Last “Sisters” SegmentPosted: August 2, 2008
I’ve been working on that fricking “Sisters” essay for two or three months. I’m sick of it. The first draft is finished, and I’ve started revising. There have been so many interruptions I’m afraid I’ve lost my way. I’m thinking if I let it sleep a while, then revisit Jo Ann Beard’s writing style, and then pick the “Sisters” back up, I might be fired up again. So to end it…
I have set my wedding date. May 22. A Friday night. Nobody in my hometown has ever had a Friday night wedding. Weddings are supposed to be on Saturdays and Sundays. I decide to be different.
Mama and I burn up a set of tires making trips up Highway 61 to Memphis. I must pick out the perfect dress, and that means I must try on every single gown in town. I must also a choose a lovely veil — cathedral length — and get a white leather Bible with a lace cover to build a bouquet around. I select pink satin for the bridesmaids’ gowns and the bows they will wear in their hair. My maid of honor will wear a short veil of pink netting with her bow. That will set her apart.
My sister tags along on these trips. She is sixteen.
When it is time for me to pick my maid of honor, my sister tells me to pick my best friend instead of her, even though it is traditional to have one’s sister as maid of honor. I don’t feel right about this.
“You pick Jilly,” she says. “I don’t mind. She’s as close to you as a sister. She’s like my big sister, too.”
“But you are my sister.”
“It’s okay. She should be your maid of honor.”
“But I feel bad about that.”
“It’s okay, I promise, you should pick her.”
So I pick Jilly to be my maid of honor. Then I feel guilty, selfish, and wonder if I did the wrong thing. My sister will be my sister for life. Jilly may not be my best friend forever. I stew on it a while, then let the plans slide along like a well-greased wheel.
I put the date on the church calendar, line up the preacher and musicians, then send out invitations in Old English font. Things are set.
Then I learn that my wedding is the same evening as Junior/Senior Class Day at my sister’s school. She’s been keeping it hushed. This is a longtime tradition at CHS, a ceremony at the end of the school year marking the rise of the juniors to senior status. My sister is a junior, and this is an important rite of passage for her, and I am bothered that she will miss it.
I think back to my Class Day. It was special, memorable. Juniors get out of classes all day that Friday to go all over town and collect big blue hydrangeas. They form the flowers into a long wire mesh tubular form to make a huge flower chain — about eighteen inches in diameter and as long as the junior class lined up in pairs. The ceremony is held on the football field with parents and townsfolk attending. It’s a big deal. The boys wear suits and the senior girls wear white dresses and the junior girls wear pastel dresses. Each girl is paired with a boy. The seniors march onto the field first, the boys carrying the flower chain on their left shoulders and setting it down beside them once they are in a semicircle in the middle of the field. There are speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian, and the senior class sings a rendition of “Thanks for the Memories.” And then the juniors, also paired, march in and form a long semicircle in front of the seniors. Once the program is over, the junior boys pick up the flower chain and set it atop their shoulders and the couples march off the field singing to the lullaby tune, “Seniors dear, fare the well, we are taking your places, and we tremble with a sigh, as we say to you good-bye. And as onward we go to share life’s many duties, your mem’ries we’ll cherish, forever and aye.” They sing this over and over until everyone is off the field, and they gain a sense of Hey, this is it, we’re in charge, we have arrived, we’re seniors now! It’s a puffy head feeling, a proud moment, and my sister is going to miss it because of me.
“It’s okay,” she says. “I’ve already told them I won’t be there.”
“But it’s your Class Day!”
“It’s okay, I don’t care.”
“I feel bad, I didn’t know, I don’t want you to miss it.”
“It’s okay, it doesn’t matter, I’ll have Senior Class Day next year.” She waves it off with a slap of her hand in the air and doesn’t want to talk about it any more.
I know that some girls — and I might be one of them — could make this a real issue. They could cry and complain and say they’re going to skip the wedding and go to their own event, or they could make their sister feel bad for planning something on top of an important rite of passage in their own life. Or they could just be downright snivelly and keep bringing up the fact that they are having to give up something meaningful to be in your wedding. My sister is not one of these girls.
Class Day is never mentioned again.
I do not forget it, though. And I wonder if I would have done the same for her.
My sister does not wear the pink net veil on the bow in her hair the Friday evening of her Junior Class Day. She stands in the background at the altar while Jilly stands beside me. After it is all over, I will move on and leave her as the only child in the household, to live alone in the bedroom we always shared, to have full possession of and rights to the bathroom and the telephone to which I always had full entitlement.
It seems life was always all about me.