I don’t know how I could write about influences in my life without talking about my older sister, Pam. We are actually less than a year apart – good Irish twins! Since we are so close in age, we basically grew up as best friends. Almost all of my very early memories include Pam. We did almost everything together. Even our first friends were kids from the family kitty corner from our house. Pam’s friend was Cindy. The lore is that Cindy was also my first love. Though Pam was one grade ahead of Cindy and me, she was probably closer to Cindy (thus me) than to Cindy’s older sister. Cindy had a younger brother, Tommy, who I started to hang around with as well. So though we were playing with neighborhood friends, Pam and I basically still hung out together.
Pam was almost always the “good” kid. I was the one who always seemed to get in trouble. I do remember, though, when we both got our mouths washed out with a bar of Disney’s Snow White soap after we called each other “poopey.” Poopey was our favorite swear word, though I’m not sure where it came from. Maybe it was us making fun of our little brother Jon’s dirty diapers! Anyway, any time our Mom caught us calling one another poopey, we got the soap. I remember Pam saying poopey an awful lot, but it seemed that I ate a lot more soap than Pam!
For a while we slept together in the same room and the same bed. Like all close siblings we took baths together. Over time we graduated to separate twin beds and then I got a room all of my own. We played all the games, told stories, and did all the things that little kids do. I looked up to Pam even way back then as my elder. She was my best friend. I remember Mom having to tell us to stop talking and go to sleep. We just whispered instead! Sometimes, we would even creep down and try to peek into Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Occasionally their door would be locked and we would giggle.
One particularly funny story occurred when I was in the fourth grade. Pam was in fifth. (perhaps Pam won’t think this so funny!). Anyway, we were both relatively new to our school. Our previous school was a three-room schoolhouse, Desnoyer Park, with only K through 3. After third grade, we had to go to another school just over a mile away. So, I was a relatively new fourth grader at the “new” school when I got called to the principal’s office. I had no idea why. I got interrogated for over an hour about the “magazine” I brought to school and why I thought it was so funny. I kept objecting and claiming not to know what the principal was talking about. She was a mean lady and VERY large. She actually threatened to sit on me if I wouldn’t admit to what I did. The only problem was that I had NO IDEA what she was talking about. It ended up with me going home after my mom was called about her evil son.
Later that day, Pam confessed that it was she had brought a Playboy magazine to school that day. I truly had no idea. Yes, I vaguely recall that we had found a couple of magazines somewhere. Dad found us and told them that he had bought them for a client of his who was in jail. I guess we believed that story then, but that still didn’t excuse Pam for blaming her little brother for bringing the Playboy to school that day. From then on, I got the reputation in my new school class for being the class clown. So, what does a class clown do? Yup, get in trouble and make everyone laugh. From then on, I was nothing but a troublemaker at that school!
This is where I need to confess. Though Pam’s ill-fated curiosity landed in my lap, there were oodles more dumb things that I did that landed on her. I picked on her a LOT, but that never stopped me from wanting to be more like my big sister. Most of the time she either put me in my proper place or even more likely, quickly forgave me. It was the latter that provided a life lesson to an indolent and arrogant young boy. Forgiveness, I’ve learned, is one of the most difficult and important values one can exhibit, yet Pam practiced it as a young teen.
As we got older, we grew apart, as siblings often do. We had our own groups of friends. I think Pam did a much better job making new friends since she continually got involved in things like Girl Scouts and later, music. Pam stuck it out in the school band, unlike me, who quit after just a couple of years. Her dedication to this craft made her quite the musician. Her musical repertoire stretched from the tiny piccolo to the marching band tuba. I watched Pam succeed again and again. At first I thought she was just lucky latching on to things and doing well. Later I learned that all Pam’s successes were the byproduct of something else – practice and hard work!
Whether it was getting excellent grades, being an accomplished musician, keeping a clean and orderly room, learning to cook, being selected for a Rotary international youth exchange program, or otherwise getting recognized for this or that, Pam continually demonstrated to me the value of diligence and work. Unfortunately for me, I was much more interested in having fun and being lazy. This caused some distance between us, mostly because I was jealous of her successes.
We both started at the University of Minnesota at the same time due to Pam’s year abroad with the exchange program. At first, she was much more successful transitioning to the academic rigors of college, but I began to catch up when I finally figured out the need to put in the proper effort. Interestingly, Pam and I followed a similar curriculum and we shared a number of classes and professors. Almost by default, we started getting closer again. We played intramural softball and football together. Pam was pretty darn good – for a girl! She was also pretty tough. During her time in South Africa, she learned to play rugby. If a guy wasn’t ready for her block, he would find himself on the ground! She also carried the tuba in the University of Minnesota marching band. Quite a feat for a diminutive young lady. I became more proud of her than jealous.
After college, we both ended up moving far away from home. I was in Germany with the Army. Pam had married a man from Mexico and moved to Mexico City. Not surprisingly, Pam had done quite well for herself there. Before long, though, the draw to his hometown was not nearly as strong as Pam’s need to be closer to her family. She moved back to Minnesota. I wasn’t nearly as diligent, still living hundreds of miles away from family even today.
I could go on and on with the Pam’s life-long lessons to me. Just observing her actions demonstrates the great character traits she consistently teaches me (and others):
- Loyalty. Pam showed such incredible loyalty and diligence to her work with the Boy Scouts. During her time there I must have had a half-dozen different jobs. I recall various conversations about how it was not easy and times she felt under appreciated, but she always stuck with it.
- Thoughtfulness. Pam is definitely “old school” when sending cards and notes. I always receive birthday and holiday cards from Pam, but also receive notes out of the blue that may include a newspaper clipping, an old photo, or something else that made Pam think of me. That is obviously a testament to her always seeking ways to do for others and her love for family.
- Toughness. I already relayed the story above about her intramural sports career, but Pam has always been a fighter. My dad regularly told the story about when Pam almost died as a newborn. She had appendicitis as a newborn and required surgery the day she was born. The doctor told my parents that she would not survive the night. Well, she certainly did. I think that made her the apple of my father’s eye (at least until littler sis Jenifer came around!).
- Consistency. Pam is always there to help celebrate my achievements and activities, as well as those of Amy and my kids. Unlike me who has missed many, Pam is always there.
- Integrity. Pam never ceases to amaze me. Before she married Doug, she insisted that they receive “permission” from the Catholic Church. This also says a lot about Doug, a non-Catholic, to stick with her, but after years of petitions, interrogations, hearings, and who knows what else, Pam was finally granted permission to marry the “heathen.” Pam demonstrated integrity to her faith (and Doug to Pam). I think they both won on that deal.
I am not trying to embarrass my big sis for her great qualities (yes, I should have mentioned her humbleness as well), but she truly provided, and continues to provide, this younger brother more than a normal share of positive influences. Sure, she has her faults, but I don’t want to take anything away from HER story! Your turn, Pam.