No, this isn’t about Philadephia. It’s a tribute to my older sister, who just turned 65 yesterday. With my Mom gone, she’s the one who has known me the longest—two years older, she was there from the beginning— and it’s time to reflect and thank her for all the years.
Which I started doing last night driving the hour plus ride back from Sebastopol, fresh-from a warm-hearted dinner at house with three of our five offspring and our respective spouses. Much laughter, fun stories, musical jam around the piano and a group selfie from her new i-Pad.
Where to begin? I vaguely remember playing together with the neighborhood kids in our early years, visits to the relatives and family vacations. But as we got older, the strict gender lines were clearly drawn, me heavy to the side of baseball, football, basketball and throwing rocks into the lake, her going to dance classes, horseback riding camp and starting to read Victorian novels. She arranged my first (and only) date in high school and I loved her jock boyfriends and was wary of her arty types. Until she finally settled on the captain of the soccer, basketball and golf teams who also was reading Nietzche. Three years my elder at the same Country Day School for Young Gentlemen (Pingry in Elizabeth, New Jersey), Jim Matthews soon after became my brother-in-law and an intricate piece of the emerging puzzle of our lives. I played the organ at their wedding when we all were still in college, and lo and behold, here we all are still together some 44 years later!
The gap between Ginny (Virginia growing up) and I began to close in those college years. Jim became a macrobiotic and introduced me to the vegetarian I would become in the next 15 years or so of my life (before converting to a chickentarian—still no red meat). He, Ginny, a dancer friend of theirs and I piled into a Volkswagen bug for my first trip to California in the summer of 1972, a memorable journey across the country. So my sister was in the front seat when I first crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into the city that would soon be my destiny’s destination.
Ginny and Jim moved to San Francisco first and I joined them in the Fall of 1973, literally joined them crashing at their small apartment on California and Fillmore St. for three months until I found my own place. Led by Jim, Ginny and I went to our first seven-day first Zen meditation retreat, an intense and intensive life-changing experience down at Mt. Baldy Zen Center with a teacher who just recently passed away at 107 years old! We both continued studying with him in the 70’s and 80’s and Ginny eventually was ordained by him as a lay monk. The last retreat we shared together was in 2007, when the teacher was 100 and our Dad had just passed away. It feels significant that we shared a spiritual practice together.
But that was not the only crossing of significant paths. Ginny got me my first job in San Francisco playing piano to accompany her modern dance classes. After 9 months with my own apartment on Shrader St., I moved back in with her and Jim at 247 Downey St. where we all lived together harmoniously for a year or so—at $125 a month rent split three ways! She got me a few gigs playing music for the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in which she danced and in all the succeeding years, the combo of me playing piano and her dancing was constant. In 1984, we did a joint concert which included her dancing to me playing a composition from my father with him in the audience. She danced again at my 50th birthday concert.
Then came the children— my two daughters, her three sons— and all the emerging joint family traditions, including weekly Sunday brunches, annual trips to the snow with two other families and the Calistoga Spa in the Spring. Two of her sons went to The San Francisco School with my daughters and wife and I teaching there until they all moved to Sebastopol. Then came our parents out from New Jersey to Novato in 1992 and all our joint traditions and later caring for them. Our teamwork trying to nurse my Dad back into this world after a triple-bypass surgery and then coaching him out of it, our seven years sharing the visits with my Mom and occasionally visiting together to give her a double-cheek kiss goodbye, our joint running of their respective Memorial Services, our harmonious dividing of their meager material inheritance. Ginny was there at my daughter Kerala’s home birth and again with Talia, I helped out at the same for her first two sons, she officiated Kerala’s wedding ceremony and I played the music for her son Ian’s wedding. That’s a lot of intense life shared together.
I suppose the sibling relationship is one of life’s more complicated experiences. I found out yesterday of a cousin dying from cancer and still refusing to make peace with her sibling after a 20-year feud. I hear the stories of families divided by inheritances (“I wanted the silver tea service!!!), by temperament ("He is so different from me."), by choice (“She voted for Bush!”). So it’s a good time to acknowledge and appreciate a life lived side-by-side with a beautiful spirit going strong (and still dancing!) at 65 years young. Ginny, you see how central you’ve been to my unfolding in so many ways— and more to come!
Thanks, Sis! I love you lots!