Debbie will always be younger than me. When we were little, she used to hate that. Debbie was always the baby of the family — until Tommy came along. But even then, she was still the baby — the littlest girl. At least that’s the way I saw it — and I was completely okay with that. That’s just how it was.
I wouldn’t trade having a sister for the world. We were best friends and buddies for most of our childhood. We didn’t have any neighbors, so we played together with our older brother, Bob. We didn’t always play well together. We used to get jealous of each other all the time. Well, probably me more jealous of her than vice versa. She would shed the tears, and I would get in trouble — that’s how it always was. She was always so sweet, and well, I spoke my mind a lot more. I guess that’s just a middle kid trait.
I can remember cutting the hair short on her barbie dolls, because I wanted my barbies to be prettier. I got in trouble for that. We used to set up her Fisher Price “little people” sets in the game room where my Mom’s office was and play all day, making up stories of the lives of those little plastic people. Sometimes we’d incorporate Bob’s Lincoln Logs into the town. He’d play with us too. Debbie loved Fisher Price, while I loved Mattel. But we always played together. And my parents always bought two of everything for Christmas, because they knew better — two baby dolls, two baby carriages, two pot holder maker sets, two barbie doll airplanes. I loved those planes — called “Barbies’ Friend Ship.” When I got a Light Bright set, Debbie got a Play Doh set. If I got a pink flannel nightie, Debbie got a purple one.
We used to play outside all summer. I think Mom was looking to get us out of her hair. Growing up in the country, we used to play in the woods everyday, because it was cooler in there. Dad built us a playhouse up in the trees, but when they put the vegetable garden in, they cut those trees down. So then he moved the playhouse into the woods for us. We had this great little kids table and chairs set that fit in there perfectly. Unfortunately, the Wood Spiders loved the playhouse as much as we did. Now, if you ever lived near pine trees, you know about Wood Spiders! I remember one year, Debbie and I went into the playhouse and sat down at the table and not but a second later did we realize there were a dozen of those giant, black tarantula-like spiders all over the inside of that playhouse! From then on, we used to peek inside cautiously, sometimes making Bob go in first. There were always spiders in there, so we stopped using it. To this day, I am still super afraid of spiders — and absolutely petrified of Wood Spiders.
But, we still loved the woods. I used to take these hand trimmers from the garage and find a thicker area of pine trees and squeeze among the branches, cutting the little branches off until I created a series of rooms, making our own playhouse out of trees. And then, we’d stuff these long pine needles between the remaining branches to create solid walls among the branches. I think about it now and realize how creative that actually was. And, as an adult, I now realized that there were probably Wood Spiders hanging on those pine trees as part of their camouflage too. But what we didn’t know, didn’t hurt us! We then would head over through the woods a piece to an area of tall, dried grass and cut some of that down. We’d spread it on the floor in these rooms like carpet and play in there all day.
We spent all day, every day outside — and if not in the woods, we would be riding our bikes, dancing in the yard, twirling our batons or playing with our kitties. Or ducks. Mom and Dad bought us ducks the first or second year we moved into the house on Rt. 168. Bob got a baby male duckling and Debbie and me got girls. Well, Bob’s got mean and would chase us — and try to bite us. We couldn’t even go outside. Finally my Dad had enough, and I remember he came home one night, went out and cut the head off that mean duck. We didn’t get anymore ducks after that.
Debbie and I loved cats! She got a baby kitty one year before we moved into the house on Rt. 168. So, she would have been around three years old. She named that cat, Kitty Tiger Miller, and he was an orange tiger cat. He got hit on the road, Mom put him in a box and we buried him. Lots of tears were shed over that one, but there would be lots more in the coming years — like Debbie’s little black kitty, she named him “Blackie.” Well, he was just a kitten when he got backed over in the driveway. He was the same color as the gravel! I had a female cat, named Kitty. Oh yea, how original was that name? She had two litters of kittens each year and Debbie and I would be in our glory playing with those babies.
Debbie used to raise rabbits. That started with a bunny that she got for Easter one year — a black bunny named Oscar. He lived a really long time. Debbie got so into raising rabbits that she raised them for 4-H and showed them at the Hookstown Fair — I think she raised Palominos. I remember one year, some dogs came while we were all at the fair and barked under the rabbit cages, killing all the rabbits — the poor little things had heart attacks. I felt so bad for Deb, her heart was broken too, and she didn’t raise any more rabbits after that.
When we got a little bit older, we used to hike to a pond down in the woods. It was a good ways, but we knew how to get there, because my Dad and Mom always took us hiking on their property. Every Spring, Dad would take a can of florescent paint and go around the entire perimeter and spray paint these iron markers he had put in the ground. So, we knew how to get there and in the Spring, we’d take a small sand bucket and fill it with tadpole eggs. We’d have tadpoles a short time later. Debbie and me used to hike there in just our flip flops and walk into this swampy pond — it was thick, black mud that smelled terrible. But we didn’t care. Sometimes we lost our flip flops and had to dig them out by hand!
Speaking of flip flops, I remember another time we were walking along a stream at the base of the gully in our flip flops, a short hike from the tadpole pond. And a small brown snake slithered through the stream, over the rocks and over my foot! I screamed and flipped out — and then Debbie flipped out with me — and we tried to climb the steep walls of that gully, but kept sliding back down as the leaves were so loose against the damp ground. When we finally got to the top, we were covered in mud from head to toe. Bob led us to the road and we walked back to the house from Rt. 168. Passing motorists probably thought we were some kind of hillbillies. But no, we were just kids without too many rules — except one — to always look after each other.
Mom would take us to the public swimming pool in East Palestine, OH about once a week in the summer. It was a reward for us behaving for her during the week. Debbie, Bob and me used to stand along the edge of the pool and play all kinds of games — like follow the leader. Debbie would strike a pose, then each of us had to follow suit — plunging into the water. Those were the days — just the best, best days. We would spent hours climbing up the giant sliding board just to slide down into the pool — It was this big metal slide — I can still remember how the steps would feel on the bottom of my feet — they had these giant holes in them so you wouldn’t slip.
Debbie and me used to share a bedroom — our entire childhood until she moved out when she got married at age 25. That would mean we shared the same space for 25 years! When we were little, I’d tell her stories. As we got older, I would complain that she snored — I used to make her mad when I told her that. I remember one time we decided to put masking tape down the middle of the room — she couldn’t come on my side, and I couldn’t go onto hers. My side of the bedroom had the window — and I loved that, because I could lay there in the middle of the night in the summer and hear all the bugs, owls and other noises outside. I especially loved the summer storms and the winter snowfall. I wouldn’t change that we shared that bedroom. We used to talk at night before we fell asleep — talk about anything and everything — and she knew my dreams and I knew hers.
It never mattered how mad we would get or how many fights we would have — we would always forgive, forget and move on. I believe to this day that I truly do forget things and don’t hold grudges, because of my sister, Debbie. It wasn’t acceptable to stay angry at anyone in our family — and more than anyone, I picked on Debbie. She forgave me every time. And, I forgave her just as much.
Like I said, I wouldn’t trade having a sister for anything. There is no better best friend. When I got sick in 2001, my sister was one of those people that I could count on for anything, anywhere, anytime, all the time. And, she has been there more than ever over the past couple of years — finding someone to take her kids to their events, so she could take me to my doctor’s appointments, for my tests and other unexpected things. She never complained — and she gave of herself unselfishly.
As I reflect on it today, on her birthday, I realize that part of who I am today is because of her. She is my best friend, my sister and has touched my life in a very special way. Happy Birthday, Debbie! I wish you many, many more years of happy birthdays!
Always B E L I E V E !