A boomer remembers the short life of her little sister

 
Whenever a baby boomer sends us a story with a twist of nostalgia, we’re suckers for it. So it is in this piece from Carol Schultz Vento of Palmyra, New Jersey. She’s a lawyer, an author, but most important in this case, a sister. And while it’s not a happy story she tells, she and her sister are Forever Friends.

I was in a cheerful mood as I walked into the card store that April day. My sister Rosemary’s twenty-second birthday was the next day. I wanted to give her the perfect greeting. One card beckoned with a bright red rose in the center and the inscription, “My Sister – My Forever Friend.”

Carol Schultz (r) with her little sister, Rosemary ... years ago.

Carol Schultz (r) with her little sister, Rosemary … years ago.

The sentiment was appropriate. We were the best of buddies despite our differences. I was brunette, she was blonde. I was shy and studious, she was outgoing and creative. We had supported each other during the years following our parents’ divorce. When our family shattered, I was eleven and she was seven. The split was contentious. We felt like each other’s port in the storm during the tumult of those years.

As we grew, Rosemary shadowed me. During my teen years she would constantly tease me about my boyfriends, until she grew into a lovely young woman with plenty of her own. We became especially close in our twenties and the age gap seemed to evaporate.

Her birthday was a time of celebration. 1973 was a happy time for both of us. The future seemed bright. Little did I know that her twenty-second birthday was to be her last.

Family Christmas in 1952.

Family Christmas in 1952.

When I next laid eyes on that card, I was in a despondent mood. Seven months had passed since Rosemary’s funeral. My beautiful little sister, so exuberant and full of life, had been tragically killed in an accident on November 22, 1973 – Thanksgiving night.

All I had left of my sister were memories and her small collection of artwork and writings. As I gazed sadly at the birthday card, an image of a collage came before my eyes. I collected photos of Rosemary with an emphasis on pictures of the two of us.

Rosemary Schultz in college at Temple University.

Rosemary Schultz in college at Temple University.

My centerpiece was the April birthday card with the single red rose and the words “Forever Friends.” The phrase seemed cruelly ironic. Our relationship would be forever immortalized in those still photographs of ourselves frozen in time as children, teenagers, young women, and then – nothing. My anger grew as I envisioned the future. Our relationship was not supposed to end like this. We should have grown old together.

Carol Schultz Vento

Carol Schultz Vento

However, as I slowly sifted through the remainder of her belongings, it seemed she was sending me a message. The last greeting card which she drew, decorated, and gave me on my birthday in October that year said, “Much love and many warm sunny days to a beautiful person – my sister and my friend.” I felt as if she were sending me her love throughout my life.

Photos and cards— tangible reminders of Rosemary— are important. However, when I think of her, I remember the intangibles, especially her zest for life. She lived each day to the fullest. I vowed to do the same.

My life has been more fulfilling because of my sister’s short presence on this earth. As Emily Dickinson wrote in her poem Life, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” My sister’s legacy to me is my hope in the resiliency and strength of the human spirit.

1 Comment

  1. As a result of our books written about our fathers, carol’s book, THe Hidden Legacy of WW II and mine Comes A Soldier’s Whisper, we are facebook friends. I am hoping to secure a joint interview with her, so that we may open the dialogue of how our father’s wartime experiences shape and mold us forever. I thought that I was alone on this path and was delighted to find Carol and her book.

    Regards,
    Jenny La Sala

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