Tuesday, March 26, 2013

For my sister on her birthday...

I was having some difficulty coming up with a topic, especially since it was a down in the dumps day.  Normally I talk about days where things don't go right, and how I still try and make something good of my time.  Not today.  I'm not sure if its the bipolar depression or the MS version or perhaps they met up somewhere and joined forces, but its a downer. 

Maybe because today would have been my sister's 65th birthday.  Someplace in the 76 posts already done, I've talked about her.  Her name was, and remains, Barbara Jane Martin Canfield. She died of cancer in 1991.

I don't have many pictures, a handful, really. My brother has a few.  Barb's family the rest that survived.  My mother tossed out lots of stuff because it was painful to see so many reminders of Barb around her.  In her own grief of a parent losing a child, and then trying to work through that pain in the fog of her own bipolar disorder, with no professional guidance, only made it even more difficult. She has my sympathy, my forgiveness, and my asking of forgiveness for my own sins.

Let me tell you about Barb - she was called BJ, Bezh, and amongst my cousins, No-nee. I have no idea what that last one means but that's who she was.

She was born 65 years ago this day to Marge and Lou Martin of Troy.  She was the middle child.  My brother Bob was born in 1945 (sorry, Bob, you are NOT a baby boomer), and then I was the little surprise in 1956 (but so cute and adorable).  Barb and Bob were much older than me which of course made them the perfect babysitters, which they so loved (not).

We moved to a big house in Lansingburgh, a section of Troy, New York around 1958.  The house was historic and had cubby holes and pantries and back stairways to hide in.  A perfect place for a little kid.  Barb is already 10 at this point, and by the time I can call up a few thoughts of life at The House, I'm 5 and Barb is 13 and we are in the 1960s.  I had that big house and toys and a dog, and I was fine, and Barb was busy being a teenager.  Now and then she would bring me to downtown Troy for lunch and a run around the toy store. One thing I was aware of was that Barb smoked a lot.  But I thought everyone did (father, mother did, but my brother and I never did) and if you look at the pictures from the 60's house parties, you'll see full ashtrays, and less stuff in the peanut bowls.

So Barb lived her life and I did mine.  She graduated from Lansingburgh High school in 1966, and was voted the best dancer which she was.  She had go-go boots (Wikipedia that, if you need to).  She dyed her hair blond. She had various clerical jobs around the area, even worked with our Mom at one time.  She dated guys, all kind.  I recently found a newspaper clipping from 1964.  Barb had written on it BM & KS Forever.  Nope. She dated another guy, and then another, then the third one's brother, and she married that one.

And what a wedding.  It is still The Wedding.  I could write about it, but this wedding must be performed with actors, alcohol, actresses, lots of vomit (fake, please) and cigarettes.  It remains the focal point of all Martin weddings, perhaps all weddings.  Book me in your town, or for my Russian readers, a stay over in your dacha, and I will regale you with this story.   And Barb was the star attraction.  Mostly because she did not run out of the church screaming.

The following spring Barb gave birth to her first son, Robert, three years later came Kevin, and finally Kristen in 1980.  Now for readers of this blog, 1979 is known as not the best year in family history, as my father was losing his battle with a brain disorder, and there were financial consequences and a whole heap of crap as well.  I thought Barb having another baby would be a tonic to a tough time, a celebration of life after so much misery.  And Kristen brought that sunshine.

And Barb kept smoking.  I am no expert, but there has to be a connection between all those cigarettes over the 30 or so years she smoked and the cancer that would claim her eleven years later in 1991.  There were cookouts and fun times in between, to be sure. I have two pictures of Barb from my wedding in 1985, one she is dancing with the rest of the family, in a kicking line.  The other is just a picture of Barb, a niece, and Barb's daughter Kristen outside the Chapel where I married Jackie.  Kristen looks just like her own daughter Karly.

And then it was gone. She was gone.  She kept up the fight after the diagnosis, did the chemo, lost the hair, lasted 10 months and died in September 1991.  Her family watched their rock crumble and turn to dust and spirit, and they have lingered waiting for advice from that spirit, but they were given unconditional love as the final gift, which will have to do. I hope I too can receive it for not making it to the hospital to say goodbye. 

What's happened to Barb's family after her passing is not up to me to write.  But here's some things I remember.

She bought me some goldfish from Woolworth's, and a fishbowl and food.  The fish's names were Winklin', Blinklin', Nod and Owen.   The last name was because the pet store guy liked my sister and tossed in Owen, even though he was silver and seemed to be blind in one eye.  Owen was the pet store guy's name.  That's all he received from my sister. We all chipped in to change the water and feed the fish so they lasted a year or more, especially Owen who just kept on and on.

Barb and my mother had some big fights and in the family annals was the time when Barb said something to annoy my mother (Hint: do not annoy bipolar people) and my mother hit Barb over the head with a cookie jar.  Fortunately it was a Tupperware cookie jar (green and white), so it kept its shape while crashing into Barb's head.  No damage of course, except to the cookies within.

Barb flew out to Denver to see a boyfriend who was in the Service, and on her way back home her plane was rerouted, and she ended up in Chicago.  She called our Mom to come up with an answer to this dilemma.  Mom said, "Stay there. Get a room. Come home tomorrow." So Barb did that.  The airline rented a hotel room for her and she stayed in that room, did not leave, did not undress, did not get under the covers (luggage on the plane), but sat on the bed all night and looked up every Martin in the Chicago area phonebook.  We are not related to any of them. 

I think Barbara Jane Martin Canfield had a good life, a happy life.  I wish it could have been longer, but it wasn't. It would have been great for her to see her grandkids, but maybe she does. I am grateful she was here, and I'll tell her that next time I visit her grave.  If there is an after life, I know I'll see my mother and Barb at the Celestial Colonie Center.  We'll have lunch at Friendly's and go to Sear's.  Maybe I can get goldfish that lives forever.

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