On My Mind: Paying respects to the good times

It usually began this time of year.

On my every-Saturday-night telephone calls to my sister in New England, I would ask, “When are you coming?” and she’d laugh and we knew her annual summer visit was still a long way away, but we’d still look forward to it.

But as Barbara and I both aged, her plane trip from Boston to Pittsburgh and home again and my drive from Boardman to Pittsburgh to bring her home and take her back to the airport got to be a tad too much.

We didn’t know it then, but when she came to celebrate her 84th birthday June 24, 2003, and to dedicate my Ohio Historical Society marker, it would be her last visit.

I regret to tell you that Barbara, 88, passed away Feb. 26, 2008, and I must tell you, too, that her passing was a blessing for her, for her family and for all the friends who will always miss her.

In truth, we had been missing her since Nov. 23, 2006, when she had a severe stroke from which she would never recover consciousness. The rest of her life — and it wasn’t really life — was spent in a nursing home where she was kept clean and comfortable. Whether she knew when family and friends came to see her, we will never know.

February is a jinxed month as far as I’m concerned. Both my parents died in February: Mother on Feb. 13, 1965, Daddy on Feb. 24, 1984, and now my only sister. Some readers might remember my dear Dalmatian, Maggie, who left on Feb. 19, 11 years ago, and they may also remember my dear Arabian gelding, Pinkie, who left on Feb. 23 six years ago.

Barbara and I weren’t always the best of friends. I’m sure I was the typical irritating “little sister” and we were totally different. I was a klutz and she was graceful. She was an easy straight-A student and I fought for Bs and Cs. She always beat me at hop-scotch and the game of jacks and at almost every other game and sport.

I was oblivious to fashion — lived in bib overhauls decades before they became fashionable — and over the years she sent me letters Mother had kept and sent her in which she complained about everything I did!

There is one from some camp we both attended and she relates how naughty I was and wouldn’t let her comb my hair!

Even after we had both gone our separate ways and had our own homes, we often did not see eye to eye. About the only thing we had in common as we matured was our love of cats.

But after both our parents were gone, we quietly reached an unspoken agreement to respect the differences in our lifestyles and concentrated on family ties.

During her visits here, we shared June strawberries while sitting on the front porch and sipping a cold, bubbly beverage. We ate “fast food” which ordinarily we wouldn’t, but we didn’t want to waste time cooking.

We went to visit Angels for Animals and to Noah’s Lost Ark where she especially loved the “big cats” and she loved my fat “small cat,” Lisa. Ori was just a puppy on one of her visits, and I have a great picture of them together.

We went once to East Liverpool where as children, we often visited our grandparents and other relatives. This time it was a painful visit because everyone is gone.

In the evening, we’d walk to the back barn door and watch the twinkling fireflies over the pasture and recall how they flickered in our yard in Poland when we were kids. And we agreed long ago that when — not if — something happened to one or the other of us, we would not go traipsing across the country to “pay our respects.”

We figured we had paid them while we were still here, and we had fun and good times while we were still here, and we could always have the memories of all those good times while forgetting the bad ones.

I miss the Saturday night phone calls and the good times and my only sister …

About the Author

A lifelong resident of the Mahoning Valley, Janie Jenkins retired in 1987 as a feature writer and columnist at the Youngstown Vindicator. In June of that same year, she started writing her column, "On My Mind" for Farm and Dairy. She loves all animals and is an accomplished equestrienne. Local history is also one of her loves, and her home, the former Southern Park Stables, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More Stories by Janie Jenkins

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