I was thirteen in the summer of 1984. My sister Kit had been living away from home since September 1977. My dad, Kit's step-father, got a job sixty miles south of our home. Instead of wasting money on gas for the commute, he decided to move our family closer to his work. One month after I started first grade. Kit's senior year of high school. Instead of uprooting herself from her extensive network of friends and her plethora of after-school activities, Kit stayed with my aunt while our mom, my dad, our sister Jenny, and I moved away.
We also left behind our brother Pat. He was just barely a sophomore in high school when we left him to stay with our mom's dad who was himself orphaned at age eleven. Fortunately our grandfather taught Pat how to work with his hands because he failed to teach him the importance of getting up in time for school.
Kit finished not only high school but college. She's the only one of my siblings with the tenacity to make it through college algebra.
The summer of 1984 Kit came to stay with us for a few weeks before her wedding. Her apartment lease was up and she didn't want to move in with her fiancee. That could wait til after marriage. So she stayed with what was left of our ever-shrinking family, our mom, my dad, and me. Jenny had long ago moved out and was planning her own wedding to be held later that summer.
I was at home alone when Kit first arrived. She brought her suitcases inside. I got her a glass of water, feeling big. Like it was my own home and I was the hostess. But then I felt secretly embarrassed that I was still playing pretend at age thirteen. It just felt so good to release my mind for awhile, a respite. To be not-here.
Kit came into the living room. I handed her the glass of ice water. We sat together on the couch for a long time. Talking. I don't remember about what. Probably about things that seemed so important at the time: endless, anxiety-provoking wedding preparations, unrequited crushes on boys at my school. Things long ago forgotten while only the happy memories remain.
Like this one. Kit's glass of water, sitting in a pool of its own sweat, sat empty on the end table next to her. She sat cross-legged on the couch. I, therefore, also sat cross-legged on the couch. I idolized my older sister. She had been like a mother to me during my formative years. When I was even younger, before she moved in with our aunt, I used to watch Kit at the dinner table and try as best I could to hold my fork the way she held hers, to take a bite of whatever food she was eating too.
We sat together on the couch, giggling. Soon we were laughing so hard we had to remind ourselves to breathe. The sides of my cheeks hurt from smiling.
What instigated our communal laugh-fest was not pot, as you might suspect from two sisters coming from a family of dysfunction. It was another frequently used recreational drug preferred by many survivors of bad decisions and unintentional mistakes: humor.
My sister gets my sense of humor. That's the first time I remember thinking it. Feeling validated. As we sat on the couch together before our mom and my dad would get home from work. Watching "The Andy Griffith Show" on a late-afternoon rabbit-ears TV.
"Can you whistle the theme song?" Kit elbowed me and began trying herself. She barely got through the first bar without laughing.
As it turns out, no, neither of us can whistle the theme song to "The Andy Griffith Show". It is simply impossible to get through the whole thing without laughing. It's like trying to lick your own elbow. Only people freakishly void of a sense of silliness can perform such a feat. They must have a dislocated funny bone.
So today when I heard Andy Griffith passed away, I smiled. What a tribute to a person's life that their death makes someone smile. Not that I'm glad to see him go. But when I think of Andy Griffith, I associate him with that afternoon with my sister, laughing, despite our struggles. Over the silliest thing. It's the small things that help us remember how wonderful life is if we pay attention to it.
And isn't that what was so special about Griffith's fictional life in Mayberry? His character was a widow. He worked with an annoying deputy. His neighbors were nosy. But through those obstacles Griffith showed us how wonderful life could be.
And so, I dedicate this video to Andy Griffith, and to my sister Kit. May I present to you, cockatiels whistling "The Andy Griffith Show" theme song: