my sister’s name is helen, and i think that she is one of the world’s greatest. she’s the littler blonde girl in this picture. look at her tiny white baby shoes! i wish i still met babies who wore these. (don’t worry, thea, i still think that baby a’s shoes are ADORABLE, but there is something so laura-ingalls-i-live-in-a-little-town-on-the-prairie about these tiny guys.)
helen is 3.5 years younger than i am. this is a great age difference– she has always been young enough for me to boss around, but old enough to laugh at all of my jokes. one of my very first memories must have been in the frigid winter of early 1983, when mom hugged me on our velour-y brown couch, and explained that someone new would be joining our family. someone who would need a lot of attention, cry a lot, maybe throw up on things, and stuff hot dogs in the furniture. well, that’s what i remember. most likely, mom was much more optimistic in her explanation of my new baby sister, who was born in march of that year, in the midst of much tumult. just a few weeks earlier, our house caught on fire! and my mom woke me up in the middle of the night and marched me next door, where i ate a banana! and then we had to stay at grandma root’s house! while we were there, my mom delivered a nine-pound bundle of love (we were both GIGANTIC babies), and named her helen katherine root. (dad suggested the name helen in honor of helen of troy. this is an apt comparison and beautiful name. why there aren’t more lovely helens under the age of 85, i just don’t know.)
and i will take this moment to disspell a myth– helen and i were NOT instant bffs. when she came home from the hospital in her little sesame street blanket, i quietly suggested that the most appropriate lodging for her would be the garbage can. my parents did not listen, and so, my reign as only and most beloved root daughter came to an end, although i can still trick my mom into saying that i am her favorite.
but i soon learned that it’s kind of amazing to be the older sister. finally, someone actually listens to you! over the years, i conned her into cutting barbie’s hair, playing the role of the dog in any game that demanded it, and pitching softballs to me that i would promptly hit right at her head. she was also my teammate in many business ventures, including the high-end dining establishment, chez josephine, as well as the more low-key and accessible seaweed diner, and a very successful ant extermination industry. three-year-old helen especially enjoyed her role as ant exterminator, toting masking tape and a lil’ tykes hammer around our driveway. whenever she saw an ant, he was helplessly taped to the ground, and then smacked with the hammer. it was a violent, yet effective, method.
the summer of 1995 was an especially significant one in our sisterhood. it started off as low-key as usual, with some little chores for mom every now and then, no air conditioning, lots of frozen custard, etc., etc. however, it suddenly and without warning became legendary. one morning, weighed down by crushing ennui, we were flipping through the some tv channels. for a reason that remains unknown, i had actually allowed helen clicker command that day. fortuitously (i attribute this to fate or perhaps her sheer genius), she stopped on lifetime (television for women). they were airing an episode of “sisters,” which was the most delightful piece of television crack that either of us has ever seen before or since.
every day that summer (unbeknownst to our mom, an avid television-hater), we tuned in at 9:30 a.m. oh, the drama– frankie, teddy, alex, and georgie! all living in winnetka, il! all dealing with CAAAAAARAZZZZY situations of the heart. it was wondrous! i think that this television show cemented our already-strong bond for two reasons:
- as i mentioned, mom hates television. but i didn’t mention that, at that time, she worked as a baker… and her bakery was located in the basement of our home on 34 marlborough road. as soon as we heard that first footfall on the basement stairs, we would shut off the tv, grab sponges, run to the bathroom or kitchen, and pretend to be diligently scrubbing some fixture or tiling. despite the fact that neither the kitchen nor bathroom ever looked that clean that summer, our ruse ALWAYS fooled her!
- i really don’t see the merits in having affairs with one’s abusive psychiatrist, or marrying one’s sister’s ex-husband, and then divorcing him, and then maybe remarrying him again (i WISH this show was on dvd so i could review its riveting plotlines). but nevertheless, i think it showed us the importance of sisterhood. because no matter how wacko or annoying the sisters became, they always were back the next day, with their mid-90s poofy hair, new dilemmas, and george clooney as a guest star.
since then, we’ve been best friends. (YES I KNOW THIS SOUNDS CHEESY, BUT I JUST CAN’T LIE ABOUT THIS, ALTHOUGH I AM PRETTY GOOD AT LYING ABOUT OTHER THINGS.) there was the time that she sent me the giant heart-shaped rice krispie treat in college, emblazoned with chocolate chips that spelled “i love laura.” then there was the time that i came on a surprise visit to paris with my mom while helen was studying abroad there during her junior year of college. it’s one of my proudest moments. my mom (who helen had known was coming to visit) had arranged to meet her at a subway station. i hid in plain view at a telephone booth while mom ran to meet helen in a dramatic embrace. as they were walking hand-in-hand, i turned around with a crazytown smile on my face. and helen STARTED CRYING! she insists that these tears were from happiness, but i certainly can understand if they were more from fear– i must’ve been rumpled and smelly after the lengthy plane ride.
since i don’t get to see her nearly as much as i would like, i wanted to let helen know how amazing she is, and how i am really sorry that i punched out her tooth that time in 1988. and how i didn’t get in trouble for it, because mom wasn’t home at the time.
i love you, lady!
a man in full, by tom wolfe
helen’s favorite tom wolfe book, and mine, too! it’s wolfe at his satirical best, and it blows charlotte simmons away.
many thanks to all of you who followed my insulin saga! i am amazed and appreciative! also, if you’re interesting in joining me in staging a protest at the cvs plaza, please let me know.