Eileen Gail, my sister, is four years younger than I and today is her birthday.
On the surface, we appear to be very different, but we both know, and those who truly know us know, that we are more alike than meets the eye. She has my father’s Italian good looks and olive complexion, dark eyes and thin, slight frame. I exhibit more of my mother’s Irish genes, with my red hair, freckles and a more full-bodied frame (that is a kind understatement). For years it was obvious that Eileen was Daddy’s little girl and I was my Mother’s daughter. However, aside from these external differentiating markers and traits, there is so much more of the fabric that makes us who we are, that we share in common.
While growing up, we shared a bedroom, and for a few years, we three siblings all slept in the same room, until baby brother Matthew grew too old to sleep with his sisters. So, of course, I was there when she came in late from a date. I was there, too, when she ‘pegged’ my pants and ‘took in’ the seams of my blouses to expand her wardrobe. Sometimes she asked permission. But even when she didn’t, she knew that, though I’d be temporarily ticked off (especially if I pulled the blouse from the closet to wear, only to find that it no longer fit), I’d get over it quickly and my sisterly affection and ‘pushover-where-she-was-concerned’ feelings would kick in.
I worried about her, offering unsought and frequently unheeded advice. She was my roommate, my friend and my little lamb in need of shepherding. Often I was put in the unenviable position of bringing home ‘notes’ from Sister Margaret Jean at St. John’s School, a task I did not relish. But she (and all the kind Sisters of Charity at St. John’s who taught us each day) knew I was only across the hall if she needed me.
But this was no one-way street. She was there for me too, through the years: She was my Maid of Honor when Bobby and I got married at St. John’s; and I was hers. She came to many glee club concerts and piano recitals, and as a four year old even accompanied me by bus to New York city for voice lessons. She gave me the privilege of singing at at her marriage ceremony to Pete, the soft-hearted man who is her soul mate.
We experienced our first pregnancies together, delivering our babies only two weeks apart. She stood bedside at St. Barnabas when my Robby was born (on St Patty’s Day), while her Joanne nestled safely in her womb for a few more weeks. We still cherish the memory of our monthly and weekly visits to our OB-GYN, after which we would typically share linguine and red clam sauce – still a shared favorite.
She is Curer-in-Chief, having mastered the art of the Novena and nursed her husband back to health from deadly cancer, single-handedly forcing him to ‘beat’ the disease. Most sadly, though, together we grieved the loss of our father, our brother, and mother. Now, only we remain from the family brought to life by Nick and Eileen. The intervening years brought us many challenges and triumphs, and through it all we were, and are there for each other. It is both curious and wonderful that she has been blessed with five granddaughters from her two children, while I am similarly blessed with five grandsons from mine.
She is loving wife, supportive mother, protective grandmother, caring sister-in-law, loyal friend, astounding cook, gifted hand-crafter, and very special sister, who with amazing grace and selflessness(even in the face of her own painful aches and maladies) literally, drops everything to be there for her family. After a lifetime of sharing sisterhood with her, with memories too precious and profuse to enumerate here; today, on her birthday I will simply reiterate my husbands words:
Eileen is one of the people I admire most in the world.
Her life, her courage, and her loving spirit are truly rare. Anyone who knows Eileen agrees. I applaud and congratulate her on this day, and wish her blessings and happiness. I love you, Eileen, and though I didn’t chose you to be my sister, I couldn’t have – wouldn’t have – selected anyone else in all the world. Happy Birthday!
Your big sister, Joanne