Raise Your Hand If It’s Your Birthday!

My sister Jennie has a birthday today … she’s the baby with her hand in the air. She was eight months old in this photo and that’s me holding her. My fourteen year-old sense of style was a bit lacking back then as evidenced by my summer blouse at Christmas topped off by my dad’s old army cap.

Jennie was barely five when I enlisted in the army and acquired some military head-gear of my own. I hate what hats do to my hair and I’ve never  been able to wear them as well she does. I tend to think of hats as necessary to keep the sun off or to stay warm if it’s really cold outside, but Jennie does it with flair, making them both useful and a fashion accessory.

She’s in the mountains today having a birthday weekend away with her mom, my step-mom, Cullene. I borrowed the photo below from her Facebook page. Cullene took it last year when they were snowed in and it illustrates what I mean about Jennie’s ability to pull off a hat and look good doing it.

Happy Birthday, Jennie. If there’s a party hat involved today, send me a picture so I can post it.

Change Of Plans – Suggestions Anyone

For the last six or eight months, John and I have been planning a big trip in September. Having walked the 105 miles of the Tour du Mont Blanc almost two years ago, I have been looking forward to doing it again with him this fall to celebrate a big birthday I have coming up. To make it even more special, we’ve been planning on taking my sister Margaret with us on the long walk through the Swiss, French, and Italian Alps.

Things got a bit complicated when Margaret and I began to plan her travel arrangements so that the timing might work with the schedule for the TMB. Because she was coming from Alaska, most of the flight options had her traveling for a minimum of 19 hours (it was difficult to find these) or up to 38 hours with the exception of one airline which could get her here within about 10 hours with connecting flights, but only flew from Alaska one day a week.

After all three of us had put in too many hours at the computer with no real progress and loads of frustration, I offered up an alternative plan … one that seemed less like an endurance event (which the TMB really is) and something more restful and less time restrictive.

Instead of walking a path that looks like this … or sleeping in places like this, I suggested a totally different sort of trip to Margaret and she decided it sounded good to her as well.

Even with the change, she will still be here for most of the month of September and for the first time since we were twelve and fourteen, we will be able to celebrate each others birthdays in person. She’s a September birthday too and since John’s birthday falls between ours, we’re going to be eating a lot of cake that month. The big question is, where are we going to be when we are blowing out our birthday candles.

A few days after she gets here, we’ll head for London for a week of exploring. My 50th birthday will happen while we are there, so John will come up the day before and stay overnight in order to celebrate the milestone with me too. Now here’s where you come in, I’m looking for suggestions for things you think we should see and do during our week in London and I’d like to have a plan that includes something special for my birthday.

Having been there a few times, I do have some ideas, but I would love to see if you can surprise me with something I haven’t thought of yet. I’m not sure what is on Margaret’s list, (we just decided on the change recently) but I do know that I would like to photograph London from the top of the London Eye on my birthday.


I would also like for us to see a show or two in the West End, but I am not sure what might be enjoyable. I’ve seen several there in the past. I loved Billy Elliot when I saw it in 2005, and Miranda and I saw my all time favorite musical, Les Miserables when we were there in 2003. I’m not opposed to a more serious production either as I was thrilled to see Ralph Fiennes in Brand on the same trip with her when she was fifteen. If you’ve seen or heard about a production that you think is too fabulous to miss, please let me know so we can consider it for our list.

After our week in London, we’ll be a bit closer to home as we do up the southwest part of England for a week or two. Then we’re off by plane to the next place on our list. It’s one of my favorites and if you’ve reading me for long, you may have already seen some of my photographs from there. Can you guess where we will be by the images below?

A Gift for Abelard & Heloise

This is one I snapped on our honeymoon.

I can’t wait to show Margaret where I was standing when I captured this familiar Paris scene. The seventh picture holds a clue.

Margaret and I will be spending seven days in Paris on our own for a sister’s week. We have a lot already in mind to fill our days, but tell me what you’d want to see and do if you were joining us. I’m looking for things I may not have thought of yet.

Lastly, I could use suggestions from my Paris blog friends on short term holiday lets. I’d like to book a place soon and I have scoured the internet looking for a place that is not too pricey, works well for two, and is in a decent location. We don’t mind walking, (I’ll need it to offset my bread intake) and I have used the Metro before so we are fairly flexible. While I would prefer a studio apartment, if you have a hotel recommendation that is reasonable, I’d be open to having a look at that as well.

I’m so looking forward to spending this time with Margaret. We’ve not had a chance to travel together since we were children and I don’t think our memories of fighting over who had more room in the backseat of the car on road trips in the late sixties and early seventies is going to compare at all with the memories we’ll be making in September 2010.

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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