July 11, 2021

ON BEING A HALF SISTER

It was always a bit disconcerting to be referred to as a half-sister or half-aunt.  After hearing that for several years, I decided I must be adopted!  Mother got out my birth certificate to show me that indeed I was their biological daughter.  The “half’ always sounded like something was incomplete, something missing.

My half-sister Tootsie was 19 when I was born, and less than two years later, she was a mother herself.  Our relationship over the years was generally a good one even if not very sisterly because of the age difference. This photo was taken about 1990 when we both happened to be in Nashville at the same time.  I’d come to visit Heather who was at Vanderbilt and she and a colleague had come to a state teachers’ conference.  We were staying in different hotels downtown and went out to dinner together one evening.  In the photo we’re standing in the lobby of the Union Station Hotel where she was staying.

No one could ever outdo Tootsie in generosity and friendships.  As a war widow with three sons, she had many financial challenges.  That never stopped her from small extravagances—both for her family and her friends.  She loved to drive a nice car, and as soon as hers was a year or two old, she’d trade it in for a new one.  She was a great cook and could never resist buying all the latest kitchen gadgets and small appliances.  She had every Southern Living annual cookbook ever published and a big collection of regional cookbooks.  She always gave expensive gifts and didn’t stop with one or two. Even if you knew she really couldn’t afford the gifts, she did make you feel pampered and special!

If you were one of Tootsie’s special friends, she literally would do almost anything for you.  When her boys were little, a neighborhood family she’d befriended moved to an Army base in the Northeast. They had three children and were overwhelmed with the move.  Tootsie got on a train with her three boys and went to spend a few weeks helping them get settled! Obviously, she put so much time and effort into helping friends that she usually focused on one at a time.

I admired her courage in going to college after her boys were in elementary school. It wasn’t easy for her—and I would sometimes help her with her homework! She thought being a teacher would be the best job for her.  She graduated from Tennessee Wesleyan College and had a long teaching career at City Park Elementary School in Athens.

Ours wasn’t a very typical sisterly relationship, but I’m grateful for Tootsie’s big heart!

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