Sister's smile, stories, 'iron fist' made a mark
Shortly after a vibrant sunrise on Feb. 9, I received a call from my father that my sister — the oldest of us four siblings and the light of our family’s life — was not going to make it. She had been in ICU at St. David’s Hospital in Austin for two and a half weeks after an infection complicated her internal organ issues. We had seen some hopeful signs during her time in a medical coma — eyes opening, fingers and toes moving. But now her time on earth was done.
At 57, it was too early to go. But I can’t help but think we were lucky to have had her for that amount of time. She is welcomed to her eternal home by my younger brother, and I guarantee a celebration is taking place.
“Chatty Kathy” was her first moniker. My parents, who enjoy their newspaper, their coffee and their quiet in the mornings, found themselves with a precocious baby girl two years after their marriage. Even before she could talk, she would crawl into their bed in the mornings and hold entire conversations in baby gibberish.
Her gift for gab continued throughout her life. She was a wonderful storyteller and, almost invariably, her stories were hilarious. She was a pre-teen during the days of rotary dial phones, so we have many pictures of her talking on our forest green phone in the living room, the receiver wire twisted around her finger since it was impossible for her to talk without using her hands.
She was a child of the seventies, coming of age at a time of rapid change for small-town parents. I was seven years her junior, so I was still into Batman while she was starting to grow up. There was the normal friction between my dad and his first child, who also was a gorgeous young woman. But Dad now admits she had him wrapped around her finger. (She wrote the poem at right after a row between them, it shows her outspokenness, her burgeoning writing talents and her love for her dad.)
She was the Lucy van Pelt to our Linus and Charlie Brown, ruling her younger siblings with a loud voice and an iron fist. Around our television in the late 1960s, the second-born Kyle would perch in the best spot on the couch to watch a show. Kathy would grab him by the shirt and throw him to the other couch and take the prime spot. Kevin and I, the youngest, were never a match for her, and she pulled rank when we wanted to watch “The Big Valley” while she chose “Star Trek.”
I remember being in third grade and idolizing the football players who courted her when she was a sophomore in high school. At the public swimming pool, I teased her as she teased the boys. She gave me a slap on the back that left a handprint of tiny circles through the mesh Dallas Cowboys jersey I wore.
She introduced us to a lot of the world outside our tiny town, especially through music. In her younger days, she liked Donny Osmond, so, as little brothers, we dutifully blacked out his teeth with a marker on his smiling album cover. Later, she introduced us to better bands like the Isley Brothers and Fleetwood Mac.
She was a cheerleader in high school and her radiant smile was a sideline fixture when classmates won the 1976 Class 2A state football championship. Later, from her publisher’s chair at the Rockdale Reporter, she continued to cheer for our town’s fund-raisers, Chamber of Commerce and on and on.
As we grew up, she always offered an ear and advice. She helped me better understand girls, so much as that is possible. I think that is what she liked about hairdressing, which she did for 15-plus years before she re-entered the family business. She liked being there for people and making them feel better.
She had been unlucky in love, but she had two beautiful daughters that resulted.
For the last decade, she found a knight in brother-in-law Bill, who I hired as a sportswriter. We noticed they were soon hanging out a lot. One day, she talked to me in the alley behind our business and confessed the two were seeing each other. “Duh,” I said. “This is a small town. You can’t hide anything here.”
Bill treated her with respect and worked with her at the family newspaper. He took her around the state and country for some great dining and sightseeing experiences. He was a blessing and made her life more full, and I know she was a bright light to him.
Her funeral packed the hometown church and was a true celebration of her life. Rarely has so much laughter been heard at a funeral service as people told stories of that showed her livewire personality.
But the reality now sets in of missing her, her “I love you” to her family members, her playful way with her nephews and of her room-filling laugh.
The day she died, I sat in my backyard, a little emptier, and took in the sunset with its rainbow hues filling the sky.
It was the end of a beautiful day.
I am so like you.
You shine through me.
I am a perfectionist to some extent. I want to be the very best and nothing else.
So do you.
I call it a zest for new and unfound things. I want as much as is possible out of life.
So do you.
Yes and it is sometimes quick to escape. I have been called a “spitfire” and would have it no other way. So many things never get said so I say them.
So do you!
Do not condemn yourself.
You are also condemning those who are a part of you.
Do not wish yourself to change.
Others cannot begin to accept you if you cannot first accept yourself.
I accept you.
And I love you.
– Kathy (age 16)
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