*Today’s blog is written by my friend, former professor, and talented author, Dr. Teresa Murphy, for her sister Liz. Happy birthday, Liz!*
Today is my sister’s birthday. I won’t say how old Liz is, but she’s two years older than I am. Consequently, just about the time I was making my debut, Liz was hitting the terrible twos. Luckily for our parents, Liz was an unflappable and take-charge kind of girl. Though I’m sure she initially regarded me with a healthy measure of contempt, she quickly realized that I was someone she could (ahem) mold. Liz’s careful attention to my character manifested itself in all manner of situations, and I think it’s safe to say had it not been for Liz I would not be the person I am today. In fact, I might not have survived childhood at all!
One of Liz’s greatest accomplishments was helping me become more patient. An early lesson in patience occurred when Liz was five and I was three. Liz was a fearless kid, and she’d been a tree climber pretty much her whole life. I was a nervous Nellie and preferred to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. When Liz decided it was time for me to branch out, she chose a very tall tree in our backyard. Reluctantly, I agreed that it might be time for me to brave up a bit and at least try to climb that tree. Liz was lithe and lean. I was more Winnie-the-Pooh shaped, and it took a lot of coaxing and tugging to get my tubby little cubby body into the upper branches of the tree.
I was not aware that I had acrophobia until I looked down and indeed saw how high up we were. It didn’t take long for my nervous Nellie nature to kick in, and I started to cry.
Always the optimist, Liz went to work immediately trying to convince me that I could climb back down. “Just grab the tree branch and turn around. Then put your foot on the lower branch.”
“I caaaaaan’t!” I wailed. “I’m stuck!”
Initially, Liz was calm. “Sure you can. Just try.”
Eventually, she realized I was not going to budge and went inside to fetch my grandmother. It wasn’t long before my grandmother came bustling out of our house, taking up where Liz left off and trying hard to convince me that she’d be there to catch me if I slipped – which she was sure I wouldn’t – but just in case. Unfortunately, my grandmother was around five feet tall, and there was about a three-foot gap between her outstretched arms and me. That was way more space than I could imagine navigating.
After spending some time pleading with me to come down, my grandmother finally realized I wasn’t going to and said, “Hon, you’ll just have to wait until your dad gets home.”
I assured her I could wait. My dad was much taller than my grandmother, and he got me down when he got home from work. Liz, I believe, received a talking-to about how things might seem like a good idea at the time, but often require further thought.
In addition to patience, I learned other lessons from Liz. When she noticed that I was singing a bit too enthusiastically at church, she leaned toward me and whispered, “Don’t open your mouth so wide when you sing!” Back then, I was insulted. I now realize she was merely trying to save me from the humiliation of looking like a big-mouthed Muppet. Without Liz’s constant admonition, “Don’t be so stupid,” I’m pretty sure I would never have made it out of elementary school.
There were other times that had Liz not been nearby, I quite likely would have perished. One such incident took place a year or so after the tree-climbing debacle. Liz and I were playing our game of crawling through our dad’s spacious Ford sedan. We found it great fun to hoist ourselves up to the open window on the passenger’s side, scramble into the car, crawl across the front seat, and finally vault out the driver’s side window. This was during those loosey-goosey days of car-making when seat belts and airbags were considered superfluous, and gears could be shifted quite easily even though the engine was turned off. As I was scrambling across the front seat, I managed to kick the gear shift into reverse, sending the car rolling down our steep driveway. Luckily, cool hand Liz was close on my heels and put the gear shift back in park. Once I started breathing again, we resumed our game.
So, here’s to big sisters everywhere who have taught their little sisters so much and have occasionally saved their hides. I’m certainly grateful to mine. After all, Liz could have easily jumped out of the car as it lurched toward the busy street in front of our house leaving her scared stiff sister hurtling down the hill alone. Instead, she stood by me. For this and a million other reasons, I’d like to wish Liz a very happy birthday and many happy returns!