My little sister on her 80th birthday
As the people in your life reach milestones, it becomes complicated to accept your own.
I’m 83, my husband is 85, and now my only sister is 80. Weren’t we just kids? Wasn’t she recently the maid of honor at our wedding in 1960? Where did those years go?
Our children, hers and mine, are all middle aged. She got a bonus this year when her son became a father for the third time. That’s her link to youth. She’s a grandmother again. I am, happily indeed, a great-grandmother. The twisting of the generations does strange things. My great-grandchildren are older than her granddaughter, a member of an earlier generation.
I remember my sister’s arrival into my life like it was yesterday. Wasn’t it?
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Things were not to my liking, and I didn’t yet know that they would get better.
When I was three years old,I was pretty unwelcoming to the new baby girl Mom came home with on December 2, 1942. Young as I was, I could see that this was not going to be good news for me. Mom was quite busy with this new little one, who was called Janet Ruth. I sulked. I could see that this was going to be a long-term issue for me. It has now been 80 years!
Things got worse until they got better. As a baby, this new girl showed her spunk. One day Mom walked into the bedroom I shared with Janet and found her sitting in her crib surrounded by ringlets of hair. Her beautiful blonde curls were all over. This baby had given herself a haircut! And not a bad one at that. Of course you might want to know where she got the scissors. All I can say is that I don’t think they were from me!
Our days were often punctuated, when she was small, with her blocked tear duct, which loomed very big to Mom. We spent lots of time schlepping to Dr. Rosen, the ophthalmologist on Newark’s High Street. He had a huge gray stucco home/office that I grew to know very well, and to loathe very much. Instead of playing with my friends on Aldine Street I would have to take the bus with Mom and Janet and then walk up the huge hill (there was a reason it was called High Street) and then have to wait patiently and quietly for the renowned doctor to do … nothing. All those numerous visits resulted in no improvement at all. The baby’s eye still dripped! It turned out that I could have saved my parents lots of money and lots of wasted effort. I, myself, cured the blocked tear duct!
It happened this way. Janet was already a toddler, and we were outside. I decided to be mean and run away from her. In those days I could run a lot faster than she could, a feat I cannot replicate today, and I had lots of experience in being mean! So I decided, who knows why, to run down the driveway and have her chase me. She couldn’t catch me, and she fell down, hard, on the driveway. She screamed in pain, but the blocked tear duct was blown open and never dripped again. Unlike Dr. Rosen, I didn’t send a bill.
I was often quite nasty to my little sister. I think that’s pretty typical, and I certainly was typical. I was known to hit her and do unpleasant things to her. The big “but” was when the other kids in the neighborhood picked on her. Then I became her ferocious defender. If you were not Janet’s friend, you were my enemy. I was tough and scary.
We grew up and had the usual issues. We shared one phone in our house, and my sister was always on it. That caused endless friction and sometimes even physical fights. We didn’t get along really well — but growing up played magical tricks on each of us. We learned to be best friends, or as they say today, BFF.
And why not? My sister is the most amazing person I know. She’s idealistic, brilliant, tolerant, loving, strong as a rock, and oh so very kind and generous. She’s very accomplished and was an unbelievable wife to her late husband, the beloved Zeev Goren. I never heard them argue. They walked with each other holding hands and sharing their lives in peace and harmony. Their two children, now grown and raising their own five kids, grew up in an environment that was uniquely happy, calm, and tender.
Janet’s chosen profession in her adopted land, Eretz Yisrael, was to teach generations of high school children English. I have heard from many of her former students that she was a memorable and remarkable teacher. Her students really learned English; they are not among those many Israelis for whom English remains an unspeakable mystery. She is renowned for writing English textbooks that are known throughout Israel.
I was in Eilat when I met an English teacher who commented, with awe in his voice, “You are Janet Goren’s sister?!” He was honored to meet me, although I have no credit due me for her accomplishments. He told me how much he loved her books and admired her work.
Since Zeev’s passing Janet has been our travel partner, and together we three have seen the world, from Australia to China to Europe and Africa. No better mate could be found for our journeys. She is amenable, available, and agreeable. The very best!
It is hard for me to believe that my kid sister is now an old woman. Where did the years fly since she was sending her curls blowing in the breeze down Aldine Street? She has lived in Israel since 1967 and inspired all of our family to feel a part of building the Land. Whenever we walk together in Israel, people stop to greet her, and almost always to hug her. Many are her former students. She sheds love.
What I didn’t know in 1942 was that Mom had brought home a wonderful gift for me that day, an incredible treasure. She walked in with Janet in her arms. I regret the wasted years of fighting, arguing, and seeking victory. I suppose siblings all waste time with enmity. Certainly our world has enough of that without us doing our share.
I have only one sister and I am blessed. May she enjoy many more years of life and love with her amazing children and grandchildren, and may she live to enjoy the next generation, who will be gifts to the Jewish people and to the Land. Ad 120!
Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!