Memories of a Great Sister


    Ginger was almost 19 years old when I was born. The story was that my mother’s pregnancy didn’t show until very late and rumors had begun that I was actually Ginger’s child.
    Ginger’s fondness for me fostered her sense of humor, for just as certain individuals take peculiar glee in tying strings onto a cat’s tail, putting scotch tape on their feet or annoying them with laser lights, Ginger began propping me up on sofas and in chairs, and dressing me in girl’s clothes, Puerto Rican straw hats and big sunglasses then photographing me for family photo albums and to show her friends. Thank goodness there was no YouTube or FaceBook at that time.
    I just have to seriously doubt that neither my mother or father, nor Ann Marie or Sandra, took all those pictures of me naked or sitting on the potty chair, so the person I long suspected was, of course, Ginger. It was always Ginger.
    Ginger appears to sport the ever so slightly shorter hemlines than her sisters in the old photos of them that I have. Her lower squared necklines, earrings and necklaces, even with a two-year old me perched on her right hip, creates a statement of the innate confidence she possessed. Whether I was dressed for bed, bath or beach, whether barefoot, slippered or sporting sensible shoes, I’ve grown to suspect Ginger had a hand in the activity or selection--though it was noted on the back of one photo Ann Marie had bought me the western boots that went with my cowboy outfit, all of which I still have by the way. Thanks Mom.
    In a sibling group shot when we were all dressed for church, Ginger holds my hand in front of the garage on Des Moines Street. She cradles my neck in a photo taken on Ann Marie and Clair’s farm. She and Sandra sit at the end of a playground slide somewhere and I stand at Ginger’s feet.
    I was ring-bearer at Ann Marie and Ginger’s weddings.
    After the older girls got married and Sandra went to nurses training, the folks got me a dog, but it was small consolation for all the attention I had received when the girls were home.
    When Ginger and Jim moved into an apartment after they were married, she used to take me for rides in their ‘53 Ford--a vague memory and perhaps inaccurate. Clair would know. In those days before child restraints in automobiles, I’d ride in the front seat. We would be traveling along and she’d smile and say, “Let’s SPEED!” then accelerate fast, pushing my back against the seat. We’d laugh, oh we’d laugh.
    When I was in the sixth grade I won an art scholarship to the Des Moines Art Center that included art classes every Saturday morning. When Dad couldn’t drive me there, Ginger would. We’d spend the day together and often I would spend the weekend with her and Jim. On the days at the arts center, we’d tour the gallery’s collection, looking in the classrooms, smelling the odors of clay and oil paint. We’d talk about the modern art pieces and exhibits, thus I learned art appreciation from Ginger. Being exposed to the art world expanded my mind and imagination and Ginger helped promote my enjoyment of it. She treated me as an adult though we could often share a joke and laugh like children. She was so fun.
    Ginger appreciated abstract art, although she said she wasn’t an artist herself. Her home on Brinkwood Road is a unique art piece in and of itself. She and Jim, but I think it was mostly Ginger, decorated it tastefully with large and small paintings, originals and prints, modern furniture, small sculptures, large-leafed green plants and cacti. Bright reds, bold blacks and bright whites. She used to rent some pieces, as I recall, from the Des Moines Art Center. Also she and another woman used to do interior design work and for a while she also ran a used high-end clothing shop.
    Sandra bequeathed me and all the younger generations her Mad Magazines. Ginger shared with us ShoeBox Greeting cards that had zany characters or humorous expression in them. I remember her telling me Shut-Up jokes too. Two of my favorites were:
    “Mommy, is Daddy really dead?”
    Mommy: “Shut-up and keep digging.”
    And,
    “But Mommy, I keep going around in circles.”
    Mommy: “Shut-up or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor.”
    After Ginger and Jim had moved to their house on Lawnview Drive, they found an Italian restaurant in Highland Park named, “Chuck’s Pizza.” Every weekend I spent, we’d have Chuck’s Pizza and salad, Pepsi Cola from a glass bottle with ice cubes in a glass, then later popcorn and watch Perry Mason on a black and white TV. It was cool to stay at Ginger’s house. None of my friends had a ‘den’ in their house--who did? And nobody had a real drinking fountain by the back door either. The only drawback to staying at Ginger’s house was that they stayed in bed until 9:30 on weekends. I learned how to stay quiet and occupied myself until they got up by looking at engineering texts and art magazines. Not real entertaining, mind you. However, staying at Ginger’s elevated my reading skills level as well as gave me an edge in Scrabble against my peers.
    Ginger played golf in the summertime and bowled in the wintertime for many years. I know she was sad not to be able to play golf as she once had. It was a big part of her life.
    Ginger always called me ‘Steven,’ I was never just ‘Steve’ to her. She held me dear (as though I was her only brother) and though we spent most of our lives faraway from each other, we were often on one another’s minds. We thought we should call, but seldom followed-through, because, as we once laughed and admitted to the other, neither of us liked initiating telephone conversations.
    These last years since Jim died, although I wasn’t here in the flesh, my daughter Bonny was. Just as my mother thought I was an extension of her in her beloved Minnesota, living near her brother Raymond and sister Irene, I felt Bonny was an extension of me among my Iowa family. I could not be prouder of her close relationship with Ginger. I always enjoyed learning about their activities, what they did, where they went to eat, what they ate, and ‘who went with’ as Bonny loved introducing her friends to Ginger, and they in turn, came to enjoy Ginger as well.
    Ginger thoroughly enjoyed watching men’s basketball, although I don’t think she had a favorite team, that I recall the last time we talked in person. When I was in Grimes to visit her after the first of this year, she warned me she’d be watching basketball when I came to visit her. No matter. We just spent the afternoon and evening watching basketball together on the TV in her room. In this way I was able to say my goodbyes.
    I’ll certainly miss her in my life.

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