I’m not sure how I stumbled on the form of the play, but I loved it as soon as I found it. As a shy, gawky, unathletic kid in a family of jocks, I loved escaping into books more than anything else, and the Saratoga library was easily my favorite place. In a small brick building crammed with tall, dark wooden bookshelves, I felt safe and transported to someplace where I wouldn’t be teased for my weirdness, both physical and social.
I quickly exhausted the section of children’s plays; it was small anyway, and most of the plays were, even to my 7-year-old brain, on the stupid side. One anthology that I checked out over and over had a stage version of A Little Princess that went by the name of Sara Crewe. I would read all the parts initially, but always ended up with myself as Sara, noble and strong in the face of adversity. But there were only so many times I could read that, and no one to read it with. And then, one day while reading Little Women, it hit me; I can still remember feeling a little breathless at the discovery. Four sisters: the oldest caught up in parties and being the oldest, the second a coltish tomboy, the third a shy beauty who played the piano, and the fourth the artistic one accused of being spoiled. Other than Jo matching my second sister a bit uncannily, the other 3 were a bit of a stretch. But to my fevered young mind, it was a perfect fit. I diligently began transcribing the novel into script form on a yellow legal pad, getting to chapter 3 before giving up because honestly, my brother was not going to make a satisfactory Laurie.
But I still went back to Little Women time and again until I was about 12, switching off between Jo and Amy, the best parts. I tried to draw for a while to make the connection a little less tenuous, but it soon became patently clear that Jo was the favorite and got the most lines.
Over time, though, the parallels been the four sisters have echoed occasionally in my head. Like Amy, I got the trip to Europe and an altogether easier life thanks to my parents being older and in better shape financially as I grew. Like Jo, my second sister is a great mother, still a bit of tomboy, and basically gets things done. The oldest sister/Meg connection has never been particularly strong, but mainly because Meg was always shafted by Louisa May Alcott in the personality department, not something that can be said of my oldest sister. But Beth, like Sis 3, stays a homebody, with no big ambitions other than being around people she loves.
For the last 2 years, there has been another, unfortunate coincidence: Sis 3 has struggled with miserable health. Early this week, news of a potentially fatal development came; the outlook has since brightened somewhat, but nothing is certain yet. I have long accepted that, as the youngest, I am likely to bury most if not all my siblings, which really sucks, but, well, that’s just logic. And since spouse 1’s death, I have been extremely grateful that each passing year has gone by without some ugly spectre being raised. But now, I can’t say that any more. I can see and feel my age more all the time. This week, I realized that aging is not just feeling creaky and sluggish in the morning and watching various body parts go south. It’s realizing that, when the people you love most are older than you, they’re going to leave you at some point, and it may not be far in the future.
For now, as said, things are looking a little better than they were a while ago. All this is happening at a time when I can actually afford to visit California more than I ever could have in the past. But I would be lying if I didn’t wish, fervently, that I lived down the street from her. I wish that anyway. For now, as we say, we’ll always have Slumdog, which we saw together on my last trip out there and which I dragged the spouse to today. I wanted him to see it because I love the movie and I love him. But it also makes me feel extremely close to Sis 3.
We’ll muddle through, L, one way or another. I promise.