Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Artichokes and Beer

When I was a little girl, I was lucky to have three older sisters to blaze trails ahead of me. When I was 8, my older sisters would have to take me with them and I saw a lot of crazy teenager stuff. My sister Patti gave me my first beer. It was terrible and I poured it out. I didn't do much beyond watch, ever.
I remember sneaking out with one of my sisters on a school night and dragging her in just at dawn, only to shower and go to school. I didn't really drink, but I did make sure we were alright. I must've been about 13.

None of them complained about my presence so I must not have been a pain in the ass sort of sister. My sisters were so rebellious that I could've gotten away with murder. I ask them once in awhile if perhaps I've got it wrong, but no, they generally say that I wasn't wild in the least and that I was kind of a boring kid. I'm sure my former classmates would concur. I'm good with that. I spent many happy high school weekends reading books or riding horses with my friends or working at Ski Bluewood. I showed sheep in junior high and high school and was an officer in FFA. Hell, I was a state officer in FBLA. I was a Columbia County Fair Hostess and acted in the school play every year.

Honestly, I'm not sure how all that happened. It's not like I was a great student or that I had great motivations. I was just a kid. Mr. Moore, Mr. Hodgson and Mr. Markus (God rest his soul) were good teachers. They gave me a lot of leeway, which I needed because life as a teenager sucks. And let's face it, I often smelled like a sheep ranch.

I attribute a lot of my happy childhood memories to my sister, Patti. She's four years older than I am. She was my protector, mentor, sister and friend. Later, she was my doppleganger since people confused us. Sometimes my Grandma calls me "Patti" and I answer with a smile because Patti is one of my favorite people and probably the best friend I ever had. Within the same family, siblings can have radically different experiences growing up, and I'm sure she saw the brunt of what I glimpsed. But she never complained and just went on and did what needed to be done. If you think well of me, please know that I'm a poor imitation of her.
When we were little girls, I got very sick. My mom was at work and couldn't come home. I had a fever of 104. Patti ran a cool bath but I wouldn't get in. She went first, to get me to do it. When I was sick to my stomach some months later, she took Pepto Bismol (which she hates) to show me it would be ok. Then she lit a fire to warm our feet.

Patti showed me how to make my bed and fold my clothes. I still employ those simple lessons. She also pulled me out the cherry tree I was climbing and made me put on a bra. I hated that. I wanted to stay a little girl forever. And she showed me how to play chess and how to cook. We made potato salads, pies, cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches. She demonstrated moxie too. In high school, she was the homecoming princess for some reason or other. Maybe tenth grade. We lived in Quilcene, Washington. But she heard this guy she dated was doing her wrong. Now, I don't know how anyone else does it, but I've never seen anyone in my family back down from a fight. We're not that kind of people. Not a whole lot of turning the other cheek, if you know what I mean. I almost feel bad for that kid. The story goes that she slammed him up against some lockers and kneed him between the legs. I had strong role models. Thanks to her and to my other sister, Yvette, nobody ever, ever fucked with me.

And artichokes. Patti taught me to love artichokes. We would cut the stems and the sticker parts, steam them in the microwave and mix butter, garlic salt and lemon and feast like queens on the delicacy. I didn't like them at first, but I trusted my big sister when she told me it was an acquired taste. And if she liked them, then by God I'd like them too.

We talk about every week, for about an hour. Our lives are different but not particularly separate. I think that she lives a life I'd like to experience and she thinks I live a life she'd like, too. Patti finished a degree in system administration. She has two kids, 1.5 grand-kids and a husband who is a logger. They live on 9 acres with a huge garden. We talk and text and email. She keeps me up on family life in the Pacific Northwest and I fill her in on the single starving-dom of graduate school and red dirt living.

If you ever thought of me as a mentor, friend or good person, now you know where such things come from. I wouldn't say every good attribute is from my sister, but many of them are, including the idea of self-discipline and a strong belief in myself. I'm really just a facsimile of her own compassion. All of my sisters contributed to my upbringing in their own ways, but whenever I see an artichoke, I certainly think of her. And now, I hope you do too.

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