My sisters and I don’t share any magical jeans, but we do share some impressive genes. Coming from a mother with a quiet and humble spirit, people may be shocked to know we have not a single wallflower among us. Six, yes, six extremely independent and strong-willed women came from this tiny woman who rarely stood up for herself or protested what life handed her. This trait she most definitely kept to herself; though, I’m learning that from time to time, she also displayed a hint of our stubborn side.
I do, however, believe that her lack of protest in our lives allowed us to develop our own personalities and character. Not that I think for a moment that we would have rolled over and accepted it had she objected to our independence, but I think she actually admired our strength and quietly encouraged it.
…or maybe she just realized she didn’t have a chance and gave up. I’m not sure which.
I remember when I had a bit of a stalker in high school, a boy who thought he could influence my decision to date him by asking my mother to encourage it. I later learned that as he plead his case before her in tears at her desk in my school office, she had told him to suck it up because I was far too independent to ever date someone who would whimper and pine over me at my mother’s feet. Go MOM!
When my sister Rebekah (AKA The Mean Midget) soundly trounced a boy for touching her without her consent, his mother called our mom to complain about her unladylike behavior. Again, Mom told her she would expect nothing less and to tell her son to keep his hands off her daughters. While she rarely stood up for herself, she routinely stood up for us. Normally, though, we had to find that out from someone else. She wasn’t particularly verbal with her affection or praise to our faces.
My youngest son observed our “sisterhood” on a recent vacation where all but one spent at least part of a two-week vacation together at the beach. He marveled at how we all reacted identically to stress, frustration, or anger, as he saw it. Our facial expressions and mannerisms mirror one another, showing very clearly through that I-don’t-approve look, but we do have some differences, traits that form us into one unit better than we would be without each other.
Margaret, the eldest who prayed fervently for sisters when she was flanked by two boys and no sisters, lives life through rose-colored glasses like no one else I know. Always willing to help and make a difference, she’s the one hosting parties and reminding us we need to get together if we’ve gone too long without seeing one another. When the eldest brother fell ill and needed to move from Florida back to Virginia to be near the rest of the family, Margaret organized the move and managed the paperwork nightmare to get him the services he needed. She also cared for our mother in her final years. Ever the teacher, she hosts the littles as we sometimes call the short people in our family. They love it when Tia teaches them to make Rice Krispie treats or cookies. Even the not so littles will go over and join her to make salsa or some other treat. She preserves fruits to sell, raising funds to assist the orphans of Guatemala, and travels there as often as she can to love on those orphans herself.
Mary and Martha are our aptly-named twins. In many ways they reflect the personalities of Mary and Martha in the Bible. Martha is always busy serving, and Mary is more relational and conversational. For years I’ve tried to get Mary to write down the stories she tells of the little ones in our family and all their antics. She has a Junie B. Jones style to her storytelling that compels us to listen. Mary and I lived together for a time during my final years of college. She has a set of twins herself, and we had a lively home. We would tease about the country folk around us in our little house in Rustburg, Virginia, cracking George-and-Martha jokes about the way people would sit on the porch and watch the new people in the neighborhood. I learned an important lesson from Mary about relationships. She once said that she marveled at women who would ask what to do about their sports-fan husbands when they felt like football widows. She would respond, “Join them. Learn to love football, make a feast full of snacks and watch the game.” My husband is not a sports fan, but the point is the same. I learned to love what he loves, and we make a point of participating in life and recreation together.
Martha also gave me some of the best marriage advice I ever received. She warned me that whatever my husband did, to remember that I could forgive him far faster than my friends and family would. In the heat of a moment, blabbing all his failings to others would paint a picture that would etch permanent impressions of him. If I could learn to keep my mouth shut in the heat of the moment and protect his reputation with those who love me most, they would love him, too. Before you decide she would hide an abusive relationship, understand, that’s not what she meant. Believe me, she would speak out on any abuse, but in the day-to-day frustrations of life and relationships, every slight doesn’t need to be shared with everyone.
She also taught me to serve willingly and generously. Martha lived in a townhouse apartment when her little one arrived. One night a fire struck a nearby building within the complex. Without hesitation, she set up a table outside her apartment and started serving the firefighters snacks and lemonade. Years later, when she purchased a home with some land out in the country, she noticed road workers outside her house in the blistering heat of summer. In her usual form, she headed out the door with ice cold lemonade to refresh their parched throats. She constantly serves her neighbors and takes food to those suffering loss, and under her watchful eye, deep freezers fill with goods when she hears of anyone in need. She teaches us to live with a servant’s heart.
Rebekah taught me boldness: to stand for what I believe in without apology. At times, I consider her the glue that holds the family together, and at times, I consider her the family cop, keeping us all in line. If she sees one of us doing something that communicates disloyalty to the family, she’s not a bit shy to confront it. She’s also the one to tell us to suck it up when we’ve let something bother us that shouldn’t. We can’t change what others think, but we can walk proudly when we know we’ve done the right thing. What a great lesson!
She’s also THAT AUNT: the one who pinches behinds and always has a treat. On our recent vacation, she took my younger son for a special treat of TopSail Island fudge. He couldn’t believe how much she wanted to lavish on him. Always teasing and picking on one or the other of the nieces or nephews makes her hard to beat in the favorite aunt category. One thing all the kiddos can count on is that Aunt Bekah will always be there for them.
Deborah gives her a run for her money though. She’s another one of THOSE AUNTS, heaping treats and blessings on my kiddos. A walking lesson in perseverance, Deborah has the spirit of a brave adventurer. Having left home quite young and taken on tremendous responsibility in corporate retail, our baby sister slogged through the hard work of building professional skills over years that blossomed into her now-successful real estate business. I would take issue with anyone who ever said Deborah was lucky to have all that she has. Quite the contrary, we watched her dig and scrape and fight for all that she has built for herself, and we could not possibly be more proud of her.
Unlike the view many have of successful business owners, we see a generous servant, always looking for ways to give. She serves in homeless shelters and in her local church. Our entire family knows that she has our backs. Our children may not realize that when she has given to them in the past, those gifts often came at great personal sacrifice. She gave even when she had little extra and truly needed the resources to take care of herself. People may say she has lived a charmed life because she has become so successful, but those who know her best know that her success in life came from a place of self-discipline and self-sacrifice.
My sisters are a treasure to me. They all have flaws, as do I, but we’ll take each others’ secrets to our graves. Their spirits are as much a part of me as their DNA, and I cannot imagine a day when I have to say goodbye to one of them as we did to our dear mother. I hope she realizes that these strong-willed girls, whom she probably thought ran right over her—and we probably did—will be eternally grateful that she didn’t try to fix us. She didn’t read how to control and dominate us and change us into meek church mice, but instead, she survived our attitudes and let us blossom into the women God meant us to be.
Front (L to R): Margaret, Ruth Ann, Bekah
Top (L to R): Martha, Mary, Deborah and one of our brothers, Steve
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch. Actually, that’s my sister’s front porch.