The Saratoga Sun -

There is no substitute for a sister


I have always said that my parents may not have lasted very long together (about five years), but they created one of my best friends when my sister was born.

I don’t think I realized it when she first came home.

The story goes that, when they brought her home from the hospital, I threw a tantrum. Guess I liked being the only child or something. I was a year and half, so I am not positive why I was so freaked out.

Anyway, apparently they put this swaddling babe on the couch and I cautiously started to get near. I have no idea how long it took me to crawl up on the couch and start hugging this new member to our family, but there is a picture.

My parents named her Sylvia (after my oldest aunt) Michelle (because my mother liked the name).

My name is actually William (after my father) Michael (after some great uncle).

Not sure why exactly we didn’t go by our first names, but I am pretty happy with Mike versus Bill or Billy. My sister is definitely happy not to be called Sylvia.

I will acknowledge during my years taking French in both junior and high school, I went by Guilliame, which is William in French.

I wasn’t about to be called Michele for obvious reasons.

The folks didn’t have the most amicable parting—nor did they really get on well as we grew up. So Michelle and I found ourselves bonding just to stay sane amidst their little wars that sometimes had us caught in the middle.

I don’t want to make it sound like we had a tough childhood by any stretch, but my sister and I did learn to lean on each other.

That carried on through high school and beyond.

I always call her the good Armstrong, although she can be tough as nails once her mind is made up.

She left home at 16 because my father was from the old school that girls had to be a certain way. I was allowed to drive to Florida at age 16 with friends unsupervised, but Michelle was expected not to really date or stay out past 9 p.m. When she complained that he wasn’t fair, my father used the line, “If you don’t like it, find another place to live.”

She did.

Much to my father’s annoyance, it was in a foster home in a black household. My grandmother on his side died believing the South had won the Civil War for all practical purposes and it took my father some years to get past his racist views. Michelle living with a black family until she graduated high school, helped him get past his biases for sure.

My favorite story to tell friends on how tough she can be was during this time. Michelle was hitchhiking to her work and a guy picked her up. Michelle carried around a damn big knife for protection. This guy started making moves on her and she told him to stop because she had a knife. The guy didn’t believe this petite young thing was a threat, so he started to get physical. I believe he had pulled over as he made his attempt. True to her word, she pulled out her knife and stabbed him in the stomach. Then she took the bleeding guy to the hospital and left him and his car at the entrance.

How crazy is that?

But it is a perfect example of her being resilient in the face of adversity and compassionate at the same time.

Michelle went to college for a couple years and then went into the Air Force for eight years. My niece’s father was killed when Michelle was three months pregnant and my sister did an amazing job of being a single parent over the years.

I visited her when she was stationed in England and was impressed with how well she took to living in another country. Plus, it was cool that my niece had an English accent.

She eventually left the military and lived in Texas and Virginia. During this time, I was overseas quite a lot.

We have taken a fair amount of vacations together over the years. I especially enjoyed when we went to Portugal together.

She visited me when I lived in Hawaii and Australia, but when she came to visit me in Wyoming, Michelle fell in love with the Rocky Mountains.

My niece was grown, so Michelle picked up and moved to Colorado and got a job, where she has risen up through the ranks in a satellite company.

I give this background on her to make clear we have solid sibling bond and I think she is a cool lady.

A few weeks ago, our bond was put through some trials.

My mother and stepfather needed to move to Colorado to a community that was more user friendly than their three story lake house in Maine. My sister did so much to get it all set up.

We were to fly over to Portland and drive with their stuff across the country as fast as we could.

I am going to get at least three columns from this little adventure, trust me.

We missed the plane in Denver, but got the last two seats (at different times) to get to our destination at midnight. The next morning we had some moments that looked like our trip was for nothing. Once solved, my sister and I drove a 26 foot truck across the country in 66 hours. I better mention we had five cats in the back.

Like I said, there are at least two more columns on what we experienced.

Somehow we made it, although there was a gas pump we crashed into at one of the gas stations we were at.

This trip made me realize that our relationship can survive many moments that are stressful and come out smiling.

I really don’t know how many people can say they are as close with a brother or sister as I am with mine.

But if you are fortunate to have this tie, count your blessings.

I know I do.


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