|Best Friends, At Last
2003 by Harriet Epstein
Mom would finally be happy now!. She always wanted me to be close to my sister Sally, and Sally wanted that to. I was six years older, and Sally thought I must be smarter, but she got over that later on, when she decided she was smarter. Mom actually helped start that situation when she insisted I was the bright one and Sally was the pretty one. It was then that the smart one, began to watch over the pretty one. I remember the day I grabbed my Honore de Balzac book away from her, afraid it was too explicit.
She was flighty and I was serious. Too serious. I was always concerned about our parents who fought all the time. Two stubborn East European immigrants, they were continuously struggling and quarreling, trying to make it in the new country. Sally kept insisting they should have divorced. I not only disagreed, but ultimately evolved into a wacko anti-divorce extemist totally out of sync with the rest of society.
Our differences about divorce created a humorous incident some years later on when I happened to be on a Barry Gray talk show, spewing forth my anti-divorce opinions. Sally accidentally heard the program, telephoned the radio station and began to argue with me right on the air. Barry listened briefly and then suggested we fight on our own time, not his. That incident provided us with a great story to laugh and joke about for many years.
Free -spirited Sally made me seem repressed and old fashioned. Always a loner, I was annoyed by the crowds of outsiders that constantly invaded my Coney Island, the playground of the world, with their nightly, noisy partying. I was probably jealous, but didn’t know it. Somewhat of a snob, I kept looking for “stimulating” people, whom I rarely found. Walking the famous boardwalk nightly, I wasn’t even aware that a future best selling author lived right there in my neighborhood. It would have been a thrill for me to know Joseph Heller who would eventually write his famous best-selling book, Catch-22. I never suspected then, that I too might want to write some day.
Sally kept enjoying life, despite demons of her own. The last of the six kids, she got short- changed. “I could have had kids all the time”, was Mom’s constant lament. She was never as interested in sex as Pop was, so Sally decided she wasn’t really wanted, and that hurt her for many years. What kid wants such an image for herself?
Pop, a carpenter, was shorter than his stuttering older brother, who despite the stuttering, soon became the tall, rich uncle. That angered Mom, the haughty queen, who for no apparent reason thought she deserved the rich one. When we asked why she married Pop, she explained that “He was the one everyone thought would succeed.” The town philosopher, it was he they all turned to for help with problems. That idea didn’t comfort her. Was it her feistyness that helped her live to 102, while poor Pop only made it to 80?
Sally’s disappointment with Mom lasted until she met and married a man who loved everybody and taught her to be more forgiving. Ironically, I eventually began to recognize and acknowlege some of Mom’s faults. Not til Pop died did I realize I scarcely got to know or appreciate him. I)espite all that, I still never thought they should have divorced while sister Sally continued to believe they should have.
So we weren’t able to get close in the early years because of our differences. I was too serious, and she was too frisky. So frisky, Sally even managed to fall off our second floor porch one day and break her nose. She was also running off to meet boys, while I was escaping into the books I read and didn’t always understand.
It was during WW II, and I was a volunteer at the draft board, taking shorthand about guys trying to avoid the draft. I was upset about the war but didn’t know how Sally felt. She kept busy learning to play tennis and met her future husband on the courts.
I met my husband Bernie on a vacation weekend, but didn’t reaiiy like him at first. He was tall, a little rough and burly--not exactly the pipe smoking, tweed-jacketed professor I had envisioned for myself. But, after meeting all Bernie’s childhood friends, this formerly lonely gal changed in ways that made it even tougher for Sally and me to be close. Meeting them and seeing the love they felt for him made me begin to appreciate and reconsider all the different traits of this complex man. It was then Mom began complaining that I preferred to be with his friends, rather than Sally. In many ways I did. Those friends and Bernie helped open up new qualities in me I never knew I had.
That large lively crowd laughed, and had hilarious times together, constantly reliving all the crazy experiences they had shared growing up. They had something I had somehow completely missed, and as each of them married, the group kept growing into a larger bunch of exceptionally close and devoted friends. The friendship lasted over 45 years, and all that time my relationship with my sister was sadly neglected. Not until the next major change in my life did I suddenly realize how important we really were to each other.
It all happened when I, irony of ironies, became a divorcee after 34 years, and she became a comfort and strong supporter. Though all the friends remained loyal too, Sally was the one I could always depend on. Despite my split, I had continued to be strongly anti-divorce and when she arranged my very first date, she knew how badly my self-esteem had suffered.
We still laugh about the night we went dancing. She knew it was something I missed so much, for Bernie had been a great dancer. She kept encouraging friends to ask me to dance, and when one stranger approached me completely on his own, I suspiciously asked him if my sister had pushed him to do so. I never quite believed him when the puzzled gentleman asked, “Who’s your sister?” That incident lifted my spirits and supplied us with another true funny story to tell.
It took many years for this anti-divorce gal to get over her failed marriage. But, happily, I had become a writer, learned to be a little more objective, and now had an outlet within which to crystallize and express my ideas.
Sally continued helping me get me back on my feet, and today we are finally very close, even though we still think differently about many things. She still believes divorce has its place, and I was there for each of her two her kids when, yes, they went through theirs. Though still anti-divorce, I began to see her side more clearly and was always there supporting her through her tough times.
The best part of it all is that Mom must surely be smiling
down on us, for that feisty, tough old lady finally did achieve, at least
one of her dreams. Her two girls have at last become best friends. And
Mom was quite wrong about some other things. They’re both smart and both
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