Sisters are forever
Henry called Monday that my sister Frieda had died that morning. She was my oldest sister. Now I am the oldest sister. And it is a strange feeling to be the one on top.
As oldest sister Frieda looked after us younger children even when we were all youngsters in long underwear and red stockings. On wintry evenings as the snow drifted around our little frame house, we five children would all crawl into her and Susie’s bed to crouch under the heavy wool comforters, while she told us made-up stories. She had us enthralled. At the moment the villain was about to pounce, she stopped short --- to be continued the next night—and tumbled us out of her bed into the cold.
Yesterday evening I took out a large binder of her letters saved from over the years. In one letter she commented that she and niece Jo-Ann had discussed their role as oldest sister and how siblings didn’t really understand why they were the way they were – solicitous, organizing, arranging...
“Jo-Ann and I understood each other perfectly – why we try so hard to meet the needs of others, why we always take leadership roles. We don’t always want to be the oldest sister! In other words, we were going to stop making other people’s problems our problems! Ha!”
Ha! indeed. Frieda couldn’t stop making other people’s problems her problems anymore than she could hold back a prairie blizzard. When my husband died unexpectedly in 1962 she flew to Kansas, bringing a black hat and dress for me to wear. “I knew you wouldn’t have one” and widows were expected to wear black in those days.
While she was with us, she answered door bells and phone calls, kept food on the table, made lists of people to thank after she was gone, in short, kept our little household going while I waited for the numbness to wear off.
The first summer after Walter’s death, she and sister Anne kept my three oldest children for about eight weeks. Little Jamie stayed with me. She and Henry brought them back to Kansas later in August, overwhelmed by the grueling Kansas heat yet entranced by the nightly song of the cicadas.
Before brother Jack’s wife Joyce died Frieda nursed her for about six weeks in Battleford. Joyce died of cancer at a relatively young age.
Frieda and Henry as well as Anne and Wes looked after our parents, driving to British Columbia from Alberta many times to attend to their needs. Henry became their financial advisor when they were unable to go to the bank and look after their financial affairs.
I could keep mentioning such events with Henry always graciously accepting her absences, sometimes long ones, as she went to the aid of one family member after another.
She wrote letter after letter, supporting me in my writing and other work, even working behind the scenes to have a local college offer me a teaching position. Whenever she heard a good story from Mother and Dad or our uncles she wrote it out in detail for me to add to my growing collection of family history.
Henry gave my son James his first glider ride while Frieda and I stayed on the firm ground and stared upwards, tracing the path of the glider as long as we could, only to find later on, that I had burned my face raw -- and this wasn't even a Kansas sun.
When I was attending Saskatoon Technical Collegiate in 1942, living in one tiny light-housekeeping room with a couch, table, dresser, and a windowsill for cold storage for food, she was in nurses training. In those days nurses were trained, really trained, long hours, split shifts, low income. She and a friend sometimes stopped by my room while I was at school to get away from hospital routine, heated a can of soup on my two-burner coal oil stove, then left a dime on the table to pay for their purloined food. That was their idea of great entertainment.
I was her bridesmaid at her wedding in 1944 feeling glamorous in a long pink taffeta gown made by an aunt. Henry was in the Air Force.
An aura of romance always enhanced their marriage An college professor from Edmonton while in Kansas mentioned to me that he knew Henry and Frieda only as “the couple who ate their evening meal by candlelight.” Not a bad way to be identified. Elegance and romance are good for the soul, I wrote to her.
In 2009 I attended their 65th wedding anniversary in 2009. I told myself that this was probably the last time I would see Henry and Frieda, these perennial lovers. I no longer traveled well.I was getting too old for international travel.
It was a memorable event in several ways, not the least being that a thunderstorm knocked out the power in the building where the celebration was taking place.
What to do? Ushers rummaged in nooks and drawers for candles, and so that evening we all ate by the warm glow of candlelight. Elegance and romance to the end.
Rest in peace, Frieda. I will miss you, oldest sister.