Jeanne: In Memoriam

Rita’s high school graduation picture, 1971

On March 13th, 2021, my sister Rita passed away. I’m one of seven children, but Rita was just sixteen months my senior, so she features prominently in my childhood memories. I’d like to share this story in her memory.

In the 1950’s, like many American families, our family celebrated Easter by coloring eggs. Mom would dissolve little dye tablets in boiling water laced with vinegar–to this day, I associate the smell of vinegar with Easter. Then we’d take a dozen hard-boiled eggs and color them hues that don’t occur in nature–the orange of circus peanuts. the turquoise of Studebaker fenders, the yellow of polka dot bikinis.

The next morning, before we got up, Mom and Dad would hide the eggs in our backyard and claim the Easter bunny put them there. As kids, we totally bought this. After all, it’s no bigger leap to believe in a cheapskate Easter Bunny who simply conceals the eggs you colored yourself than it is to believe in a Santa who slides down your chimney to bring you only the gifts your parents approve (i.e. no ant farms or chemistry sets).

One spring morning when I was four or five and Rita was five or six, we awoke to find that the Easter bunny had visited us a second time that year. Easter had already come and gone, and instead of hiding colored eggs in the grass, this time Mr. Bunny hid sugar cubes.

I can remember this so clearly. The sky was a clear, cloudless blue. The grass was the light green of early spring and the lawn sparkled with dew. Rita and I came outside and headed for our swing-set only to discover a wonderland of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sugar cubes nestled in the grass all throughout the yard.

As an adult, I used to recall this event occasionally and scratch my head. I mean, it made no sense whatsoever. What kind of parent-masquerading-as-Easter-bunny would hide sugar cubes in wet grass? Even if the dew didn’t melt the sugar into a syrupy glop, those cubes would be crawling with ants. A mother who won’t let her insect-fascinated daughter have an ant farm isn’t likely to go down this road, now is she? In my memory, though, the lawn was speckled with blazingly white sugar cubes, still solidly six-sided and insect-free.

Fast forward sixty years. Rita is up visiting from Florida and we drive to the other side of town to visit my brother. On the way home, I tell her about this bizarre memory, expecting her to razz me about my over-active imagination, as she often does.

Instead, she bursts out laughing. “It was hail,” she says. “It was the first time we ever saw hail.”

And just like that, the corners melt off those little white sugar cubes. When I pluck one from the grass and hold it in my hand, it’s icy cold.

I was this goofy little kid who saw sugar cubes, but big sister knew the score and as soon as I thought to ask, she set me straight.

The back of this photograph pictured above reads To a weird little sister. Good luck in high school next year without me to watch your step, so be good. “God bless” Remember Me Always, Rita.

I will, Sis. I will.

16 thoughts on “Jeanne: In Memoriam

  1. What a great memory! And how like a kid, too, to remember the emotion but not get the facts quite right. Your sister sounds like a great person. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  2. Hail! I didn’t see that coming. Thanks for the laugh. Your sister sounded wonderful and I’m sorry for your loss.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss, but as long as you are alive, her memory carries on. And what a lovely memory it is! She looks very much like you. Wishing you much comfort in the coming weeks, and may you find some unexpected sugar cubes to sweeten your grieving.

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