My blog has to date been mostly a happy and lighthearted thing, sometimes silly and sometimes irreverent. I hope that it has been funny and entertaining at least on occasion, and – who knows – perhaps even informative. Today’s topic is much more serious for me though. You see, my sister Debby got really sick really fast this past late spring and into the summer, passing away on August 20th just about 11 weeks or so after first going to the hospital due to various symptoms and finding out that she was seriously ill. She was sixty-eight, the oldest of my family’s generation of siblings and cousins and was too young to die. Let me take a moment to recognize and to thank my other sister Alex, who is a nurse, and her daughter Jessica for taking such good care of Debby in her whirlwind last few months. Their hard work and devotion made it possible for Debby to remain in her own home, surrounded by family, friends, and with her nutty little dog.
I have thought a lot about whether or not to write about this in my blog. What the decision came down to for me was simply that Debby was in fact, and in the main, a light-hearted and fun person. As her brother and also simply as someone who has known her in winter and in summer for 54 years, sure, we have had a few disagreements. But overwhelmingly my memories of her are happy ones. She really was a fun person. Let there be no doubt of that and you can shout if from the rooftops.
There are, were, four of us, and I am the youngest. My brother and my other sister are both a few years older than me and let’s just say that we are all three in our mid-fifties. Debby was about fourteen years older than me, so she graduated from high school when I was five, and went to work after college when I must have been about twelve. After my parent’s divorce in the early seventies, circumstances were such that I was the one who “went to live with Dad” in Cape May, New Jersey. Debby had settled in Maryland by that time and would spend 34 years as a teacher in and around the Annapolis area. Because of where I lived in Cape May through the 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, Debby and I saw a lot of each other, relatively speaking for family members who lived states apart. Sometimes I would take the ferry from Cape May over to Lewes, Delaware where Debby would pick me up and we would spend a weekend at her place. When I was older and had my own car, I would more likely drive around past Baltimore to stay with her and have a fun weekend.
Over the decades Debby lived in several towns spread out between the southern outskirts of Baltimore and the Annapolis area. At one time or another I have visited and stayed with her at all of them. Gambrills, Severna Park, Crofton, Annapolis, and then finally in Centerville out on the Eastern Shore. Driving through Maryland and noting all the exit signs for these places is something of a tour through her past.
I remember one weekend that I visited her, we took a day trip and went down to King’s Dominion theme park in Virginia, right along 95 about 20 miles north of Richmond. For reasons I don’t recall clearly, it was very quiet there. I think it may have been that I was recently out of high school and we were there on a weekday in September or some scenario close to that. We were not the only people there but I don’t remember having to wait in line for anything. Back then, and I think still today, King’s Dominion had one of the country’s thrilling and iconic roller coasters – The Grizzly. Debby and I rode The Grizzly ten times! We went on it three times in a row, then went and did other stuff, and later decided to come back and went on it seven more times! The place was mostly empty, so the only “wait” was how long it took to get off the ride at the end, walk back around to the entrance, and wind our way back through all the (empty) corrals. We were like gleeful little kids. I don’t know anyone else who would have done something like that with me, but that was Debby. We were on the same page that day and we both always kept that as a favorite memory. I will carry it for both of us now. Oh, and by the way, neither of us threw up!
My family has long had a special relationship with Block Island, Rhode Island. We were lucky to spend our summer vacations there as kids throughout the sixties, and later, as adults, have managed to coordinate regular house rentals there again, with varying attendees. Debby was always a driving force with that effort and loved to visit the island, take in the natural beauty, breathe in the air, and just to be there, embraced by the warmth of a thousand carefree childhood memories. (Hmmm, come to think of it, I guess that describes me as well!) I think it was probably her favorite place ever. Mrs. Working Stiff recalls that once in a private moment Debby had told her that “Block Island holds the key to my heart”. We will be taking her there for her last trip late next summer, where we will scatter her ashes in one of her favorite spots, perhaps near the same spot where we did that for our late mother a few years ago. No doubt we will follow that with a “Debby Memorial Beach Bonfire” and toast s’mores in her honor.
We all miss Debby greatly, and we mourn her passing, but our memories of her are happy ones. Sister, aunt, cousin, teacher, or friend – she met the challenges, adventures, and silliness of life with open arms and a playful spirit. The first to brave the cold water at the beach, the first to line up for the roller coaster, the first to order dessert, and the first to say “sure, let’s try it!” Let’s remember her not with tears, but with our biggest smile, whenever we see Mickey Mouse, attend a craft show, or ride a ferryboat over to a sunny island full of childhood memories. Bon voyage Deb, and may you forever be at peace!
The Working Stiff