Saturday, June 21, 2014

Out of Illinois

For the past couple of weeks I've been thinking about the beautiful introduction to Karen Blixen's story Out of Africa

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills," she wrote. Since I love the movie so much it's always Meryl Streep's voice when I replay this sentence in my head, and her emphasis is on the word had. She had a farm in Africa. For a brief, wondrous time in her life she had a farm in Africa, and then it was over.

That's exactly how I feel about the past ten months of my life, only I wasn't in Africa, I was in Chicago and I didn't have a farm, I had a sister who lived down the street from me. For a brief, wondrous time I had a sister who lived down the street from me. Now she lives in Utah.

circa 1983

I've been privileged to live near several of my sisters over the years, and last summer I left two beloved sisters behind in Colorado. But the past ten months have taught me that there's a huge difference between living near a sister and living down the street from a sister. The following list is not exhaustive, but hopefully demonstrates a few of the perks of living down the street from your older sister:
  • She not only takes a turn entertaining your toddler during church, she packs snacks and toys in her purse with that purpose in mind
  • She can be prevailed on to deliver emergency milk, eggs or Dairy Queen on her way home from work because she drives right past your house
  • Or if she isn't available to pick up your forgotten grocery items, you can always grocery shop in her fridge
  • While you're in her fridge grocery shopping, she doesn't mind if you see something delicious and say to yourself, "Don't mind if I do" and grab a fork
  • When you receive a text message at ten o'clock at night communicating that your child unwittingly left the hamster cage door ajar over at your sister's house earlier that day, you can have your husband over there in thirty seconds to be the silent ninja who tracks the hamster in the dark. (They found the hamster, long sigh of relief).
  • When you hear the phrase, "I'm bored" from your children you can follow it up by saying saying, "Why don't you play with your cousins." 
  • With your sister you don't have to comb your hair or pick up your house. She can stop by anytime, no strings attached. She already knows your best and your worst.
  • She will walk into your house unannounced to drop something off, take stock of the flustered mom and the fussy baby. She will then pick up said fussy baby and disappear for a little while. For the past ten months she was his other mama.
  • She always knows exactly what restaurant will fit your mood on girl's night. And you can order whatever you want, salad and water or fried calamari and an ice cream sundae. She doesn't care.
  • You have a reliable "play date." Someone to help you pick out shoes, someone to organize Sunday afternoon kickball at the park, someone who knows your routine and the interior of your life almost as well as you do.
After reading over this list the one thing I want to add in tribute to my sister is that she has a way of making me feel like I matter. It feels good to be me when I am with her. We are so different, sometimes we are nearly polar opposites, but we tried really hard to affirm these differences, to keep our pettiness at bay, and through our actions to say, I know who you are, I know who you're trying to become, and you're doing great.

Looking back I feel like it was a magical year. For ten months I had front row seats to watch my sister evolve from a discouraged, overworked and lonely single mom to a happily remarried college graduate. Dr. Seuss wrote, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I'm trying really hard to smile even though this is a hard one for me. Living down the street from my sister defined my entire year. I had a farm in Africa...

So, Utah, I hope you appreciate that you got the good end of this deal. You got my sister. You're welcome.


  1. This makes me cry. It also really makes me wish I lived down the street from you---because my fridge is your fridge....

  2. If only I could implement more "open fridge" policies with my neighbors!


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