My “little sister” is 12 years younger than me. I wish I could say I’ve been a really cool older sister, but sadly that is not the case. Actually, she’s my half-sister—different dads, same mom. In the past I’ve been bossy, know-it-all, nosy, critical, and other annoying things, especially when I was in my thirties and Andra in her twenties. It’s led to some rough patches in our relationship.
Things are different now, though. I’m 70 and Andra’s 58. I’ve softened. Mellowed. I’m finally acquiring some wisdom and the ability to think outside my little conventional, stuffy intellectual box a bit more. Which is good. I want her to like me, so I can visit her often because I find visiting her delightful.
I spent the night with her just a few days ago. We’re about 200 miles apart: she’s in Sacramento and I’m in Silicon Valley. I always drive to Sacramento instead of her coming here because Andra doesn’t drive. When I get to her place I immediately feel like I’m in a different world from the typical tract home I live in, located in its standard middle-class subdivision lined by green lawns and the occasional drought-resistant landscaping. Her modest home is old but utterly charming. It sits on a large lot on a hill dotted with other small freestanding units like hers, each with a yard enclosed by a low fence.
Andra’s house is easy to spot because she has a colorful container garden along the front, with jade plants, geraniums, Lantana, and lots of other plants that I can’t remember because I’m not a gardener like Andra is. She even has a geranium in a pot sitting in a garbage can, which is lovely. I would never think such a thing would be lovely, but that’s the difference between Andra and me. She sees how things will look when they’re finished. She also has some vegetables, including, right now, lots of squash plants. She gets excited when she sees new yellow flowers popping up, signaling that more squash is coming. She grows her own herbs.
In spring and summer, when I arrive her dog Stamp is always running around the yard in circles like a crazy thing. I used to disapprove. But now I love it, because Stamp’s a dear—she’s a rescue, right off a busy street where Andra’s daughter Emily found her running in a panic. With a background like that she ought to be able to do what she loves. Stamp is sort of like Andra’s child, along with Brian, her indoor-outdoor cat. I used to disapprove of that, too. I used to disapprove of pretty much everything. You could say I was a pain in the ass. I considered it inappropriate for people to love their animals like they’re people. But now I realize Stamp and Brian are people. If they’re people to Andra they’re people to me. Andra carries on conversations with them throughout the day and evening, and now I’m starting to do some of that myself.
Inside the house there are lots and lots of pictures on the walls and knickknacks on her many shelf units and occasional tables, even a stuffed dragon that roars. Andra is into dragons. She has been since she was a kid. It’s an enduring fetish. I used to judge that too. There’s not much I didn’t judge. I considered it an unhealthy obsession, but those days are gone and now I buy her dragons like everyone else does whenever I see a special one. In fact, I bought her the stuffed one that roars.
The room where I sleep is her craft room. She loves doing crafts. She does custom framing, she sews—anything from altering clothes for people to curtains to clothes for her grandaughter’s dolls. She crochets. She makes her own cleaning solution with fresh lemon, puts it in specially painted bottles, and gives it to family and friends, all of whom adore it, especially how the house smells when the floors are cleaned with it. Family and friends love the huge variety of handmade gifts they get from her.
Soon she is going to make a fairy garden in a large bowl with her granddaughter. She saw it on Pinterest. For the indoor ones you can use fake moss and a technique with a glue gun to make a waterfall and pond. (Google “fairy garden” to see what they look like, you will be charmed out of your mind.) I don’t make things, I’m intellectual. No, that’s not why. The truth is, I’m all thumbs. I’m struck with admiration for Andra’s abilities.
When I’m ready for sleep she gets down her air bed and blows it up, and I sleep in the midst of all the marvelous things in the magical glory of her crafts room. For some reason I always sleep like a baby, which I never do at home. I dream of glue-gun waterfalls and tiny rivers made of blue glass chippings. And fairies.
So that’s our arrangement. Andra puts me up in grand style in the wondrous guest bedroom, and in turn I drive her to do her “big” grocery shopping and wherever else she needs to go—get her hair cut, pick up craft supplies at Michael’s, whatever. She buys groceries like a pioneer woman who never knows when she’s going to be able to make it in to town again. Sometimes I take the family, Andra’s daughter Heather and son-in-law Sam and their beautiful kids Clara and Ethan, out to dinner, or sometimes we go to Heather’s and Sam grills something yummy in the backyard. I used to heavily disapprove of people not driving. But I’ve gotten past that too. People take Andra places. You don’t really need a car when you’ve got people, and Andra has people. Like me, for one, and her daughter and husband who live about 20 minutes away, and her longtime friend Wanda.
She’s got everything she needs in her quaint country home, even a washer and dryer in an alcove at the end of the kitchen, hidden by hanging sheets she has cleverly transformed into attractive curtains.
She loves her life. She loves Stamp and Brian, and her plants and her crafts, and her books when she reads, and TV when she watches, and her grandkids whom she babysits once a week, and her daughter and son-in-law and her friend Wanda. Hopefully she loves me too. I used to worry she would be lonely when she first moved up there, but now I realize she’s not. She’s always busy doing something she enjoys. And I enjoy being in the midst of it. Maybe it’s me who’s lonely and I just don’t want to own that. But it’s sure not Andra. She’s never lonely, even the rare times when no one comes around for a while, because she’s always doing something she loves. And I love going there. It’s like living in a fairy garden for a couple of days.