Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The World's Smartest Sister

Later this week, my little sister will celebrate her 50th birthday. [Can that really be? Wow!]. When she was born, my father was a lieutenant in the Army, with the grand salary of $200.00 per month. We lived at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I think I've mentioned this before, but at the time, housing was a critical issue at "Fort Lost-in-the Woods." The Army had ordered double-wide trailers for the senior NCOs to live in. Junior commissioned officers, like my father, were given the crates the trailers came in for their families! So when my sister was born, we lived in a wooden box.

She was different from the beginning. She was the first girl in what was now a family of three children. When my mother came home from the hospital, my sister had to stay for a few days. My mother said to me and my younger brother, "Your sister is beautiful! She has long red hair!" And indeed she did.

My Little Sister, c. 1958

She seemed to take command of the household from the moment she arrived there. She had strange habits as she grew. She had a pink tub in which she was bathed; she carried that tub about the house with her constantly. When she tired of carrying the tub around, she would put it on the floor and curl up in it.

We moved from Fort Leonard Wood to Indianapolis, Indiana, and then to Germany while my sister was still a toddler. In Germany, my youngest brother was born, so my sister was no longer the "baby of the family." She seemed not to resent this change in status. Later we moved again. She claims not to recall our transatlantic flight to McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, followed by a transcontinental train ride to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where we picked up a brand new Rambler station wagon. We drove from Wisconsin to Albuquerque, New Mexico, stopping in Kansas City to visit family.

In school in Albuquerque, my sister blazed her own trail. She got tired of her teachers saying "Why can't you be like your brothers?" The question made her only more determined to follow the beat of a different drummer.

Left: Craig and Sister on the dock at Rockport,
Texas, 1962

My sister and I had a typically contentious big brother/little sister relationship. I thought she was ignorant and frivolous; she considered me a pretentious prig. One infamous bit of family lore involves the day that I, as Captain of the Safety Patrol, threatened to arrest my sister for her disorderly conduct on the playground. She, of course, mocked and defied my authority, until her teacher appeared. Thereupon, she broke into tears, and immediately had the teacher's sympathy for whatever had been going on. (She had failed to line up at the bell and to be quiet in line). I was reprimanded for abuse of authority.

She was enamored of The Monkees, especially Davy Jones. By the time we moved to California, the Jackson Five commanded her attention. I'll never forget holding her on my shoulders (for what seemed like forever) so she could see better at a Jackson Five concert in the Cow Palace [which despite the name is not in New Hampshire, but in Daly City, California.]

I was gone to college by the time my sister got to high school, so I don't really know about her high school years. I gather these were somewhat difficult times. On the one hand, she was extremely popular and was elected to the spirit squad as the school mascot. (The school teams were nicknamed the "Toreadors." The mascot was always a girl who wore a Mexican bullfighters' costume, the key feature of which was a miniskirt and boots. It was a much sought-after position). On the other hand she paid little attention to her schoolwork. She changed her first name to something that evoked a Latin American Communist guerrilla. She called our father "Fred" (as in Flintstone, and not his name at all) and our mother by her middle name. She left the church that we had all been raised in.

Immediately after high school graduation, she and a friend moved to San Jose. She got a job and eventually got married. I was mostly not around her during this period, but we continued in our respective semi-contempt for each other.

It took a tragedy fro me to see my sister as she really is. In February 2005, her only child was killed in a car accident. He was 19 years old. As my sister grieved, she displayed a grace and strength that I had never seen in her or in few other people for that matter. I saw how her son's high school and college classmates looked to her for guidance and assurance, and I saw how she comforted them. It made all the difference in the world to them and to me.

My sister is an executive at a Silicon Valley technology company despite not having finished college. She owns a home and other property in one of the nation's priciest areas. She has more friends than I can count. And she did it all in her own unconventional way. She's still never going to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, but she is in fact The World's Smartest Sister. Happy Birthday, Sis!

Craig and Sister just before rehearsal dinner for our
brother's wedding, Fort Bliss, Texas, 1982. Guess who looks exactly the same 25 years later?


Miriam Robbins said...

Craig, what a beautiful little girl she was...and a beautiful woman now...and what a beautiful tribute you've written to her!

Janice said...


You brought me to tears. This is the nicest tribute I've ever seen written by a brother anywhere! And I love the photographs!


Anonymous said...


That was a wonderful tribute to your sister for her 50th birthday!

Your words prove that love can break the chains of "sibling rivalry," with the stroke of the pen or in your case, the keyboard!

What a wonderful gift to give her on her landmark birthday!

I hope your sister knows what a great brother she has in you.

Your cousin, Karen

Chery Kinnick said...

Craig -

If I had a brother, I'd want him to be just as thoughtful as you. Happy BDay to your sis...


Nita said...

You have - in such wonderfully expressed heartfelt words - added one more sister to my life.

The LOVE and admiration for her that you've shared must be one of the sweetest tributes I've ever read.

Thank you for sharing your sister with us.

Lee said...

Your sister is a beautiful woman, Craig, and more importantly, she has what I call an infectious smile. People with a smile like that can lighten up even the darkest of souls.

I'm sorry I missed her birthday, but I do hope she had a great one. :-)

P.S. I bet you're a great brother.