You Look Like Me

My sister Margaret was born within a few weeks of my second birthday. She came into the world at a difficult time in America. Born at the end of September only a few weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October of 1962, she was barely six weeks old when our family life blew apart in a way that could never be repaired. While the rest of the world was still catching its breath after the compromise between Kennedy and Khrushchev, our lives were spinning off in terrible directions that we would not be able to control.

A year ago today when I wrote the post Peanut Butter & Jelly for her, I offered a bit of insight into the challenges we faced as children. If you take a moment to read that post, found below the baby bracelet, the rest of this will make more sense.

Margaret was blond to my brunette with blue/grey/green eyes to my brown ones. Growing up no one ever questioned that I was our mother’s child having her hair and eye coloring in addition to a bit of her overall look. Margaret however, took after our father’s side of the family with her fair coloring and light eyes.

It must have been so obvious to our mother who still maintained throughout Margaret’s early years, ” I don’t know who you look like ”  saying it in a way intended to keep her at arms length even more than she did with her other behaviors. Never a warm or loving woman, it was one more way she found to inflict pain on someone she should have loved and protected.

I wish I could have stated what was so obvious back then, but we barely knew our father’s family and they were all but strangers to us when we finally had a opportunity to spend time with them in the summer of 1970. Children don’t always see things as clearly as adults and we certainly don’t always know the right thing to say.

As Margaret and I age, the physical differences are shrinking, I can’t look at my hands without seeing hers and although our mouths have a slightly different shape, the laugh lines around them look the same and we share a worry line right between our eyes that is always there when we’re trying to solve a problem. We both are short waisted although she has me on height and if you were to hear us laughing together you might have trouble telling us apart.

Margaret is and always has been, courageous and talented. She is a woman of many skills with an attitude that defies the possibility that what she wants is not within her reach. As someone who can design and build just about anything, if I were ever trapped on an island, she’d be someone I’d want there to help me sort things out. A tender message of love and affection has more value to her than any material possession and the welfare of her family is foremost in all of her decisions. We’ve struggled through some difficult times together and apart, but I hope she can hear me when I say, you are my family Margaret, and you look like me.

Happy Birthday Margaret

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Kansas 1984

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Alaska – December 2008

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Peanut Butter And Jelly

September 28, 2008

We were warriors together from our earliest days, standing together in defense as children against things too terrible to speak of even to those closest to us.

Born two years after me, she is part of my earliest memories. She was my first audience, listening as I created elaborate eulogies for the roly-poly bugs we found belly up in the back yard when we were six and eight. Seated among the stuffed animals who made up the mourners at these morbid dramas, her face was the gauge by which I measured my ability to connect with the heart of my audience. It was through her that I first learned the power of my own words and awakened my love of storytelling. Shy and outgoing, blond and brunette, quiet and chatty, we have been opposites, but so alike in different ways.

For years we were always,“ Elizabeth and Margaret,” said in the same mouthful like peanut butter and jelly or cake and ice cream. Never just Elizabeth or Margaret, until one day, thinking only of my own salvation, I fled from the daily war-zone of our lives and I lost my sister. Her name was changed and she was taken away to a state where I couldn’t find her. Suddenly, I was no longer one of two, no more Elizabeth and Margaret, just Elizabeth with no peanut butter for my jelly. Not knowing where she was or more importantly how she was, was an open wound to my young heart.

At fifteen, I convinced an older boy with a car to drive me 636 miles round-trip back to the last house I’d lived in with her. I told my dad and step-mom a bodacious lie and jumped into the car that covered the distance like it had wings attached to the roof rack. She was already gone but I didn’t know it then. I was too afraid to venture down the rocky driveway to get close enough to look for her, but I stood at the end of the road wringing my hands and thinking of escape plans that had no place in a mind that should have been focused on teen worries.

I wondered for years if I would recognize her if she passed me on the street and I felt her missing presence during all the times you’d like to share with a sister. Our father suffered terribly in his quiet way and sometimes in an unguarded moment our normally stoic dad would drop his calm demeanor and his sadness would leak out through his eyes.

At 23, after a tip from a young cousin, I made a few phone calls to a college in the middle of nowhere and told a couple of lies so big even I wouldn’t have believed them to an unsuspecting soul in the registrars office. It worked somehow and she confirmed my sister was enrolled that semester before giving me her home phone number. I was scared as I called the number and I held my breath waiting as I said, “Margaret…this is Elizabeth, don’t hang up.”

We saw each other for first time in ten years a few months later on my 24th birthday when I flew in to surprise her. She said later that she had a feeling she was going to see me that day. Sister connections and DNA …she knew I was coming. I wish I made it back to her sooner. I wish I could have gotten her to a safe place before she found it on her own. I wish I could have explained 34 years ago that I wasn’t trying to leave her, but trying desperately to save myself. There are a lot of things I’d change if I had the power, but there’s one thing she can count on now. I’m not going anywhere….anymore.

Today is a special day for me. It’s the 46th anniversary of the day my sister was born.

I’ve missed a lot of her birthdays in the past and it feels really good to be able to say that I hope today will be a happy day to the peanut butter to my jelly.

Happy Birthday Margaret.

Margaret Turns Six-1968

Thirteen

 

Miranda Holding Sam

Miranda Holding Sam

Thirteen years ago I snapped this photograph of Miranda holding her new cousin Sam. He was about six weeks old when she and I boarded a plane bound for Alaska to see the firstborn son of my sister Margaret and her husband Leon. 

Elizabeth & Sam - Trying To Make Him Laugh

Elizabeth & Sam - Trying To Make Him Laugh

Sam as it turns out, was the laughingest baby I’ve ever known and if you ask my sister she’ll tell you he only ever laughed with wild abandon with me. (Use your imagination here to picture the silly dances and sounds I had to make in order to encourage such giddiness) You should know I’m talking about giggling, squealing peals of real laughter not just the smiles and cooing you get with a lot of happy babies. Born in Alaska, we didn’t see a lot of each other face to face over the years, but my memories of the way he would laugh can still make me smile and it’s one of the stories everyone talks about when we remember Sam’s baby years.

Last December, I had a chance to spend a week in Alaska with Margaret and her husband Leon along with Sam and Nik. It was the first time I’d been around Sam since he was about 3 1/2. so the changes were huge. Sam, the laughingest baby I’ve ever known has a more mature sense of humor now.

He understands subtlety in a way that takes you by surprise, sometimes being a step or two ahead of you before you realize he understands irony in way that most thirteen year olds don’t get yet. 

There are a few other qualities I had a chance to see up close during my visit, such as Sam’s innate sense of direction. It turns out that Sam’s love of maps makes having him in your car a bit like having a personal GPS that tells you where to go and then reassures you that he knows what he’s taking about. I saw him do this more than a few times when we were in the car together last December and thought how handy that would be when he makes it over to Cornwall sometime for a visit. 

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Like his younger brother Nik, Sam is quite the music man. Preferring a Gibson guitar over his brother’s Fender, he seems to like to rock a bit more gently to some less raucous rock and roll classics and it was great fun for me to be able to see him play live at a Christmas concert. 

He’s had a intense interest in Huskies and the Iditarod for as long as I can remember and got his dog Buddy, an Alaskan husky when he was about six. (Sorry …I don’t have a better picture of Buddy) The picture below though shows one of the funny things Buddy likes to do when he feels like he wants to join the rest of the action.

Buddy At The Gate

Buddy At The Gate

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Sam has a need for solitude and time to think that I totally get and conversations with him always leave me thinking about our discussions and marveling at the perspective and insight of such a young man. He digs deeply into areas that interest him and is more than willing to chat at length about certain subjects… sharing details you might not ever have considered. 

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I think what I enjoy most though is seeing Sam interact with his brother Nik. With almost the same two year age difference that his mother Margaret and I share, I’m sometimes reminded of how she and I were as similar and different as Sam and Nik are while still enjoying the connections that come with having a sibling so close in age.

 

Sam Holding A Lizard With Nik Looking On

Sam Holding A Lizard With Nik Looking On

Today Sam is thirteen and recognized as a teenager on his way to all the experiences and expectations that will come with the title of teen. New directions can be more challenging for some of us than others, but with his uncanny sense of direction, I feel sure he’ll have no problems finding the path most right for him.

Happy Birthday Sam 

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So Far Away

 

Not So Far Away

Elizabeth, John, & Nik - Not So Far Away

 ” But you’re so far away
Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore
It would be so fine to see your face at my door ”

- Carole King

Making a decision to move away from the familiar is not so easy for most people. To move so far away that it requires an extended plane ride or maybe even several to reconnect with those we care about is becoming more common and a little less painful thanks to the many ways that exist for family and friends to stay connected. Yesterday, John and I paid a little visit to Alaska all the way from England for my nephew Nik’s birthday party. Thanks to the internet, iChat, and my sisters willingness to shift her desktop Mac around, John and I were able to “be present” for the family gathering. 

It was great fun to watch Nik open his presents, blow out his candles and sing a rousing round of Happy Birthday to him with his older brother Sam accompanying us on electric guitar. Sam would have made Jimi Hendrix proud as he opened the party with a raucous version of the Happy Birthday tune.  

The world’s a different place than when I turned eleven in 1971 and Carole King was singing, ” So Far Away “.  Far away isn’t quite so far now and although we couldn’t taste the yummy looking (no trans fats included) cake my sister Margaret made, we could gather together for a photograph with the birthday boy… bringing ourselves virtually into the living room though still not quite a face at the door.

Eleven

 

11

Today my nephew Nik is eleven.

 There are many things I’d like to say about him, but at eleven, he’d like a bit of censoring.

 Say too much and I’ll embarrass him, say too little and I’m afraid I won’t properly convey how much I like the person

he’s growing into.

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 He’s interesting to talk with and teaches me something whenever we speak.

Like a typical eleven year old, he has a dog he loves.

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She’s a sweet little beagle named Ingrid. 

Unlike a typical boy his age, he likes to makes movies rather than just watch them.

 Sometimes, Ingrid has a leading role.

Nik taught himself how to make movies using a small Nikon and a Mac. 

His movies vary.

Sometimes, they’re black and white with special effects like slow motion.

His sense of humor is easily apparent in the images and story line.

He made a movie for my birthday last year when he was ten.

He read here about an experience I had in England

and made this movie to mirror my story.

Home schooled in Alaska, I think he’s exceptional.

When I visited last December, I was able to see his skill with his electric guitar, a Fender.

It’s a great guitar for a young musician partial to Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, my personal favorite Bruce Springsteen, and okay…KISS. (not my favorite)

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He’s a builder and a doer, creative and kind with a scientific mind and an enthusiastic spirit.

Nik - First Place On Trans Fats Science Project

Nik - First Place On Trans Fats Science Project

Last week he won first place with his science fair project on Trans Fats. He’s been trans fat focused since last summer

when he talked his mom (my sister, Margaret) into buying him the book, Eat This, Not That. After the science

competition, he went book shopping again, for volume 3 of Eat This, Not That so my sister figures he’s not done yet.

 

Today he’s eleven.

Happy Birthday

Nik.

 

Nik's Art Project

Nik's Art Project