Hi, All! Last post about my family, I promise. It all sort of relates to what we do because these are the chacters that live in my head, and their dialogue rings in my ears as I'm writing. My memories of childhood are so strong. I imagine yours are, too. We were writers, even before we knew it.
My sister, Lorraine, was nine when I was born, and when we went to live with Mike and Jeannette Pacheco in that tenement over the store. I remember being jealous of her growing up because she was slender and pretty and I was a complete pudge. She was also fearless and I was not, but she was my big sister and I followed wherever she led. Which was often into trouble.
There was a stairway from the street level of our building up to our tenement, and a railing about six inches from a rough cement wall. She thought we should slide down it. Even at four years old I knew we couldn't straddle it and have a clear memory of thinking, "This is not a good idea." But she was excited about riding the railing 'side-saddle.' Needless to say we landed in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. Fortunately, neither of us broke anything, but our scratched faces told the story for several weeks.
One Saturday afternoon, we went to Newberry's and bought turtles with our allowances. In those days, tiny turtles with flowers painted on their shells, were sold at the dime store for 25 cents. We bought a small fish tank complete with a treasure chest in the bottom and went home very excited. Lorraine had circumvented the no-pets policy in the tenement. The following morning, Lorraine, getting ready for school, announced to me that my turtle had died overnight. I was horrified. It wasn't until I was walking to school that I realized we'd bought two turtles but never discussed which one belonged to whom.
That night, she suggested I pray for a puppy. Our parents always prayed with us before we went to bed and each of us had time for a special prayer request. I reminded her that the landlord didn't allow pets. She said, "He does if you pay extra every month." I suggested our parents might not want to pay extra. We didn't feel poor because all our friends and neighbors were in the same boat, but there was never any extra. "You always get what you want," she said a little sharply. "Come on, you can do it. Just make that face like you do."
I didn't know what face she meant, but I've always had the DeNiro/Pacino gene. At prayer time, I closed my eyes, folded my hands, and told God how aggrieved I was at the loss of my turtle, and that a puppy would go a long way toward restoring my faith and happiness. The following weekend, my father took us to the farm of a friend of his who raised Toy Fox Terriers. We went home with six-week-old Tippy. The discovery that I had such power made me walk a little taller.
Lorraine entered the convent of the Sisters of The Holy Cross when she was seventeen and I was eight. The night before she left for their motherhouse in Montreal, she gave me her topaz birthstone ring and told me how much she loved me. I was shocked. I guess that was the first time I understood that love isn't all sweetness and harmony, but anger and struggle and resentment and slogging through difficulties together.
My parents and I moved to Los Angeles and Lorraine served as a grade school teacher in many parishes in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Over time, Lorraine earned a masters degree in education and I got married.
Early in the seventies there was a major upheaval among the sisters in the Catholic Church. Many of the rules, big and small, were changed. Lorraine felt it was no longer the life to which she had promised herself, applied for a dispensation of her vows, and left the convent. One of our brothers-in-law, taught her to drive, found her a job and an apartment, and she took up the life of a 'civilian'.
I sent her some clothes and the topaz ring.
In 1985, she married a wonderful man she met at work. My mother bemoaned the fact that his name was Donald Jepson because I was married to Ronald Jensen. "I'll never keep it straight!" she said. Our father had passed away some time before and our mother was no longer able to travel, so I went to Lorraine's wedding as 'Mother of the Bride.' Our oldest brother gave her away. She wore baby's breath in her hair and the happiest smile.
Lorraine died suddenly in 2005 of what she'd thought was indigestion and turned out to be a coronary occlusion. I am brokenhearted to this day, but I can live with it because I remember what she told me the night before she left for the convent. And her husband sent me the topaz ring.