It’s my sister’s birthday today. She turned 67 and I’m 65. Like everyone our age, we are asking a simple question. “How the hell did that happen?!!!” But given the alternative, we’re both very happy that it did and look forward to being bewildered by each age to come.
With our parents gone, we now are the people that have known the other longer than anyone else. We dressed up at Halloween together and sat down at the Thanksgiving table together and ran down the stairs on Christmas morning together. We hunted for Easter eggs together, rode the Staten Island Ferry together to visit the relatives, sat on the front stoop together watching the 4th of July fireworks. We both went to Harrison School together, went to the Unitarian Church together, went down the street to Mrs. Lutz’s house together for our organ/ piano lessons. We walked to Debby and Irv’s together to buy candy, accompanied our Mom shopping for fruits and vegetables at Sam and Andy’s, rowed boats on the lake in Warinanco Park, a mere half-block from our house. Over our childhood summers we went together to Florida, to Lake Minnewaska in the Catskills, to Ocean Gate and Seabright on the Jersey shore, to Montauk Point on Long Island, to Toronto on one of my Dad’s business trips. We watched lots of TV together— I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, Perry Mason, Jackie Gleason, Walt Disney, The Million Dollar Movie and some dozens of other shows.
It was my sister who clued me into the Santa Claus deal and more dramatically, revealed the fact that we were actually Jewish (a long story for another blog). It was my sister who I blackmailed for 25 cents a week to not to tell our parents that she was smoking. (I think that lasted two weeks before the said she’d beat the crap out of me if I told.) It was my sister that arranged my one date of my high school years (another long story!). We shared a lot of life together on 542 Sheridan Avenue in the town of Roselle, New Jersey.
But there was much we didn’t share as well. After all, she was a girl. She had her friends, she did her girl things, I had my friends, I did my boy things. She was also two years older and ran in a different crowd, though we shared some of the same neighborhood friends until the teenaged years. In high school, she went to an all-girls’ school, I went to the all boys’ one and our lives separated even further.
It was in college that we began to connect again, both of us lured into the counter-culture of the late 60’s. She was the one who first came to San Francisco and one year later, I took my first trip across the country to California in a VW bug with her and her husband Jim and a friend, camping our way across the wide open spaces of Route 90. me 21, her 23. She introduced me to a vegetarian diet, we enjoyed certain popular substances of that time together, read our Alan Watts and our Jack Kerouac, began sitting Zen meditation together and when I finally moved out to California right after college, I moved in with her and her husband and we went all three to an intense 7-day meditation retreat at Mt. Baldy with Joshu Sasaki Roshi. He became the teacher for both of us in the 70’s, I faded out (though still sit zazen) but she persevered and eventually became a lay monk. In our first years together in San Francisco, she was an up and coming modern dancer with The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, I earned $3 an hour accompanying dance classes she taught and playing for occasional concerts. We lived together for two years and shared the excitement of young adults starting out in a vibrant and affordable San Francisco. (I love to tell folks about our apartment on Downey St. in the upper Haight, two bedrooms, great view, great neighborhood, for $125 a month split three ways!!!!!)
And so it continued. She was present at the birth of both my children, I was there for one of her three kids. We had Sunday brunch every week and called our parents still back in New Jersey. I was still mostly “Ginny’s brother” in our San Francisco social life until I began to forge my own identity as Orff teacher and sometimes she was introduced as “Doug’s sister.” We continued to perform together in various venues and mutually helped raise our kids.
She moved to Sebastopol around 1992, right when our parents moved out here to Novato. We had 15 good years with them back in our lives and we were both wholly present at their bedsides in their last few months, weeks, days, hours. Now the two of us who used to visit our grandparents together are grandparents ourselves. In our Zen practice, we try to attend to the ever-present moment, but let’s face it, linear time is real and those ever-present moments add up. This just to say I’m grateful to have been side-by-side with her through it all and am ever hopeful that we’ll continue to be for a generous amount of years to come.
Happy birthday, sis!