Past the picking on me and her annoyance at having to "watch" us while my parents worked (which was always) and have me tag along when she didn't want a little kid underfoot, my sister was my unsung guide. She was always there offering help, steering me gently, guiding my direction, and cheering me on.
Donna was a master at gift-giving. She was always on the lookout for something that would please somebody else. When she died her house was filled with "gifts." Her gift closet spilled over into a room, into the garage, under her bed, and cramming the tops of every closet.
Another time, in 8th grade I was going to my first dance and Donna took me to this very swanky, hip boutique clothing store, Sealfon's. This was when the very concept of a "boutique" store was in its infancy. I remember how shocked I was at the store's interior — so completely unlike the department stores (Alexander's or Korvette's) where we shopped — there were tabletop displays and mannequins and birdcages draped with jewelry and it was like being in a small museum of sorts where everything was so interesting to look at that I could hardly see the clothes! It was Donna who found and bought the dress with its white stand-up princess collar and long sleeves, empire waist tied with a fuchsia grosgrain ribbon (grosgrain was big back then) and then a short and full stiff cotton chocolate brown bottom striped with white. I know, it sounds pretty awful but at the time it was smashing in a Carnaby-Street-Mod way, and looked great on me.
Though I didn't know it at the time, Donna was giving me far more than the clothes — she was giving me the confidence to face the unknown in places I didn't feel I belonged.
It was to be the pattern of our relationship for the rest of her life — she would always be supplying me with what I needed, whether it was the remnant piece of carpeting for my first studio apartment or the expensive spices I couldn't easily find or afford once I moved down south. A box would arrive in the mail and inside would be all the things she thought I could use or would like. (And she was ALWAYS right.) A beautiful piece of pottery. An outfit or two for the kids. Five bottles of ground coriander. A gorgeous box for storing things in. A picture frame that proclaimed "Love To Shop!"
But more than all the material things, more than the objects was the absolute unconditional love and support she showered on me through every one of my life's transitions.
Whether it was trying to get a boyfriend, going off to college (first in my family), starting a new job, getting my own apartment in Manhattan, finally getting married or becoming a mom and feeling overwhelmed with twins — Donna was ALWAYS there cheering me on, giving me advice, laughing about the challenges, commiserating about our screwed-up family, and kicking me in the butt when I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with it.
I was lucky to have her in my life for 50+ years and it's only since she's been gone that I've come to know how much harder and lonelier my life is without her.
Hidden in my freezer, on the top shelf of the door, behind another package of something, is this bottle of ground coriander. It's the last of the stash my sister sent me, probably eleven or twelve years ago, long before she was bedridden. I never plan to use it. I just like having it there. Despite the distance in time and space, when I'm missing her the most, I can open the door, reach inside and feel the gift of her love.