Tomorrow, it will be one year since my sister, Nita, died.
I’ve been thinking lately about what a great old lady she would’ve been. We sisters often noted how Nita seemed to have never grown up. In some ways, though, she was like a person who had been around for quite awhile. She brandished personality traits that many of us don’t take on until we have sixty or more years behind us.
Nita spoke her mind. Always. In our family of quiet, shy and meek individuals, Nita stood out. “No fair!” was her battle cry, whether spoken to brothers and sisters, friends, parents, teachers or employers. She argued for her rights from the time she learned to speak. She was never shy with her opinions. She was quick to call “B.S.” whenever she felt it was warranted. A couple years ago, as Brenda and I were preparing a snack, she said, “You guys are constantly talking about losing weight, but all you ever do is eat!” We would have loved to defend ourselves, but we were filling our plates at the time, so we let it go.
Nita was stubborn, cantankerous and hard to handle, at times. Two years ago, on a sister’s vacation, all of us went to play Pub Trivia together. Nita could see there was cheating going on, with answers being shared from table to table, and researched over cell phones. As the evening progressed, she became louder and more vocal in her displeasure. We suggested letting it go, ignoring it and not making a scene…none of which went over very well with her. At the end of the night, going back to the hotel in a cab, Nita pulled out her E-cigarette to calm her nerves. The cabdriver thought it was a real cigarette, and threatened to fine us two hundred fifty dollars. Nita loudly asserted, “It’s not even real,” then, under her breath, “you moron!” It took every bit of diplomacy the rest of us could muster to get Nita to put it away and quit talking, to convince the driver she didn’t mean any harm and didn’t know any better, and to manage to get back to the hotel without being kicked out of the cab, paying a fine, or worse.
I’ve heard folks say they love old people, just like people love unicorns or puppies or chocolate, as if old people are all the same. Nita was not like that, but she certainly was sympathetic and understanding toward the elderly. When she was a young mother, Nita took a job as a seamstress for the convalescent home my mother worked at. Mom would bring her a sackful of mending – pajamas and under-clothing that had never been worth much, now worn and tattered, but important to those it belonged to – and Nita would meticulously repair elastic, fix buttons, hooks and snaps, and stitch delicate fabrics back together. At one of her last jobs, Nita was working at a restaurant in Florida where old folks gathered for coffee and breakfast each morning. She told me how she enjoyed the interaction with each of the regulars. “I have to remember what they like for breakfast, though,” she said, “’cause they don’t.”
Finally, Nita always had one of those hugging, kissing, doting-on-the-babies personalities that is usually associated with gray-haired grandmothers. She was the aunt who would make the soft dolls or stuffed animals for her nieces and nephews. She could remember all their ages and birthdays, and managed to have photos for occasions that even the parents neglected to record. Nita could talk for hours about how handsome, how smart and how beautiful our children were. “Our family has the prettiest babies,” she’d exclaim. Every new baby was a treasure to her.
Yes, it’s too bad she didn’t get the chance. I think Nita would have made a great old lady.