the song). And I was sobbing. Wailing. For an awful few seconds until I gained my composure.

My father died in 1982.

It gets better, but you never know when you’ll be waylaid by loss.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Oldest granddaughter gave me a surprise at lunch time the other day. She and her brother were sitting side by side at our bar eating lunch and I was between and behind them. Somehow the conversation turned to babies, and  THE question.

“How do babies get inside mommies’ tummies?”

OK, 3 years old, need-to-know basis – and I’ve done this before. I told her mommies have eggs inside them and when it’s time for a baby to come along, the eggs start growing into babies, until they’re ready to be born.

Sorry, guys, I left you out of this abbreviated version. That satisfied her. Except for one more question: “How do the eggs get in there?” I told her the mommies grow them. “Oh.”

Then we talked about how all living things start as eggs then turn into egg babies, then they “get born.” I explained that chickens actually hatch, which they found quite interesting, then the conversation drifted.

Later that afternoon, though, when baby bro woke up from his nap, the elder put it all together.

“Lukey was an eggbaby, then he turned into a baby, then he got born, then he was Lukey!”

Pretty much.

••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Speaking of grandkids, they’re one of the main reasons I was hellbent and determined to go to New York in September for the People’s Climate March. My cousin Karen and I bought our airline tickets this morning. We’re almost 10 years apart in age and separated by a couple of hours of driving but close in other ways – and both of us were so influenced by our loving, liberal-minded grandmother that it makes perfect sense for us to do this together.

For the kiddos. And for Mama.

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a certificate to power wash her deck, so it'll soon be even sprucier.

Mother was having a bit of stressed-out day, so Liz surprised her pre-birthday party by sprucing up her deck table – and, as you can see from the smile, her mood. Ben gave her a birthday certificate to power wash her deck, so it’ll soon be even sprucier.

And then there’s my mother, also known as Grandma, Grammy and Willette. She may not quite be sitting on the dock of the bay, but she is spending lots of time on her deck by the lake these days, for which her family is ever so grateful. She turned 79 Monday (we had a party at her house Saturday). We’re grateful for that, too.

The move from the outback to the house on the lake in town (which was all her decision, for the record) was harder on her than we can ever imagine – not only did she downsize and leave the house she built for her and Bill to grow old in, but she did it on her own. Made her own decisions, got utilities in her own name. Of course we helped her a lot, but Mother, who married Daddy at 17 and married Bill 13 months after Daddy died, has been on her own now longer than she ever has.

She looks like a million bucks and a much younger woman, but, truth be told, her health is much less than stellar. She gets flustered and frustrated, but when her blood counts are acceptable, she’s usually pretty chipper. And still very funny.

Resilience is the word that comes to mind. But with age you lose some of your fearlessness and confidence – it’s a pretty natural progression but still hard to watch for the family. Mother has always been a fireball.

Anyway, back to the party.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Annabelle, Sylvia and Grammy, three beautiful girls.

Shortly after we got there, Mother called everyone to attention and said she’d made a frozen drink called “Red Rooster” (cranberry juice cocktail, orange juice and Tito’s Handmade Vodka – she’d heard the recipe at one of her doctor’s appointments) and commanded all the adults to get a serving because she had something to say.

We happily obliged, and, Mother being Mother, were ready for anything, but I secretly hoped it wasn’t bad health news.

“I made this,” she told us, “because I want to thank you all for all your help during my move – for all you’ve done. And to apologize for the times I’ve been heinous ….”

I said she had never been heinous, but it was hard for all of us not to laugh at her use of the word. Out of the mouths of great-grandmothers!

I did almost choke later that evening, when John, who of course hadn’t been wearing his hearing aid at the party, told me that at first he’d thought Mother was being awfully hard on herself when she apologized for “the times she’d been an anus.”

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Pop and Silas – two guys who crack me up.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, "Happy birthday, Mother," and asked Cathy, "Who's Mother?" He thought it was Grammy's birthday.

Mother blows out her candles, with long-distance assistance from Annabelle. Jude saw the cake that said, “Happy birthday, Mother,” and asked Aunt Cathy, “Who’s Mother?” He thought it was Grammy’s birthday.

Monday, on her real birthday, July 7, Mother and I went to buy her an iPad. She also got an “iPad for Seniors” book (with slightly larger text and lots of photos) and a turquoise iPad cover.

We’d tossed Bill’s clunky Dell computer, which Mother hated and feared, when we moved her out of the old house. She already had wifi, though, and an email address set up, so in no time her new toy was up and running. She’s been wanting to text for a long time, but with her rheumatoid arthritis, texting on a phone is out of the question, so the iPad is perfect for that. And she can check her email, look at photos of the kids, use her Google app to look things up and play solitaire on the app we downloaded.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

Mother learns to text on her 79th birthday.

She sent texts to Cathy, John, Liz and Elizabeth, and my stepsister Lisa. I got her fairly comfortable with very basic things before I went home. Or so we thought. From 9:30 until just after 10 that night we had a phone tutorial that reminded me of a cross between an Abbott and Costello routine and one of Bob Newhart’s phone sketches (they used to make Daddy laugh until he cried).

I was determined to get her situated – and keep her from getting scared of her iPad – even if I had to drive across the river, but we finally got things straight on the phone.

Yesterday morning she left me a message that when she got up, all her icons were there and things were under control. But yesterday evening, things had run amok. I finally determined, via phone, that she’d accidentally opened the Game Center trying to get to solitaire – thank heavens she didn’t stumble into online gaming! – and we had another phone tutorial. Haven’t checked yet today – I’m writing this while watching the World Cup semifinal– but I have faith that she’ll catch on.

And the patience to keep at it until she does. Heck, she may be on Facebook before we know it.

Now I’m thinking of next year. For Mother’s 80th, should we be so lucky, we’re going to Italy – we’re thinking Rome, Pompeii and Florence. We’ll consult with her doctors in August on the feasibility, and if they give us the go-ahead, we’ll shoot for April or May.

In the meantime, she can enjoy life with her little dog Polly, her iPad and her deck on the lake.

All things must pass

John, Sweetie and Doris on a very good day during our visit.

John, Sweetie and Doris on a very good day during our visit.

Life can be so sweet and so bittersweet; all things must pass, which is hard to abide when those things are a parent – or a parent’s memory.

We baby boomers are all in it together; we’ve lost a parent, are losing a parent or know it’s coming. That’s the cycle of life.

Some situations are harder than others, and watching dementia or Alzheimer’s take a loved one someplace else is high on the list of horrible.

But you make the best of it and love the moments you get.

John and I just made a trip to his home town in Washington for what may be our last visit with his mother, sweet little Doris, who has a nonspecific dementia and failure to thrive syndrome. At this point, she’s just fading, no matter how much she eats. She can remember a few things from the 1940s, but you have to go way back to her childhood for her to really remember anything of substance.

Little Doris and her daddy await the boat to Catalina in the late 1920s. Those are the years Doris remembers these days.

Little Doris and her daddy await the boat to Catalina in the late 1920s. Those are the years Doris remembers these days.

Otherwise, she’s on a loop about the weather, the wind, her beloved cat, Sweetie, and the time. But occasionally she’ll throw something in that gets your attention, makes you laugh.

The long-suffering good girl, Sweetie, who was the chosen cat of three who moved from the orchard to the tiny apartment.

The long-suffering good girl, Sweetie, who was the chosen cat of three who moved from the orchard to the tiny apartment.

Doris now. You can still see a bruise from a fall a few weeks ago – but you can also see the woman behind the curtain of confusion.

Doris now. You can still see a bruise from a fall a few weeks ago – but you can also see the woman behind the curtain of confusion.

My first day back in Little Rock, I saw a friend I haven’t seen in years – she popped into Esse Purse Museum & Store, where I hang out – and told me her mother-in-law died last year from nonspecific dementia and failure to thrive syndrome. She just faded away physically and mentally over about two years.

Doris has been fading longer than that – looking back, it’s hard to say when the confusion really set in, but it’s been a good long while.

As of a few weeks ago, she’s in hospice care at home, which is an assisted living facility now. Many days she thinks she’s traveling and is ready to come home; the really bad spells are when she’s frightened, doesn’t know where she is and is frantic to get home.

John’s sister, Kitty, deals with the bad spells on a sometimes several-times-a-day basis. For our trip, though, Doris rallied. She dressed most days – something she rarely does now – and even went to the dining room for a few meals, with or without John, much to everyone’s surprise.

John texted a mother and son selfie to Kitty and me, much to our delight.

John texted a mother and son selfie to Kitty and me, much to our delight.

Kitty and I slipped away to give Kitty some respite time and fun, while John soaked up every moment he could with his mother. We did get to visit with our niece and nephew – which is always a treat – but this was a Mom-centered visit. She doesn’t leave the facility now and most conversations are on an Abbott and Costello-style loop, but we still loved basking in her gentle and sweet presence.

The Yakima Valley is wine country, and we made the most of it this night – in the Inaba's kitchen. That's me, Kitty (in her Eiffel Tower apron that commemorates our trip to Paris together) and Norm.

The Yakima Valley is wine country, and we made the most of it this night – in the Inaba’s kitchen. That’s me, Kitty (in her Eiffel Tower apron that commemorates our trip to Paris together) and Norm.

In some ways Alzheimer’s is easier to deal with – at least that horrid disease has an anticipated trajectory. With garden-variety dementia, anything goes; somedays are horrible with short-term memory that holds for 10 seconds or so, but occasionally you get the person you miss back for a bit. Then she’s gone again. All you can do is cherish those moments.

And remember that everyone, no matter how lost, has something to say. You just have to listen for the message in the mania, the explanation in the inertia. Or meet them where they are, even if that’s in 1928.

John spent hours showing Doris photos on our phones – the same ones entertain her over and over. But here she's explaining to us every detail of photos from her childhood. The mind is a peculiarly fascinating organ.

John spent hours showing Doris photos on our phones – the same ones entertain her over and over. But here she’s explaining to us every detail of photos from her childhood. The mind is a peculiarly fascinating organ.

When it came time to say goodbye, Doris was back with the wisdom of her almost 93 years. She told us what a long and wonderful life she’s had – yet how time flies. She talked about how lucky she’s been to have such wonderful children and how pleased she is to have me as a member of the family – that John found me, as she puts it. I thanked her again for raising such a wonderful man for me to marry.

“Take care of each other,” she told us. She was 100-percent lucid in those moments.

We assured her we would. And we didn’t cry. The goodbyes were sweet and tender and strong.

All things must pass. Acceptance is hard but resistance is harder. If The Beatles are right, and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make, Doris will be a wealthy woman when she gets home from her travels.

And we’ll be poorer for her absence, even though in many ways she’s already gone.

 

Good old days

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44.

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44, upon my arrival.

With the spate of recent craziness in the world and U.S. – and my concerns for my grandchildren’s futures – I find my thoughts turning frequently to lessons learned from my grandparents in the good old days.

Though time and circumstances are very different a half-century later, I hope someday my grandkids will remember love and lessons from me.

Since we didn’t live in the same town, every summer from the time I was 2, I – and later Cathy and I – spent two weeks in Russellville with Mother’s parents, Mama and Papa. Daddy’s parents, Nana and Daddy Lou, also lived in Russellville until I was 9, so it was a bit of a twofer, but the Tacketts were the custodials, and the Cartwrights the day-visits.

Mother pretty unashamedly did the happy dance upon dropping us off, but she has told me it stung a bit that we were so happy to go. The last year I made the pilgrimage  was the summer after the eighth grade, 1969. By that point, friends, the pool – and mainly the lack of a rock ’n’ roll radio station – plus my many babysitting jobs made it a no-go.

I vividly remember reading Farenheit 451 for the first time that last summer in Russellville. I remember also meeting some young teen neighbors to hang out with, but, oddly, I thought, considering they were a small town crew, they were too wild for me, the sophisticated city girl. Working mom, brothers hanging from the rafters – I’ll just go back across the street and hang out with my creative grandmother and little sister, thank you very much.

I learned many lessons during the years I did go.

One was that I was a little ray of sunshine who would always be the center of someone’s universe, at least as long as my grandparents and great aunt and uncle were alive. John seems to take that position now, which would make Papa very, very happy. After he died, Mama told me Papa would’ve never thought any man worthy of me, but I think he’d approve.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family emigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa's older (by two years) sister. She called him "Cookie," and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on us. Just have to include them because they were so stinking cute.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family immigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa’s older (by two years) sister. Aunt Opal called Uncle Johnny “Cookie,” and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on all their children. Just have to include this picture because they were so stinking cute when they came back to visit from California in 1957.

Having such crazy-young grandparents meant that we got to have them for a very long time – and that my children got to know them, love them and even go spend the weekend with them a time or two.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is -he loved a good time and a big laugh.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is – he loved a good time and a big laugh. April 15, 1916, and April 24, 1911, were their birthrates.

OK, I’m short on time, so let me focus:

From my grandfather I learned how to vegetable garden. I didn’t realize that I was learning at the time – I thought we were just hanging out. But later, after becoming a gardener myself, I realized just how much he’d taught me, and he was a ready reference for any question I might have.

I learned that a good sense of humor can take you a long way. And that a little mischief never hurt anything, especially if you don’t get caught. But if you do, if you’re crafty, you can finagle your way out of too much trouble.

Example from one of his favorite stories about when I was 2:

Papa: “Laura, am I going to have to spank you?”

Laura: “Now, Papa, you wouldn’t spank your sweet little granddaughter, would you?”

Turns out, no, he wouldn’t. He laughed hard instead. 

But he would give Cathy a quick firm swat on the rear when she stood up in the fishing boat on Lake Dardenelle after being repeatedly cautioned against standing in the boat.

Turns out our grandfather who could do anything couldn’t do one critical thing, and that was swim. Cathy nearly gave him the heart attack he had in his front  yard years later – one from which he did recover and live another decade.

I don’t even know if we were wearing lifejackets. It was the early ’60s and times were lax. Oh, yeah, he taught us to fish.

Papa took us to see Von Ryan’s Express at the drive-in movie, something we thought was ubercool. He taught us that even though you hung the moon and stars, you still go play in the yard and get out of the adults’ hair. You do get homemade chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but you don’t sass or interrupt adults.

He taught me that sitting on a limb of the mulberry tree in my great-grandmother’s backyard next to the train track – that I wasn’t allowed to climb – to wave at him as he passed by driving the train was our little secret and didn’t hurt anybody, as long as I didn’t fall.

Never fell. I did sport lots of blue lips, though. And denied to high heaven having eaten unwashed mulberries.

The berry doesn’t fall very far from the grandfather, from stories I’ve heard about him.

We had him until he was 80. Wasn’t long enough.

From my grandmother I learned to sew. I learned to cook. I learned that I could do anything, make anything, be anything, if I just studied it enough to figure it out.

She had no education beyond high school but was very smart, creative and talented. She exuded love and taught us that, ultimately, it is indeed all you need to have a successful life.

She had an innate wisdom and an old soul. She was zen and Papa was zest. They were a perfect balance.

Mama used to counsel me on being married to a slightly older man and told me that in some time spans the difference wouldn’t be noticeable but at other times, it would and you just had to have patience.

Oh, yeah, my grandmother taught me about patience. And acceptance. And second chances. And hope.

She used to pull Cathy and me aside when we were pulling our hair out over our wild little sons and tell us, “Your mother means well, but she doesn’t understand – she never raised a boy.”

She taught me that politics count and voting is a duty, no matter how small the election. She and Papa worked the polls every election that came around after he retired.  She respected the president, whoever occupied the office, but she she was a proud, self-proclaimed yellow-dog Democrat who believed people needed to take care of each other.

Though we were sick to lose her, we were all glad she was spared living through Sept. 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Her heart full of love would’ve shattered over those events.

She died at 85 in the summer of 2001. Still lived at home. Never drove a car. Never raised her voice.

She never needed to – we could hear her loud and clear. Still can.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville. They’d been playing some kind of wooden game that Liz is holding, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sisters

Big sister Laura holding baby sister Cathy on her christening day in 1959. That's at out great-grandmother's house in Russellville, and I still have the chair that went with the couch.

Big sister Laura holding baby sister Cathy on her christening day in 1959. That’s at our great-grandmother’s house in Russellville, and I still have the chair that went with the couch. I’m guessing early summer by my tan – and my necklace that was a gift from some neighbor boys for my first dance recital. I’m 3. She’s 5 or 6 months.

My sister and I are walk-through-fire-for-each-other sisters. We’ve gotten through enough hard times together that we know we can survive anything together.

And, yes, we realize we’re lucky to have such a relationship. Hard for us to fathom, but not everyone gets along with siblings.

I loved her from Day 1. Heck, I even named her. As an only for three years and four months and the first grandchild on Mother’s side, I had my day in the spotlight and was ready to share.

Posing in our grandparents' backyard in Russellville in 1961, I think. I'd be 5 and Cathy 2. We were hot stuff.

Posing in our grandparents’ backyard in Russellville in 1961, I think. I’d be 5 and Cathy 2. We were hot stuff.

She drove me crazy at times, as little sisters do, but that didn’t come until later. We never even really fought.

We did have  to share a bedroom until we moved to the “big” house in Indian Hills the end of my fifth-grade year (the third bedroom before then always had to be a den/TV room). That caused most of the few problems I had with a pesky little sister – Cathy was oblivious that there was a problem. If I had a friend over to play and we shut her out of the bedroom, she’d beat on the door and yell, “Let me in! I want to play.”

Mother always made me let her in – “You can’t shut her out of her own bedroom, and she just wants to be like you,”  she’d say, adding that it was a compliment.

Sigh. We mostly played outside, though, which eliminated that problem.

I do remember being super-annoyed when we’d go on trips and Cathy would insist on putting her feet in my lap or leaning on me. Mother, however, would abide no “She’s touching me,” or “Cathy’s got her feet on me again!” Nope, “She’s your little sister,” Mother would say. “She’s not hurting you. Be sweet.”

After we had the big den on Blackhawk Road, I often got stuck cleaning up messes made by Cathy and her friends. If I tried to say that wasn’t fair – by now you can guess how far that got me.

Sure, I teased her and told her lots of crazy stuff as if it were true – she was very gullible – but I never really picked on her.

I also got lots of spankings up to a certain age – generally for sassing but sometimes for running off, doing something crazy/dangerous – and Cathy never did. After we were older, she told me she found it easy to stay out of trouble; she just watched what I did and didn’t do it. Smart girl, that baby sis.

She always had my back, too. Never tattled, covered for me when I needed covering, and thought everything I did was cool or worth copying. She trusted me to pierce her ears. (Nearly killed me to poke holes in my sister, even though I’d done lots of other lobes. Almost fainted, as in had to put my head between my knees. I retired from that after her ears.)

I cut her hair when she wanted a shag in junior high. That’s trust.

The back of this photo says "The Robert L. Cartwright Family: Bob, Willette, Laura and Cathy 1970." I think it was early enough in the year that Daddy's 36, Mother 34 and Cathy 11. I'm 14.

The back of this photo says “The Robert L. Cartwright Family: Bob, Willette, Laura and Cathy 1970.” I think it was early enough in the year that Daddy’s 36, Mother 34 and Cathy 11. I’m 14.

Fortunately, we never had to fight about clothes, as many sisters do. The age and size differences were too great. And her feet passed mine by just enough to keep her out of my shoes. But, lordy, when it came to my makeup (which I bought myself) and accessories, did she ever help herself.

Her best friend and neighbor across the street, Connie, even ’fessed up to tell me they liked to wear my retainer when I wasn’t home.

“Gross! Mother!!”

That one Mother did back me on – retainers were expensive.

Cathy and Connie on my 15th birthday. That's our driveway on Blackhawk, and Connie's holding my kitten, Ben, one of many strays I brought home.

Cathy and Connie on my 15th birthday. That’s our driveway on Blackhawk, and Connie’s holding my kitten, Ben, one of many strays I brought home.

By comparison, that's me a month later (holding Pam's kitten, Peanut). Dig the short white Levi's and chukka boots. Oh, I'm standing in front of the Crownover's house next door, for some reason. Looks like Pam took the photo from the shadow.

For size comparison, that’s me a month later (holding Pam’s kitten, Peanut). Dig the short white Levi’s and chukka boots. Oh, I’m standing in front of the Crownover’s house next door, for some reason. Looks like Pam took the photo from the shadow.

Only two times do I remember being really upset about “borrowing” episodes. The first one I’d willingly loaned her my first good watch to wear to a party. She’d asked and everything.

But afterward, when she came in and tossed it to me, saying, “Here’s your watch. It doesn’t work anymore,” and walked out, I was stunned. Still don’t know what happened to it and can’t remember the outcome.

In retrospect, I have to respect her punkitude. Rare for little sister.

I’m pretty sure that was my Elgin, something I’d really wanted and had gotten for Christmas. I don’t remember if it was before or after I broke it myself at a New Year’s Eve party – but it worked when she left with it. (I do hazily remember how I broke it, but we won’t go into that. The New Year’s Eve event was definitely Blackhawk years and Cathy covered for me in an uber-big way. Owe you, kiddo.)

But it could have been a different watch and we could have already moved to Wewoka. Time blends together 40 years later.

The one time I really had a meltdown, though, was over some expensive-ish kohl makeup I’d splurged on. It came in little clay pots and was supercool. I can’t remember the brand. I’ve looked and looked but can’t find it online, though it did look something like this little pot from the late 1970s. indwebready I’d gotten some sparkly cobalt blue eyeliner and  blush. Maybe black eyeliner, too.

I did find this cool magazine page touting the look. I might've had a turban, too.

I did find this cool magazine page touting the look. I might’ve had a turban, too.

Let me add that I was a heavily plucked eyebrows and mascara-only girl from about 16 on, except for special occasions. And since the fancy kohl stuff was in clay pots, I couldn’t tell that it was disappearing at an alarming pace.

One night was a special occasion – don’t remember what it was, but I was ready to get dolled up, ready to roll, when I discovered my little clay pots were empty!

“Mother!!!”

That one time Mother bought me replacement makeup. Guess I made do with mascara that night.

Shortly thereafter I married too young, too quickly, too foolishly, and shortly after that Cathy married obscenely young, at 19. We grew closer every day even though we lived apart.

Hardship draws you together and blood is definitely the tie that binds. Though I’m designated “the strong one,” I count on her for more than she knows.

She’s got my back, and I’ve got hers. We’re the Cartwright girls through thick and thin.

Love you, kiddo.