Monday, November 23, 2015

Now That's One Tough Act to Follow

Thanksgiving week has always been one of my favorite times of year.  When I was in school or teaching, obviously the 5-day weekend was always nice.  I'm a huge college basketball fan, and "Feast Week," as it has been coined, has always provided a great jump start to the upcoming season.  There are great movies on TV all weekend long, and of course the chance to spend time with family while enjoying delicious food.  It's a great week all the way around.

My earliest memory of Thanksgiving came on November 23, 1989.  It was one of the rare occasions my sister Lensey's birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving Day.  I remember getting up to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, like we did every year, and like I still do to this day.  I remember watching Lensey open her birthday gifts before we left to spend the day with the rest of our family.  She got some yellow toy van (I've spent the last half hour trying to locate a picture of it online, but can't remember what line of toys it belonged to) and, because I was still young enough to warrant gifts on my sister's birthday, I got a couple of Police Academy action figures.  I don't remember anything else about that particular Thanksgiving, but those minute details have stuck with me every since.

Although I know I should do it all the time, this time of year always leaves me reflecting upon things that I'm thankful for.  I'm thankful for my parents; I'm thankful for their unending support and guidance throughout my life.  I'm thankful for my beautiful wife, and the sure-to-be beautiful daughter she's preparing to bring into this world.  I'm thankful for my job and my health and my dogs.  I'm thankful for lots of things...Even if I don't always think about the fact I'm thankful for them.  It just sort of goes without saying. 

But, today, that isn't the case.  Today, it isn't going without saying.  Today, I'm thankful for one very special thing:

My sister.

Despite the countless hours we spent arguing and destroying each other's toys (I guess a Raphael in four pieces is a fair trade for a headless Ken doll), Lensey was my first friend.  When I was a baby, she spent nearly every waking moment by my side, providing me with a never-ending source of entertainment.  As I grew older, she would organize games of "house" or "school" and let me join in the fun, where I was almost always the kid she bossed into chores or homework.

She helped foster a deep love for great music, like New Kids on the Block.  I remember a TV special she taped where each member got to play out a dream sequence (I think Danny got to play one-on-one against Michael Jordan), and I got to watch it 15 million times from 1989-1991.  She would let me sit in her room and watch her play Super Mario Brothers or Tetris, and she even let me listen to her read books before I was able to.  You see, I didn't mind being bossed around for those first few years...I just liked being able to tag along.

Even as we grew up and butted heads from time to time, I continued to learn new things from her on an almost daily basis.  I learned when dealing with Mom and Dad, sometimes it's best to just shut your mouth (although that one was more in theory than practice, for me).  I learned what a hard-working, well-rounded individual did on a daily basis.  I saw what true, unadulterated kindness looked and sounded like.  I felt the influence of one of the greatest role models anyone could ever hope to have.

Lensey is one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met in my entire life.  I've never seen her get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with anyone except me, and only because I know exactly how to push her buttons.  As many softball games as I saw her play, I never once witnessed her talk even a little bit of trash.  I could count on one hand the number of times I've heard her curse (three).  But I couldn't even begin to count the number of times I saw her be kind to someone else.  I couldn't begin to count the number of times I heard her say something complimentary to another person.  I couldn't begin to count the number of times I saw her laugh in the face of obstacles.  In a world that seems to pride itself on focusing on the negative characteristics of nearly everyone, it is a rarity to find someone that makes that practically impossible.  But, my sister does.

I've watched my sister succeed at virtually everything she's ever undertaken in her life.  She was voted class favorite in 1st grade.  She was a cheerleader, all-star softball player, varsity track letter-winner, field commander in the Marching Marshal band, and I'm not sure she ever spent a single day of her life grounded.  She had countless friends, sprinkled in from every conceivable walk of life.  She was a salutatorian in a graduating class of almost 300.  She won a partial scholarship at Murray State as a member of the rowing team.  She graduated with a degree in nursing in barely four years.  She's been incredibly successful in her professional career, given birth to two beautiful children, molded a house into a lovely home, and done it all with more grace and ease than most people can muster for just about anything.  Needless to say, she made life very difficult for a younger sibling trying desperately to follow her giant footsteps.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my wonderful sister for helping mold me into the man I am today.  And I can't wait to introduce her to my daughter, so she can have the same amazing influence that I did.  Happy birthday, Lensey!  I love you!