Home > Personal > Sisters, yes, but not by blood (part 1/Deb)

Sisters, yes, but not by blood (part 1/Deb)

I’m notorious for my bad memory. Oftentimes, when I meet people whose names I ought–and clearly do not–remember, they smile encouragingly and say, “That’s okay. I’m a face person, too.”

I appreciate their kindness in assuming I have to be good at remembering something, but it’s at this point I say, “Oh, no. I don’t remember those, either.”

I have no photos of my Big, but I treasure this picture of my first Little

Try as I might to remember all the details of my involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, most of them are lost to me. I can’t remember, for example, whether I was in third grade or fourth grade all those Wednesday afternoons I ran the couple of miles from my school to my Big Sister’s small apartment bordering the University of Oregon campus. I can’t recall why we stopped one of our craft-making sessions to enter the bowels of the strange, man-filled cavern she called a “fraternity,” where I clung to her like we were actually livingΒ The Exorcist. Also lost to me is what exactly I did with a pair of socks she loaned me on a rainy afternoon, cautioning me not to lose them because they held sentimental value for her. I don’t remember why this was, but I do remember her reaction when I told her I’d lost them.

My early experiences taught me bad news would often be greeted with violence, so it was hard gathering the courage to tell her. I still didn’t quite get what “sentimental” meant, but I knew it meant something was important. Which meant losing them would mean Bad News. If nothing else, she wouldn’t want to be my Big Sister anymore.

She was sad when I told her. I waited for her crushing response to my bad news, but instead found only a gentle smile. “That’s OK. I probably shouldn’t have expected them to come back.” Seeing my own heartbroken expression at this statement, she smiled wider and told me it wasn’t because she expected me to be bad, but that I was a little kid and losing things was something little kids excelled at.

A few months later, she graduated and moved. We kept in touch via snail mail for several months, but I eventually lost her address and wasn’t able to reply to her last letter.

Over the years, I’d think of how much I loved my time with my Big Sister. Most of the memories became a little frayed, then threadbare, then entirely dissolved, but the accumulated joy of my afternoons with her remained. I vowed I’d become a Big Sister myself someday. I thought about this vow often as my 18th birthday neared. It was always fairly non-commital: Yeah, I’ll totally get around to that. Someday. But it’s a long bus ride. And I’m just so, so busy!

When I was 19, I worked at the YMCA. During that time, the local Big Brothers Big Sisters lost much of its funding and opted to join forces with the local YMCA to keep operating. The more I interacted with its small staff, the more I felt like a tool for not having applied yet. For pete’s sake, they’re just upstairs, Deb! Get it together!

Eventually I did. Before too long, I was getting into the director’s beaten-up truck to meet my potential Little. He was saying something about how a lot of people were anxious they’d be rejected by their would-be Littles, but that he’d never once seen such a thing. Still, I asked him, “Well, what if? Say she doesn’t? Just for planning purposes . . .”

Eugene’s a lot smaller than Los Angeles, so neither the drive nor our conversation was long.

There’s much I don’t remember about that meeting. What I do remember is my new Little Sister, who didn’t reject me but instead asked, “Wanna see my room?!”

So much to smile about after a fully clothed dip in the ocean

Twelve years later, that Little Sister remains a beloved part of my life. I occasionally peek at the journal Amelia and I shared during the last few months of our “official” match. I grin as I read entries recounting our reading The Neverending Story together and our trips for Peppermint Stick frozen yogurt with gummi bears on top. I giggle at her frequent tribute to Justin Timberlake.

Since we first became Sisters, I’ve moved to Los Angeles and Asia. Twice, in both cases. Β Amelia has graduated from elementary, middle and high school, and is preoccupied with thoughts of J.T. no longer! Our relationship is more complex than it was when we were both younger and less busy, but it remains a source of joy and inspiration.

Being a Big Sister has been a blessing. I wonder if my Big Sister feels the same, all these years later. Does she remember me? Does she have any idea how much her patience and encouragement meant to me? I hope so.

We may never speak again, but the conversation doesn’t have to continue in the present for her impact on my life to continue into it. Indeed, almost every time I hear the word “sentimental,” I smile and wonder what my Big Sister is doing these days. I may not know what exactly she’s up to, but if she had her way, she’s not only practicing but rocking medicine now.

The commitment Big Brothers Big Sisters requested was once a week, most weeks, for one year. Occasionally I think on this and marvel that from such a small commitment such abundant, lifelong joy may flow.

I may not have the greatest memory, but those feelings? They’re the kind the stick with a girl through the decades, no matter what else she may forget, or remember.

Things are different than when we were first Sisters, but I daresay they're better!

* * *

Read Amelia’s post here!

  1. June 20, 2011 at 5:56 am

    Sounds like a great idea, being an old child myself I would have liked a big sister!

  2. June 20, 2011 at 10:09 am

    12 yrs later… What a wonderful testament to the Big Brother/Big Sister program, Deborah.

    • June 20, 2011 at 11:52 am

      The consistency and predictability of that positive influence, week after week, left such an impression on me. I remember the first time Amelia said, “I’m going to be a Big Sister someday, too!” I barely suppressed tears as I thought how good it was to know–through that sweet comment–I had to be doing something right! At that point, it was still much easier for me to see everything I was doing wrong than even the possibility I might be doing something right. Now I’d say I’m a little more realistic, so I’d say I probably do at least one thing right for every hundred I do wrong. πŸ˜‰

  3. June 20, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Oh Deb, you need to find her! What a wonderful story. Have you tried looking her up online? Seriously, I think it would really touch her to know that her mere presence had a positive impact on your life. And I think it’s wonderful that you’ve stayed in contact with the little sister. I think positive relationships, no matter where they come from, should be maintained if possible. There’s not nearly enough of them to go around, so when we find one it’s wise to keep a grip on it.

    • June 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

      I’ve tried to find her, but her name occurs so many hundreds of times in Oregon alone–never mind the possibility she’s married and changed names!–that I’ve gotten a headache every time I’ve tried. Maybe I should try again and see if my ever-increasing search skills lead to better results? It’s been at least a year or two since my last search! I’d love to see not only what she’s up to, but to see how this image of early-20s her that’s locked in my brain compares to what she looks like now. πŸ™‚

  4. June 20, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Excellent post, and moving as well. It sounds like the Big Brother/Sister programme is a really valuable initiative, and not just for the ‘little’ side of the equation.

    • June 20, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      It really is! My just-younger sister Rache and I always used to get into arguments about which of us was luckier. Was it her, because she had me to look up to and inspire her? Or was it me, because her belief in me inspired me to believe I could actually do–and then actually do!–some of the stuff she thought I could? One of the many joys of being a Big is feeling inspired to be the person your Little sees you as. It’s a beautiful thing to be thus inspired, so I feel equally lucky to have been a Little and a Big!

  5. June 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

    That’s so cool that you gave back like that. I’ve always wanted to do the Big Brother, Big Sister program.

    • June 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      If there’s any way you can swing it, I’d urge you to do it! Before I signed up, I thought about alllll the time I’d have to devote to it. Then I found myself at the end of each weekly meeting going, “Where the heck did all the time go?” I was fairly young and distracted, so there were times I didn’t devote my total attention to her, a fact I ruminated on this weekend. She looked at me, surprised, and said, “I don’t remember that at all!” That’s another joy of being a Sister–getting to be reminded there’s so much more than the little things you did wrong! True for mentoring, and true for life πŸ˜€

  6. June 20, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Oh my goodness this is soo inspiring! In fact it is now safe to say that every time I visit your blog I get inspired πŸ™‚ I just loved the way you said ‘…the conversation doesn’t have to continue in the present for her impact to continue into it’ So true and so beautifully put. People are very powerful in a positive way aren’t they? Really really enjoyed this and learning all about the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Programme.

    • June 21, 2011 at 5:40 am

      In fact it is now safe to say that every time I visit your blog I get inspired
      THANK YOU! This is pretty much the most wonderful comment I’ve ever received. There was a turning point somewhere where I decided it wasn’t nearly as important to be all the things I listed in my bio as future professions as it was to hopefully be an inspiration. Truly. That’s how we live on after our bodies pass away, something I understood in the abstract before my mom died but which I understand more completely now. ♥

      People can be so powerful in a positive way! I actually wrote up my draft Thursday entry, which is a reflection–in part–on the intersection of power and positivity (or real power as I perceive it), so it was funny to revisit this comment and wonder if maybe it didn’t play a role in that. πŸ™‚

  7. June 20, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Such a neat story and I love the pictures–such nice smiles! I’m glad you had a wonderful weekend and that you’re still a part of each other’s lives. πŸ™‚ I agree with everyone else that you should try to contact your Big. Would her info be in old B&G records somewhere?

    On a side note, whenever I hear the terms “Big” and “Little” I instantly think of the the movie Role Models! πŸ™‚

    • June 21, 2011 at 5:43 am

      I just did a search for “B&G records” in the hopes I could figure out what they were before commenting, but all I came up with was an actual record label! Help? πŸ™‚

      I haven’t seen the movie Role Models yet. Shall I take this as a recommendation?

      • June 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm

        You should definitely see Role Models. Jane Lynch is HILARIOUS in it!!

        I think the thug on your blog wearing the 3D glasses records for the B&G label!

        I know it would cost a little money, but what about one of those people search websites? If she hasa really common name, you might be able to narrow down your search by looking at ages and addresses. (I swear that I don’t know this from being a stalker in a former life. I swear) πŸ™‚ .

  8. June 20, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    This is a very inspiring blog! I am currently searching for an organization to volunteer at and after reading your post, will strongly consider this one. I was the youngest child of 3 and always wanted to be a big sister! Thank you for posting this and don’t give up trying to find your “big sister!”

    • June 21, 2011 at 6:10 am

      Oh, crikey! I thought I’d posted my response to this comment, but I saw the odd number of comments and realized one of ’em didn’t post. Drat! I thin the long and short of it was (1) I am so grateful to be part of something inspiring and (2) I hope you’ll give it a shot. My county’s branch had regular Q&A meetings for folks who were curious, so if your branch has similar, it might be an excellent thing to attend!

  9. June 21, 2011 at 12:33 am

    I have a book that I bought when I was about eight called “Big Brother” and it’s about the program. It does an amazing job of showing this little kid’s sadness and the way he quickly comes to depend upon his Big. It’s a beautiful book, and ever since I discovered that Big Brothers Big Sisters is a real thing, I’ve wanted to be in the program.

    Thank you for sharing this, Deb – you’ve inspired me to actually seek out the program when I go back to school :).

    • June 21, 2011 at 6:05 am

      I just did a LibraryThing search to add this to my to-read list. I found a bunch of matches. Is it fiction or non-fiction? I was looking for non-fiction, but I see a fiction book by Charlotte Zolotow that might be the one. πŸ™‚

      My sister and brother had Bigs that quit early. It was hard to witness when there’d already been so much leaving. It made me appreciate all the more that, no matter how many people left, there were some who really were committed to staying.

      And, woo-hoo! you’ve inspired me to actually seek out the program when I go back to school
      I woke up feeling a little grumbly, so seeing this comment–and a couple other references to inspiration–were just the reminder I needed that it’s not these fleeting feelings that matter. It’s what we do despite the feelings. They are, after all, just feelings. πŸ˜€

  10. June 21, 2011 at 3:56 am

    Great photos… I’ve always admired the big brother/sister program. They do such good in the larger community … Great story. πŸ™‚

    • June 21, 2011 at 6:07 am

      They really do! Every time I read about a bit of research demonstrating the impact of Big Brothers Big Sisters and like groups, I smile and think, “This is a case where I don’t need the research to know the truth.” πŸ™‚

      As I post this comment, BBBS has just “liked” the link of this article I posted on its Facebook wall. Woo-hoo! With that, it’s time to rustle up the little one and greet the best part of my day. ♥

  11. June 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    What an inspiring post! I have not been a Big Sister through the program, but I was a mentor through the Puente program–which matches students new to college with mentors. Great experience but only a tenth of what you report. Teh relationships you have so carefully cultivated are terrific. The legacy of giving and caring you report is delightful.

    Could the Big Sisters organization help you track your former big sister? I would think they have records and would like to be able to share such a story on the power of the service! Maybe bow that they have “liked” your psot, they could help.

    • June 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      I asked my childhood branch if they could help some years ago. I remember they had reservations–but not what those reservations were! As a contracts person, I can imagine what some of them might be, but imagining and knowing are two different things . . . so I emailed my query a few days ago. I really would love to find my Big again, if such were remotely possible. πŸ™‚

  12. June 21, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks for this great post. Amelia is so lucky to have you as a Big Sister! I love your posts.

    • June 27, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      It took me a few days to get to this, but . . . your comment was the epitome of “short and sweet.” I was and remain so touched by your words. Thank you. ♥

  13. June 22, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Your heart is so big. I remain inspired by your stories. You have to find your Big Sis and perhaps when the timing is just right, you will. Now that will be an amazing sequel. How about checking the alumni records of the school she attended? And the BB-BS records for Eugene?

    • June 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      I’ve emailed them asking for assistance (if that’s something they’re able to provide), but I’m definitely going to pursue finding her even outside that! I won’t be able to give it much time, but perhaps even a few moments here and there will lead me further than zero minutes anywhere. i certainly have my fingers crossed! Also, it hadn’t crossed my mind to check alumni records, so that’s something I’m definitely going to look into. πŸ™‚

  14. June 22, 2011 at 11:02 am

    This is so beautiful. You made me think about the very first students I ever had when I taught English as a second language. I wonder obsessively about where they ended up. Amelia is lucky to have you as a Big Sister. I think it is wonderful that you have remained involved in this program. I know it is huge commitment. πŸ˜‰

    • June 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      I wonder that a lot about my Japanese students! I wish I had any of their contact information, or that the fellow teachers had responded to emails after I left. I’ve forgotten a lot of names, but so many faces remain clear. The feelings, too, remain clear. There were so many sweet moments and sad ones alike, with kids whose lives I hope have been kind to them since.

  15. July 1, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Hi! Found this blog while just browsing around for pages on the Big Sister/Little Sister relationship, esp looking for the perspective from the sisters themselves. I loved reading your story! πŸ™‚ I started being a Big Sister 7 months ago, and love it. Part of it’s selfishness, because it allows me to be a kid again. I get to play again, LOL! πŸ˜‰ Plus, I do hope I can make a difference in her life like you did with your Little, and like your Big did for you. Thanks for sharing! πŸ™‚

    • July 5, 2011 at 4:30 am

      It’s awesome that you’re a Big Sister! I’m glad to read “Part of it’s selfishness,” because it really is a bidirectional win. πŸ˜€

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