I was just 20 months younger than her and we grew up sharing bath time (that's me on the right - I sure was cute, wasn't I?), bedrooms, toys, clothes, fights, and friends. As we got older, we continued to share our bedroom, clothes, fights, and friends, but upped the ante with cars, lockers at school, and jobs. When she died the Saturday before my senior year began...it was like losing a limb. I was exactly two months shy of turning 17 and I hardly knew how to function. Living without her constant, daily big-sister presence in my life was like trying to learn how to walk again.
She was quite the big sister to have and perfectly suited for the role. (That's me and her in the picture above on Christmas morning 1977 when we were living on Guam. I didn't crop my little brother from the photo because (a) he's just so gosh darn adorable! and (b) he's one of my favorite brothers.) There was something magical about her; everyone that met her adored her. She had a special tenderness for the elderly and was a fierce protector of the disabled. When she was angry, the gold flecks in her crystalline blue eyes would deepen to a dark amber. When she was happy, it was like basking in the warmth of a full sun in the spring.
Speaking of the spring, whenever the snows there on the mountains in Utah Valley would finally start to melt, we would forge a note from our mom (sorry Mom) and skip school (sorry again Mom) so we could head for the foot hills. (That's her at her high school graduation, exactly three months before she died in the car accident. If I could just pan to the left a bit in the photo, I could actually point out the spot on the mountain where we spent much of our school-skipping time). Finding our favorite secluded spot, we would shed our winter clothes for the swim suits underneath and climb up on the hood of the car and soak in the newness of the season. Those were good times. Good times indeed.
She had an impish grin, cavernous dimples and a quick-silver temperament. Above all though, she loved each and every one of her siblings - all eleven of us - with a fierce loyalty that I have yet to ever find equaled in another person (that's her above with Elly, baby #8). She was always our protector and our champion. It wasn't our big brothers who came to the rescue when the neighborhood bully would start picking on us - it was her. It was always her. Scrappy and bird-thin as she was, she always kicked the dog-snot out of anyone giving her siblings grief.
She was the third of twelve children that came in quick succession and the oldest daughter. Watching out for us was a full-time gig. (That's her and Ang, baby #9. My mom was raised Catholic and then joined the LDS church. There was never any hope that our family would be small.) Aside from keeping us from getting beat up by the meanies in the neighborhood, her chief role was to entertain and instigate. While I was the quiet, studious, obedient daughter, she was the one who was always finding new ways to make us laugh and more elaborate plans to get us into trouble with the parents. While I was the voice of caution and prudence, hers was the voice urging us to throw off the bow-lines and explore uncharted territory.
She was magnificent. It is on days like this that I am the most grateful for my understanding of the supernal victory Mary discovered the morning she found the empty tomb. Jesus Christ conquered the grave and my sister will continue on. The sting of her death which remains even all these years later is swallowed up in this knowledge.
So today, I wish my big sister a happy birthday, where ever she might be.