My 58 year old sister had to leave school at sixteen. She was in “special education” classes and the law required her to leave. Since then, she has worked in various hospitals as a kitchen worker.
I, on the other hand, have my masters from Villanova and have taught English since 1975.
My sister can be disaggreeable, rude, self centered and argumentative. She also is generous, kind hearted and devoted. My father has described her best: she can start an argument in an empty room.
We have never gotten along.
One sunmmer, at the age of 15, she was randomly selected as the local playground queen. As such, she would dress in a gown, have her hair coiffed, and ride in a convertible. When her name was selected, a number of neighborhood boys and girls laughed and made fun of her. At that time, she was called, “Foghorn” because of her excessively deep voice and, since she is epileptic, some of the kids pretended they were having a siezure.
She was not there because she had run home excitedly to tell my mother.
I was there. I was 12.
I was quiet and more reserved than any of my other siblings, especially my sister.
When I heard what the other kids said, I shook with anger and I cried, but I looked each of them in the eye and yelled, “Stop it! You have no right to make fun of her. You don’t even know her. She is my sister and there but for God, you or I could be just like her.”
They laughed but they fell silent. I do not remember them making fun of her in front of me ever again.
For the big day, my neighbor gave her a prom dress which was white with lace frilly skirt. She did her hair in a “Laura Petrie” flip and my mother made her a lace jacket to wear over it. The whole neighborhood remarked about how beautiful she looked. It was one of the few triumphs in my sister’s life.
Although I compalin and cry about the difficulties in my life, I have had many triumphs, one of which was just last week when my son graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English/Secondary Education.
This I believe: My sister -along with my parents and my uncle- taught me that the underdogs, the castaways, the “sped” kids need a voice, and I have tried to one of those voices throughout my teaching career. Many times I am told that I have been hand picked to teach the neediest students because I seem to know intuitively what they need.
To paraphrase what I said at the age of 12, I believe that there but for the grace of God go I, or my sons, or even the AP students that I also teach.
Any one of us could struggle emotionally, intellectually and physically.
My sister, whom I do not get along with, taught me that and I am forever grateful.
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