I don’t have any Christmas memories of my aunt Sharon, at least not from the 1970s. Sharon is my mother’s younger sister—immediately after her in the birth order, but separated by seven years.
I think our family has an incredibly interesting generational structure. Grandma Christine had five children but spread them out over 21 years of child-bearing. Jerry was born in 1938, Olivia (my mother) in 1942, followed by Sharon in 1950, Debra in 1955, and Regina in 1959. Here is a family photo that Christine sent to Mildred, likely in about 1965. Grandma Christine is in the back, Jerry is on the left, Sharon is on the right, Regina is in the front, and Debra is grinning next to Sharon. (Pay no attention to the interloper in the middle wearing the headband.)
Christine became a grandmother for the first time (Christopher, 1964) when her youngest child had not yet entered school. She was a grandmother four times over before Regina entered middle school (me, 1965; Thomas, 1967; Jesse, 1970). But she had to wait another 16 years before being blessed with the next batch of grandchildren (Ross, 1986; Elena, 1987; Reed, 1989; Olivia, 1995) interspersed with great-grandchildren (Camden, 1989; Keana, 1991; Willa, 1998; Arlo, 2000; Emily, 2007.) Grandma Christine died in August of 2007, a couple of years before the birth of her second great-grandson: Chilton, 2009.
Back to the story:
In the summer of 1967, we came to Lacey to visit mom’s family and made a day trip to Point Defiance in Tacoma. I wish I could remember 17-year old Sharon giving me a piggyback ride through the rose garden.
Sharon came to visit us once or twice when we were still living in DC. We left in 1969 so she made those trips as a teenager. I wonder how she came—by train? plane?—and whether Christine and Johnnie had any reservations about letting her go. I think she came to visit in the summer of 1968 because here she is in our living room. I’ll bet she’d just graduated from high school.
We moved west in 1969 and landed in Seattle in September of 1971. In the early 1970s, when I was in elementary school and we were living on Capitol Hill, Sharon had an apartment nearby. I could swing by her place on the walk home from school and sometimes she would let me water her houseplants. She had one of those little brass misters for spraying the plants. I can remember working that little mister until my thumb and fingers cramped. She must have had a lot of house plants.
Sharon moved away soon after and didn’t visit home very often (if at all) so there’s a pretty big gap in my childhood memory when it comes to her. But then she came home again. I can remember distinctly when she came back for the first time. I would guess it was 1979 or 1980* because I was a teenager and Regina was living in Seattle by then. She and I went to the airport to greet Sharon and Regina regaled me with stories about Sharon on the way. When she got off the plane, I was surprised to see how little she was because she loomed large in my memory.
*One way to place this historically is that I know her visit followed the release of Rocky II (1979) because one morning she took the time to tell us the story of the whole movie over breakfast.
We sat, rapt, sausages held mid-air, while Sharon acted out each part (Rocky distraught, Adrien waking from a coma, Bill Conti’s soaring musical score, and Sharon as Rocky, bouncing around the kitchen as she trained with renewed vigor for her rematch against Apollo Creed.)
I love seeing Sharon when she comes to visit from Chicago and I like to marvel at how the young Sharon shows up in her daughters, Elena and Olivia. Both Elena and Olivia have Sharon’s beautiful brow and round head and both girls also have some of Sharon’s distinctive (lanky! graceful!) movement patterns, demonstrated in this picture, from 1967. (Yes, that’s me in the foreground but my favorite part is Sharon talking on the phone in the background. And that the picture captures, for posterity, those crazy praying hands Grandma kept on the piano.)
When I think about myself as a little girl misting those plants, I wish Sharon had never left. I wish she’d always lived down the street so that I could have dropped by her place whenever I wanted so that we could talk about books or music or so I could listen and watch while she retold other movies. Imagine how great her Saturday Night Fever would have been.
Offering: a plastic watering can in the shape of a baby elephant (a little bit broken.)