Reading is a gift

My sister and I weren’t particularly close growing up, but she gave me the best gift I’ve ever received when I was four years old.

She taught me how to read.

My grandmother had already laid the foundation by teaching me the alphabet. One sunny August day I helped Grandma decorate her grade school classroom in a small Minnesota town. I was assigned the job of neatly taping each of the brightly colored letters to the walls while sounding them out.

A few weeks later, my bored eight year old sister Nancy peered at me through her blue rhinestone glasses and decided to lead me to the basement for my first reading lesson.

It was a rainy afternoon and the room smelled musty and of heavy spray starch.

Mom was ironing Dad’s shirts nearby while watching her favorite soap, “As the Word Turns” on our black and white console TV.

But she abruptly rushed over and turned down the volume when she saw us. Mom sensed something important was about to transpire.

“Now sit down, and pay attention,” Nancy instructed me as I slid into one of Grandma’s old cast iron and walnut desks saved from a prairie one room school house where Grandma had taught previously.

My sister then placed a dog eared copy of her favorite ‘Dick and Jane’ book into my hands.

We read the book together, with me slowly sounding out each syllable and every word on the pages.

In just an hour, Nancy deemed me a reader. Just like her!

And I still am a reader today.

My sister now lives in Colorado Springs, but we communicate frequently. Our calls and emails are often full of book recommendations.

And on her visits back home to Minnesota, we always visit bookstores as unfortunately there are none left in her town.

On my recent birthday, I realized it’s been more than five decades since I received that special gift of reading from Nancy.

I just opened the gift she sent.

It’s a chain, with a tiny turquoise bound book hanging from it just waiting to be read.

It seems our love, and a mutual love for reading is a gift that still binds us today.

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Sisters

The decades have been kind to her.

Four years older than me, she looks four years younger.

But once we were kids.

Enjoying long summer days, playing leapfrog in Grandma’s little gardens till the sun made us sleepy.

Then crossing the railroad tracks to the old library on Main Street, gathering books to read back in the shade of the maple.

While dipping stalks of rhubarb in sweet sugar filled Dixie cups.

Until our teeth hurt.

And also our stomachs.

Today we still both love to read.

And like bookstores now as well.

Preferring those by cafés, offering cool shade from a maple tree.

Where we can slowly nibble our sweet rhubarb pastries.

Later, playing games in a nearby garden.

Just like always

But now the gardens are bigger.

So perhaps we better switch over to lawn bowling.

Sisters will bloom


I’m always behind on writing thank you notes.

And tonight I’m feeling especially guilty about the one I owe my sister Nancy.

It turns out I’m more than a couple of decades behind on this one.

I’ve been meaning to write my sister to thank her for teaching me how to read back I was a little toe-headed four year old.

One rainy day we sat for hours as she worked with me in our musty basement. I was situated at an old wooden desk just like the ones used in one room school houses. My sister, standing right over me.

I thought playing school with my sister was a pretty special way to spend the afternoon.

After all, Mom and Grandma were teachers.

Nancy had a couple of ‘Dick and Jane’ books neatly stacked in front of me. One by one we opened them, reading them aloud word by word, line by line, and finally page by page.

My sister was very patient.

And I was a good listener.

But that changed over the years.

Nancy was four years older than me and we shared a tiny bedroom with pink polka dots dancing over four white walls.

A sweet little room, but there was no privacy.

I started to get on her nerves.

Hourly.

I was the bratty, squirrelly, chubby little sister you definitely didn’t want to be sharing a room with.

I’d borrow her clothes without permission, stretching out her small and pretty pastel sweaters she’d worked so hard for with her babysitting jobs.

And once she entered high school, I wasn’t exactly nice to her boyfriends either.

Especially the one with the shiny Corvette.

I used to call him ‘Slick’.

Maybe I thought he’d leave her at the curb.

Anyway, besides our age difference, we were just different people.

She fit the classic first child profile: Focused, driven, smart.

Nancy could absolutely do no wrong.

My sister would have been the perfect accountant.

Then there was me.

I was the last of three kids and fit the stereotype of the youngest child perfectly: Creative, less focused, less organized.

As Nancy and I became adults, she married and moved away. We did always stay in touch some.

But our contact has grown even more frequent with the loss of our brother in his fortieth year, and the passing of both of our parents more recently.

Conversations between siblings about their elderly and ill parents can often be challenging when one lives in the same town and one lives out of state. Perceptions of ‘how things are going’ can be very different.

But Nancy and I worked through a couple of those tougher conversations. Our hearts were always in the right place, as we both loved our parents very much.

These days she continues to check up on me frequently, especially since my husband’s passing in December.

As we both bloom more gray hair, Nancy and I are also blooming closer as sisters.

And our interests are meshing as well.

My sister’s now embraced her creativity and is a terrific photographer.

And she’s adventurous, having traveled to counties I never would have dreamed of exploring.

In fact, she’s enthusiastically picked out a couple of items from my bucket list that I never would have guessed we’d be planning to do together at this stage in our lives.

She’s chosen to join me on a canoe and camping trip in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, and also on a fly fishing adventure.

But there are two things Nancy and I have always loved and shared together:

Books.

And each other.

I’ll be giving my sister a call tonight as I have a new book recommendation to give her.

I will also be reminding her how much I love her.

And since I’ll probably never get that thank you note written, I’ll make sure to give Nancy my thanks for teaching this bratty younger sister how to read.

I’m also throwing in an apology about those sweaters.