I'm attempting to write 52 stories from my life during the year 2020. At least one story a week, in no particular order, to remember and document some of the memories and moments of my life.
One of the prompts for our writing group in April was to write a character sketch. I chose to write about my oldest sister, Velma Ann, who is almost fourteen years older than me. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a sis who is fourteen years older and a best friend too. She's been more than a big sister and a friend, she's my mentor too.
I write this character sketch with some sadness because my sister has dementia. She is seventy-eight and still lives in her home in Tennessee with her husband, son, and grandson. She is used to being surrounded by boys, having adopted and raised five sons and one daughter. She loved doing laundry and folding clothes and that's a good thing. With six children in the house, it was a never-ending task.
I was just four and Velma was seventeen when she got married on my fourth birthday. I eventually forgave her for this misstep, but who chooses to get married on her little sister's birthday? She and Thomas (Tom) Gordon McKee were married in the New Haven chapel in Tulsa. I believe it was the only Latter-day Saint building in the area at the time. When I married Lance twenty-three years later, we began attending church in Tulsa at this same chapel on New Haven.
I have countless happy memories of time spent in Velma and Tom's home. Because we lived in McAlester and were part of the Tulsa Stake of our church, we traveled to Tulsa for quarterly Stake Conferences. Those trips always included a Saturday arrival and an overnight at Velma and Tom's house.
My brother and I liked spending time with Velma and Tom in the summer without our parents. And eventually, I spent a week there, and worked up to three weeks one summer. I even lived with them one summer and babysat my two nephews and niece.
What are some of the things my big sis taught me? She taught me to work hard. That summer I spent with them was filled with hard work. It was the first time that I did much cooking. I slept for part of the summer on the pull-out couch. This was the summer that I read Little Women. But my time for reading came only in the evening after all three kids were asleep.
We also had a lot of fun that summer. We attended my first two concerts - The Carpenters and Elvis Presley. I was much more excited about seeing The Carpenters, but seeing Elvis Presley in person was a lifelong dream fulfilled for my big sis. We also went to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.
One of my memories from that summer revolves around the record player my sister had, located on a small table in the corner of their living room. Velma and Tom had a huge collection of records and music filled our days.
My sister made the best pies. I especially liked her lemon meringue pie. And Sunday nights at her house revolved around the World of Disney and freshly baked, warm, chocolate chip cookies on a paper plate.
While I have many more memories of my sis, one of the most important lessons she taught me was that you can endure and weather much hardship and many tough things. And that seeking help is not the weak way out. Probably because of my sister's ability to connect to the right people and groups, she learned skills that helped her weather hard things. I like to draw memories from our years spent together as sisters. Even as she faces declining physical and mental health, I remember the ways that she stood resilient during tough times and it encourages me today.