Six days before she died, my sister Kathy requested that our niece from San Francisco bring Lucca Raviolis, the best sourdough in the world and a bottle of Sangiovese wine.
Five days before she died, Kathy told me in detail how this particular sourdough recipe was crafted–that is, for excellent bread, the absolute best starter is essential. And this chef, a man, has devoted his time, energy and curiosity to creating the best sourdough starter.
Two days before she died, she said “We need a buzzword.”
I replied “Do you mean a word that when I hear it, I’ll think of you.”
“Yes,” she said.
After a few lame words, we decided on the phrase “Life is but a dream.”
And then, she lapsed into the strangeness of this whole experience of preparing to die. The questioning as she turned towards what is unfamiliar, not talked about much and unknown. She and I tossed our questions into that void called Mystery.
Earlier, she had asked if I could find her a couple of cotton nightshirts. With a neckline that was high enough to hide the scars on her chest. I went to Penney’s and bought something button-up that didn’t seem quite right, but a possibility. Returnable. At Macy’s, I found some too-fancy-ones, with lower necklines and Christmas reindeer and the other one with stars. I took photos and texted them to her on the smartphone. No, the neckline was too much of a scoop.
I found a sale rack…all of the cotton/polyester nightshirts had Christmas images or words that didn’t suit the solemnity of this occasion. “Au Revoir” felt painful to my heart. I finally settled on “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and blah.” Which she loved as…there are no words really to express what is profound.
Ours was a “divide and conquer” household with father’s rules and moods taking precedent. Yet, sisters leave an indelible mark on your heart and being. There is something sacred with sisters that is separate from the father’s code. It’s in the bones, this understanding. That even if we part and go our separate ways, we always know that there is a holding place, a heart haven where, when we meet again, we enter easily and laugh, cry, get angry and share deeply without pretense. It’s just that way.
And there is always food involved. Kathy’s perfectly formed, perfectly packaged and always yummy cookies. Or something, anything Italian…can we claim garlic bread on the finest sourdough as part of Italian cuisine? Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs or Kathy’s frittata. And cheesecake with chocolate curls all around. Or her recipe for San Antonio Stew.
This is not a complete romance, or maybe it is for don’t even the best-matched lovers have their quarrels. There were times when Kathy seemed to separate from the family and her friends became more important. We learned to accept that. Yet, we came together again and again. I have 8 mm movie film of her coming to the Easter or Christmas dinners in my home…her long dark cascading curls bouncing as she ran indoors from the spring or winter rain.