My sister’s birthday was Dec. 27, which, in a family that worshipped Christmas as much as ours did, was kind of a drag for her sometimes. Mother remedied that one year by purchasing a shiny silver tree and what seemed like endless boxes of deep royal blue balls. This monochromatic decorating scheme and the grand effort to have her birthday presents layered separately under a second tree was the kind of thing mommy did to make the kids who were not adopted feel chosen and special, too. The blue ball birthday gift tree was in addition to our standard live tree, and all her birthday gifts would underneath for all the years we lived in that particular house.
The silver branches stuck into a big wooden dowel, it had no lights (too dangerous), and would give you an electric shock when you walked by it, early jealousy (why does she get her own tree) turned to gratitude when I got older and realized that Jeanne’s ill-timed birthday actually extended the holiday party atmosphere around the house for two days. When she opened her birthday presents, wrapped in blue to match the ornaments, there was always a gift for me, the baby of the family.
In the next house, the second Christmas tree tradition gave way to engagement parties and arts and crafts. Mother loved to glue and glitter everything that was stationary. My middle sister literally married the boy next door. When they were courting, it was at Christmas time that the family came to the realization that they were seriously considering marriage. The following Christmas also brings to memory the time my sister and I shared a guilty secret.
A book fell out of her purse, and she tried to bribe me with cash not to tell anyone about it. I had no idea what the book’s title even meant, but she didn’t need to finance the secrecy surrounding this private nugget of information; it made me feel all grown up and took away the sting of not having a sister to wake up with the first Christmas they were both gone.
Many of my thoughts about my “middle” sister are wrapped around Lady Diana. It wasn’t that I just loved all things English (although I did), it wasn’t just about her AIDS charity work (although much of it was). It wasn’t because she was roughly my sister’s age (although she was). Lady Di was a real beauty, and so was Jeanne. She was in the Mrs. New Jersey pageant, wearing her “married” status as proudly as her contest sash.
My sister’s memory is intertwined with Diana’s death as they both passed away weeks apart from each other. We watched the royal funeral procession together, perhaps our last shared media experience. We didn’t do a real tree this year at our house, but I always make sure there is at least one blue ball.