My first memory of my sister Pamela, was probably one of my earliest memories ever. I was still in plastic underwear no doubt, not old enough to understand much of anything but there I was in the front seat of an old Pontiac waving good-bye to this magical woman I’d seemingly just met.
It was the day she was leaving home. The difference in our ages meant that most of my time with my sister would come later–when I too was grown–but this day, I remember vividly. She wore denim pants and a leather jacket of the Daniel Boone variety. Her long, raven-colored hair falling over the fringes as she popped out of the car, fielding admonitions from Mom such as: be careful, don’t put your eye out, and leave me a cigarette!
But Pam was out the door, on the curb, both eyes brighter than new quarters. I recall her addressing the heavens with her best Cherokee victory cry–a show of happiness and conquest–all in one exclamation. She danced on the street as her friends gathered around and I realized she’d be leaving us soon. She was embarking on her new life as an adult, while I was probably just crying with my finger in my nose. But, I remember feeling a profound sense of both loss and something that only today I can recognize as a bit of growth as well–a first feeble understanding of my own mortality.
It would be 15 years before I’d be on my corner somewhere, exclaiming my independence, but Pam had given me a glimpse of how big the world could be. She was the first, the bravest, most alive of us all. Us three brothers would plod behind her for many years to come. She would continued to teach us that life is all about transitions.
Only the fearful die with regrets while Pam–I believe–lived on ledges and peaks and swung from ropes which dangled her over what few others were brave enough to see. She got the view from the front of the roller coaster with hands off the rail and forever in the air.
She taught me that it was okay to leave your home and make your own way– because that’s what family was for–to prepare you for flight toward your own life adventures. But she also taught me that there was no greater bond than that of family; and that it’s because you have the freedom to leave that you’re compelled to return.
Although we lived states apart most of our lives since those early days, Pam and I never missed a step when we were together. She always made me feel special, loved and honored to be on her team. Because whatever team she was on, that was the winning one. If you had her on your side, you knew she’d get your back in word and in deed and confront anyone standing in your way.
My most recent memories I have of Pam were a mixture of joy and sorrow. We were having to say good-bye to our Mother. Pam had been caring for Mom for many years already and although we had our moments during that final couple of weeks where we could talk and share and laugh, it was obviously stressful for us all. En route to the rest home where Mom awaited, the traffic began to worsen and that part of our father which we all inherited–the truck driver in us– began to manifest. She suddenly went on one of her adorable rants, boldly declaring obvious truths with pin-point accuracy.
Move or pay rent buster! Look at that nut! I can drive better with my feet than Mr. Magoo over there!
Now, I don’t remember exactly what she was yelling, but I understood and laughed with her, and that’s why it was so difficult to let Pam know that the light had turned green at least a half-a-minute ago and that those honks we were hearing were right behind us.
There was a moment there when she simply looked at me–her Little Boo Boo as she liked to call me–as if to say, Listen boy, I can still change your diaper with one hand and make pancakes with the other so don’t you dare question my driving!
I didn’t know at the time, that this would be our last trek together to visit Mom. Pamela had given and sacrificed her life on many levels to care for our mother, and I’d not been around much at all. Holidays on occasion and sporadic visits throughout the past 20 years was all I was able to offer, and now here we were changing our mother’s diaper together, praying together and trying to process the pain of her loss, right before our eyes.
We went out to the car and smoked a cigarette and had a good cry. We had made our peace with Mom, with each other and we knew that we had to let her go. When we got back to the room five minutes later, Mom was gone.
Pamela not only taught me to be fearless in life, but to be fiercely loyal to those you love, right to the very end. She was and will always be, my hero.
Pam, my sweet sister, I know I will continue to feel your presence in my life as I have always, but I do miss you. Thank you for the priceless lessons, the laughter and sharing the vibrant life that you lived.
Your little boo boo,