The Sisters Six

Big families are a blessing; but you have trouble getting them all together when they’re grown.

NOTE:  Very soon my sisters and I will be traveling from four different states for a reunion, something we’ve done almost annually since our mom’s death in 2004. This one, at our sister Carol’s home in Illinois, will be lower key than some of our destination trips (such as last year’s week in New Orleans). This is the thing–even if all we do is visit, eat, nap, play cards, laugh, and eat some more, it’s going to be important. You see, it’s OUR time as sisters just to be together–not to DO, but just to BE. 

These gatherings have become even more precious since losing our youngest sister Lisa very suddenly at age 54 four years ago today. “Baby Luv” was taken from us way too soon as far as we will always be concerned. We were blessed to have had seven reunions in a span of eight years with perfect “sister” attendance before Lisa left us, the final one in blistery Chicago (see above pic). Immeasurable memories were created among us that we do not take for granted.

frogs and kisses (7)
Lisa poses with a friendly frog in Sedona, AZ-2009

Below is a reprint of an article that Lisa, a gifted writer and poetic soul, wrote in 2009. It describes our experiences after the first five of these special sister gatherings, and sums up what we had learned thus far in the process. I’ve only added illustrations, as she expressed our sentiments far better than any of us. So on this anniversary of her home going, it’s only fitting that we hear Lisa’s “voice” once again. Enjoy her humorous take on “Dortha’s Daughters!” –TK

    ========================================

DORTHA’S DAUGHTERS

It happened after our mother died.

I am the baby of six daughters born to Harold and Dortha Worthington, of Cairo, Illinois, a small town nestled between the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  By 1972, the four eldest girls had rooted their lives in various cities across the country, and our Daddy-   Deacon, School Board Member, and City Utilities Director- went on to be with the Lord.  Mama moved Tara and me to Dallas, Texas, where she completed two years at Christ For the Nations Bible Institute, and received her License to Minister.   In the ensuing years, Tara- who will always be one year older!- and I have established our lives here in Texas.  Of our other four sisters- in order of birth- Donna lives in Florida, Carol in Illinois, Phyllis in New York, and Jan in Kentucky. We rarely saw each other- and almost never all at one time.  Big families are a blessing; but you have trouble getting them all together when they’re grown.

Of course, miles are not all that separate us.  A decade or so after the first four were born, the last two of us arrived, causing much excitement and, well, deserved adoration.  But ten years is a long time when you’re young, so Tara and I missed out on knowing and sharing childhood with our older sisters.  On occasion, one of us might say it was a blessing in itself; but usually that sister gets over her frustration pretty quickly.

Naturally, we all came together to mourn the death of our incredible mother, in 2004.  After our other sisters had gone home, Tara and I were once again together.  We will probably never agree on who had the brilliant notion to get all the sisters together to really visit and enjoy one another.  (It was me.)  Since we are now older and less tied-down, we decided we should never again wait for a death to dictate when we could gather as a family.

Emails shot across the country and back again.  We began to reminisce about our childhood, sharing memories of Mama and Daddy, then of one another.  Long forgotten feelings and impressions brought out much laughter and many tears.  Our children began requesting to be included in the mailing list, because the stories were so revealing, funny, and touching.  They learned things about us we can never live down- like a certain Floridian allowing Tara and me to “smoke” at a very tender age!  Cigarettes were involved, and so was smoke, but we only thought we were big.

In the fall of 2005, we took New York City by storm.  Well, the Big Apple is big enough that probably no one has missed the pieces we now carry in our hearts.  And from that awesome gathering began our Annual Sister Reunion.  Sounds like a good idea, right?

Group shot-3
New York 2005 Sisters’ Reunion–our very first! Don’t we all look young??

We have had a blast!  We come together laughing, with one unnamed sister (from Kentucky) usually sporting some gag designed to embarrass us all at the airport.  Old ladies don’t blush easily, though, and we all join in.

We’ve not only walked the streets of New York City- as Ladies, mind you!- but we’ve gone home to our roots in southern Illinois to visit family, become real Cowgirls by eating calf fries at the Fort Worth Stockyards (yes you did, Jan!)…

The aforementioned Calf Fries, a.k.a. “Chicken Fried Nuts” as one unnamed sister called them…

We went to Chicago to tie ourselves into yoga positions Mama would of never have approved, and even hit the Grand Canyon.

Lisa's camera-Grand Canyon Jeep Tour 076
The six of us at the Grand Canyon, 2009.

The echoes of laughter can still be heard, as we remember a shrimp dish that smelled so bad, a husband dubbed it “Dirty Panty Pasta,” the elderly lady with an unfortunate physical extremity hanging out during BINGO, “Freddy,” a fond nickname, the Ugliest Feet Contest, and the Great Artichoke Dance. Items like Bubba Teeth, gingerbread men, and toy tiaras now have a beloved history among us.

Bubba teeth; Kelli's shopping; around the house 011
Kentucky “Old Home” Reunion, 2006–Bubba Teeth Portrait

It sounds cruel to laugh while a “prince-ass” from New York is experiencing a broken wrist and heat exhaustion at the same time, but you should have been there!  Our laughter and love got us through the crisis, and her good humor made it a joke the remainder of the trip…well, we’re still laughing, actually!

After five of these annual pilgrimages- no husbands allowed, please- I have made these three observations:

#1 – We didn’t really know each other.

Whether we lived hundreds of miles away, or in the same state, we hadn’t been around one another enough to really know each other.  It takes more than blood kinship to accomplish a close relationship.  We started out being very cautious, polite, and sensitive.  Proper, you could say…But the first time one of my older sisters dropped a humorous personal reference, I literally choked myself, laughing so hard.  It was very bonding, really- this kind of intimacy.

Pink Jeep Rim and Broken Arrow Tour 151
Lisa clowns around during our Pink Jeep Sedona tour–2009

 

#2 – We’re growing to know each other.

My biggest surprise is that I have been so surprised by my sisters.  In case you should happen upon them, they are:   The Loving Protector, the Funniest Woman in the World, a Sassy Classy Diplomat, a creative Wonder Woman, and The Fountain of Youth.  And this only scrapes the surface of who my sisters are today.  They create, cook, teach, and care for others in ways I can only admire.  I am speechless when I witness the depth of love and fondness they lavish among our band, sometimes when I least expect it.   I have delighted in finding we share faith and politics, warding off countless differences of opinion.  And, I have found Mama’s hands.  The very hands that held me as a child, hung laundry, cooked my meals, and caressed my own kids, live in northern Illinois.

#3 – We’re an example for others.

Perhaps the fact that we’re constantly laughing and enjoying each other makes people assume we’re old friends.  The universal response to our admission that we’re all sisters traveling together is, “Really?”  Many confess that they could never get their sister/s to go on such a trip because they don’t get along well enough.  We encourage them to try.

Bluebonnet Trail 012
One of our favorite pics together–struggling to squat in 30 MPH winds to take a bluebonnet photo–Texas Reunion, 2007

Not all childhood recollections can be good.  Some wounded memories kick in automatically, because a child’s anguish has the capability to produce hurt for a lifetime.  Our being together gives us the opportunity to see these flaws, ask forgiveness, and be healed.  We are becoming Old Friends.

Now, each trip provides us with new experiences, enmeshes us more deeply with the lives of one another, and reminds us that We Six all share in the rich heritage of being “Dortha’s Daughters.”

009 Saturday coffee cake and group gift shots 018
Best Sisters in the World watches–2010

 

–Lisa Worthington Dutton (first published in “Vibrant” Magazine, Fall 2009 issue)

 

 

Three Degrees of Separation: How a Mother has Learned to Let Go

The race we’ve been running, the parenting pace we’ve been keeping for twenty-five years, is about to drastically change. In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a parent is about to change. There’s a different rhythm, a different beat—one of a mentor, advisor, and friend.

School has begun again, and oh how I love all the social media posts of kiddos heading off for their first day of–“fill in the blank.” Whether it be kindergarten, elementary, or high school, they are all special “first days.” But nothing compares with the moments those ” littles” actually leave our homes for college, military, or other doorways into adulthood. There’s a special angst reserved for parents of budding adults, causing us to wonder “was I a good parent? did I do things right? did I do enough to prepare them for this??”  I pray special prayers for those of you in this season of life.

To that end, I hope you’ll enjoy this article I wrote eight years ago as the last of our three kiddos took wings and flew out of our nest.  Although time has passed, the feelings of letting go, embracing their dreams as yours, and principles of “passing the baton” of life remain the same…

THREE DEGREES OF SEPARATION: HOW A MOTHER HAS LEARNED TO LET GO.

My husband and I hit the track running with this “passing the baton” stuff.  We’ve already had a couple of kids anxious to get on down the road.  So, hey, I’ve taken this route before.  Been there, done that, paid the bills.  You’d think we’d have this “letting go” stuff down pat.  You’d think it would get easier. But then you’d be wrong.

Long before I ever thought about passing a baton, I can recall praying that I wouldn’t “drop the baton.” Translated this meant “help me pass down to my kids what they need most to know.”  Or, in more simple terms, “don’t let me blow it as a mother!”   Early on it was necessary to decide what elements make a “baton” worthy to pass in the first place.

BALANCE, STRENGTH, AND PURPOSE

It seemed to me that balance was important to a baton, making it easy to hold.  From the time my children were born, I resolved I would enjoy each stage and every age, from infancy to adolescence.  Looking back I feel I successfully achieved this goal.  I can honestly say I never wished they would remain a toddler, or a second grader, or a teenager longer than normal.  Especially not a teenager!  Appreciating and understanding the different personalities of each of my children was also important.  I found each were unique and special and had to be approached and nurtured without a cookie cutter mentality.

Next, strength and flexibility must be found in a baton.  My husband and I tried to teach our children to be independent and adventurous while appreciating time-tested traditions of faith and family.  For instance, we insisted on maintaining a prayer time before bedtime.  Our children learned that 10:00 pm meant “it’s time to pray”, which included any and all visitors in the house.  (This tradition has continued into their adulthood, but now Dad is the one who goes straight to bed after prayer!)

Finally, purpose is vital to a baton.  “Destiny” was a familiar word my children grew up hearing during conversation and prayer.  I always wanted them to know they had a future and a hope set aside just for them.   Now that would make a great inscription on a baton!  After all, what’s a race about?  It’s all about where are we are headed.  Throw in a healthy dose of compassion for others, and you have a perfect blueprint for a baton race.

DRIVEN BY A DREAM

Prepared or not, we handed off the first baton to our intelligent and determined son.  Between the ages of three and eight, he had a love affair with camouflage.  So it was no shock when he pursued his life long dream and joined the Air Force. Delayed entry promised several years of active duty shortly out of high school.  I was so proud of his choice.  However, the recruiting brochures could not predict the 9/11 terrorist attack, which occurred exactly one week before his departure date in 2001.

Maybe it was all the little red, white, and blue pin-on ribbons I busied myself making and distributing (remember those?).  But, starting with his goodbye party, I rode a wave of patriotic adrenalin that masked my pain of separation.  That wave continued well into the following week.  In fact, I began to think this stuff was going to be a piece of cake.  Until I missed his first phone call, requiring him to leave a voice mail.  With every repeat of that message, I cried harder and sank lower.  My little boy was actually gone!  He had flown out of Momma’s arms and into the wild blue yonder of adulthood—with Uncle Sam waiting to send him to the uttermost parts of the earth. Was I scared?  You bet your B-1 bomber I was!  But the idea of my son soaring in pursuit of his dream made me far more proud than fearful.

ARE THEIR DREAMS YOURS?

Five years later, our second baton was passed to our summer baby and oldest daughter.  Nicknamed “Rosebud” shortly after birth, she was –pardon the pun—ready to blossom.  She was our dreamer, our contemplator.  For several years in elementary school, she seriously wanted to be President of the United States.  Who was I to tell her any different?  With her inquisitive mind and independent spirit, she wanted more than anything to leave home and attend a large university immediately after high school.  So her dream became our dream, and separation followed.

Gleefully she headed off that August for “fish” camp, packing her car to the gills with all the things young ladies carry off to college.  Her sister’s room was upstairs, and I began to notice an eerie silence downstairs.  It was way too quiet.  One evening I went into her room, now so full of emptiness.  She had left a nightlight in the wall socket, just behind the bedside table.  I remember the warm shadow it cast as I sat down in the darkness and cried a mother’s tears of change.  While I missed her wit and presence, I was proud that our Rosebud—baton in hand– felt so ready to take on the world without us.

WE HAVE LIFT-OFF!

And now our Baby Girl is eighteen…going on thirty.  She’s our social, fun-loving Shooting Star, a born leader.  She’s bubbling over about her exciting summer of travel before the grind of college brings her freedom to a screeching halt.  While the decisions she is making in her universe right now pale in comparison to the ones she’ll need to make in the future, they are nonetheless important to any new female graduate planning for college.  For instance, towers of recently washed and folded clothing, rescued from both her closet floor and busy lifestyle, are stacked on my kitchen chairs awaiting their fate.  Hmmmm—which ones can she absolutely NOT live without?  Which will be tossed?  Which t-shirts will be put in the pile designated for her yet-to-be-made “high school quilt”? (note: this project was accomplished and presented to her as a college graduation present four years later!)

Every time now when I go into my kitchen, the emotional memories remind me “you’ve walked this way before”.  Although thrilled for her opportunities, I am once again experiencing those familiar feelings of separation.  Her bursts of excitement—and those darn stacks of clothes—scream “you can’t hold back this Shooting Star any more!  Get ready, because she’s about to have her lift-off, too!”

I realize that my final lap baby,  just as her brother and sister before her, is focused straight ahead…not looking back retrospectively, but looking straight into the future—just like any good relay runner would.  It is up to us as her parents, about to finish this stage of our race, to squarely place the baton in her waiting hand.  Perhaps I’ll holler a word or two of final instruction, but I can’t expect her to look back.  The other two certainly didn’t.

TO THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

The race we’ve been running, the parenting pace we’ve been keeping for twenty-five years, is about to drastically change.  In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a parent is about to change.  There’s a different rhythm, a different beat—one of a mentor, advisor, and friend.  I’ve discovered I’m comfortable with this new stride as we make our way over to the sidelines.  We’ll be ready with advice, counsel, or other help as needed.  But we cannot run their races for them. The baton is passed, and there is a satisfying sensation of completeness.  Other races may us and we have lovingly let go.

Gazing at our children as they make their turns, it brings me pleasure to recognize traits emerging.  I see fruit of lessons learned as they pound the track.  I see familiar etchings on their batons, added not by us but by their grandparents, or even great-grandparents.  They may stumble and make mistakes, but endurance is the key.  The goal is not perfection, but purpose.  I must trust that all three of the batons we’ve passed will help them stay the course, run their race, and lead them to their destiny.

My kiddos and me, circa 2011.
My kiddos and me, circa 2011.

Just as my parents before me, I am determined to cheer my children on until my last breath.  Pardon me as I make my way up in the stands.  It’s not easy to just sit and watch after all these years.  But, you see, we have these three runners soaring, blossoming, and shooting across the track, and I need to root them on.  Before I take my seat, though, how much is that popcorn?