My sister, Nita, is a legend in our family.
It started when she was about two, and her baby-blonde hair gave way to a darker, almost reddish shade of brown. Mom had always wanted a redhead! The first touch of sun gave Nita’s little nose and round cheeks a nice dusting of freckles. Her twinkly eyes and bright grin finished the look.
In our family, we had sweet and silly and pretty and goofy-looking. We had, rarely, the child who might grow up to be beautiful. Nita effortlessly mastered her own look. She was cute!
Nita was also sassy. In a family of shy and easily intimidated children who were raised to know their place, Nita stood out! She would talk back to either of our parents; she’d stand up for herself and her brothers and sisters; she would vehemently defend her right to finish a game before chores or bath or bedtime. If Brenda and I were too bossy, she called us on it. Nita was the first, always, to cry “No fair!” Mom attributed it to her (nearly) red hair, which – to her – determined a certain rebellious, feisty spirit…so she didn’t work to squelch it.
The rest of us watched in awe.
That girl…cute and scrappy…was going to go far!
She did, too, with setbacks that might have stopped another person in their tracks.
Nita hasn’t had it easy.
Nita got pregnant before she was out of school, worked through her studies while expecting, and graduated high-school with a new baby.
Later, with two little ones at home, she managed to earn a college degree.
An amazing seamstress, one Christmas Nita made “pound-puppy” stuffed animals for each of her nieces and nephews, each customized to suit their owner. If I remember correctly, hair and eye colors matched those of the recipients. The one our nephew, Alan, recieved (he was a teen-ager at the time) had one earring!
Nita has worked at all kinds of jobs. For several years, she took in piecework, mending underwear for residents at the convalescent home where my mother worked. Most recently, she worked at a fast food restaurant in Florida, frequented by the elderly. “I have to remember what they want from one day to the next,” she told me, “because they don’t.”
Family anecdotes tell of accidents and misfortunes enough to fill a book…but she has always kept us laughing.
Of all of Nita’s attributes, I think the best is her ability to laugh at herself, whatever calamity befalls her, and to make the rest of us laugh with her.
Nita lived, for a while, in the little house next-door to our family home. It had first belonged to Mom’s parents; after they died, it became a rental property. Aunt Margaret and her brood crowded in there for several years. There was a well-worn path from our front door to that front door, from years of visiting back and forth. “That path is an eye-sore,” Nita decided, and vowed to get rid of it. She raked up the soil for the length of the path, added fertilizer, then grass seed. As the final part of the process, she dragged the large picnic table over, and put it right dead-center on the pathway, “so people will have to find a different route.”
One summer evening, after tucking her children into their beds, Nita noticed a police car pull in to the house next door. My parents were both working second shift, so the only one home was my brother, David. If he wasn’t already in some kind of trouble, Nita rightly figured he would be shortly, as he wasn’t known for his compliance – or even polite conversation – when police officers came calling. She scooted across the yard to help.
It was only a friendly inquiry, if I remember correctly, but they talked for a while about one thing and the other.
The sun went down.
A car pulled in to Nita’s driveway. Oh no! If they came to the door and knocked, it would wake up her children!
She set off running in the most direct path across the yard from one house to the next.
When she tells this story, Nita says, “I estimate my speed at 35 miles per hour.”
That’s how fast she was going, then, when she ran into the picnic table…flipped over the top of it…and landed in a heap on the other side.
For six weeks, it looked like her left shoulder was attached to her earlobe.
She was crooked for months.
I still can’t hear this story without giggling!
Though, in our family, we are not above laughing at one another’s pain or embarrassment, it’s her telling of it that makes it so funny.
Nita never takes a “poor me” stance, but rather looks at her misfortunes with amazement, wry humor and a “can you believe this?!” attitude.
Nita’s going through a rough spell right now. Radiation treatments, chemotherapy, doctors and hospitals: these take their toll. Because we love her so much, it has brought the whole family down.
Still, she holds true to herself.
Nita still finds comfort in family and friends.
She still amazes me with her strength and resolve.
And, whenever I speak to her, Nita still always makes me smile.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear Sister!