by Marie Wilson

My Sister Terrill

She was named after a character in “West of the Pecos”, a Western novel by Zane Grey. There are big differences between the fictional Terrill and my sister. But of the former, a cowboy declares: “Yu’re the real stuff, Terrill.” And this too could be said of my big sister. Here she is, the real stuff and the real cute stuff, at age five –

When Terri was a teenager, I was an admiring little kid and she was my heroine: a track and field star, who won countless trophies and blue ribbons and accolades in the press, she of the dark brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. She also had a charming gap between her two front teeth which she eventually got filled. I still miss it. But gap or no, her smile could light up any stadium.

And when she became a young wife and mother, she was still my heroine – a beautiful woman with four beautiful babies. So many babies in her life! She now has ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild, all benefiting from her talents and love. Terri is a caregiver extraordinaire – here she is with great-granddaughter Anjali:

Here’s a story that I love: When Terri’s son Jon was in grade nine, he was enrolled in a new alternative program that was supposed to inspire learning in kids. But Jon was not inspired by the curriculum. Au contraire. So Terri went to the school one morning and had him taken out of the program. That same evening was parent/teacher night and she and Jon went to see the teacher. Terri instructed Jon to keep quiet, but she needn’t have, for the teacher dominated the meeting by listing everything she found bad about Jon. When she’d finished the litany of perceived failings, Terri asked her, “Do you have anything good to say about Jon?” The teacher replied: “No. I recommend Jon be removed from the program.” With steely resolve, Terri said: “I beat you to it. I had Jon taken out of your program this morning.” Then, affirmed in her decision to free Jon from this teacher’s clutches, she stood up. “Let’s go, Jon,” she said. And they walked out.*

That’s the kind of mom Terri was and is. And that’s the kind of person she is: keenly independent and not suffering fools gladly. If, on occasion you behave foolishly (as we all do), she’ll pour you a cup of coffee and make no judgments, but if your idiocy is constant and eroding, well, she might still pour you a cup of java or even a glass of wine but her heart would no longer be present.

She saved my foolish teenage ass a few times but offered no commentary nor lectures, just support and a cuppa and a few laughs after the fact. Here she is with our brother Dean whom she looked out for and loved (still does) just as much as those little kittens (maybe even more) –

All her life Terri has kept and cared for animals – dogs, cats, rabbits…and now chickens!  That’s Terri patting our beloved family dog Suzie (L to R: me, Dean, our sister Leah; I’ve no idea who those pirates are in the BG).

Terri probably got some practice for her role as mom by being a caregiver to her three younger siblings when we were small. Among other great capers, she led us on forest adventures where she taught us to make crowns from bright green ferns. In winter, she (along with Dean) hauled a sleigh-full of little sisters –

Terri had this amazing doll collection. Each doll was about 8” high and wore a costume from a different country or from the doll maker’s imagination. The big sister would kindly let the little sisters play with these dolls. My favourites were the Spanish beauty and the enchanting redhead who wore a gold Mata Hari costume.

My big sis sewed a beautiful dress for me for a grade 8 school dance: forest green with bell sleeves lined with satiny lemon-yellow. She gave me a strip of the lining so I could fashion a headband – it was 1967! Terri always gives the best gifts. One Christmas when I was a kid, she filled two tall decorative bottles with Smarties, tied ribbons around their necks, and gave them to Leah and me: endless candy in a green Genie bottle with a teardrop stopper!

Another Xmas, I unwrapped her present  to find a pink satin cushion with the Spanish doll sewn onto it, the black lace mantilla sweeping out across the shiny ruched fabric. Terri was always artistic, and when not running around the track, she was painting or drawing. Our family home displayed her youthful masterpieces on the walls.

Here’s a painting she did last year of her Australian granddaughters, whom she regularly flies across oceans to visit –

When her youngest child, Ron, was old enough, Terri enrolled in college and went on to become a social worker in order to help people. I can’t imagine having a nicer worker and used to wish she could be mine when I was a single mother myself. But I lived 3,000 miles away, still do. She’s in BC; I’m in Ontario. So she sends me snail mail, magical stuff – a fabulous hat she saw that had my name all over it, and more recently, a lovely wooden egg made from a favourite childhood tree that got cut down years ago.

Who else, I ask you, saves several rounds of wood from a beloved tree, then has it crafted into a few eggs for those who loved that tree, then sends it through the mail in the cutest little package, with a note saying: “Who knew maple trees could have eggs?”? My big sister, that’s who.

Here she is with her firstborn Bill and our Mom and our Grannie:

Terri has kept me apprised through the years of things happening back home. She even put my picture up in a relative’s hospital room once, so that my presence would be felt as the healing took place (successfully). I really appreciated that because it’s hard to be so far from a loved one knowing they’re playing chess with the grim reaper.

And I’ve witnessed Terri take care of plenty of ailing people (and pets) – like that time her daughter Leanne was so sick with pneumonia at age four. Terri kept vigil. She does all the usual things to bring healing to a body but also helps with recovery by telling the patient stories – often tales from their own lives that remind them of the good times when all seems far from good.

All through the years, Terri never once got mad at me – at least, not that I am aware of – that’s another genius thing I discovered about her: a capacity, for the sake of others, to not indulge in anger (this doesn’t mean she never gets angry; she does). And I never once felt angry with her. I don’t know how that can happen between siblings but it is our case.

Turn-of-the-century pic of me and Terrill –

There is so much more to say about Terri – I could write a book! It would be called “The Marvellously Terrific Ms.Terrill Marlow”. Yup, pardner, she’s the real stuff alright. And, she’s still my heroine.

***

Old photos are from the Wilson archives (thoughtfully maintained by Terri).

*Jon’s uninspiring teacher was fired later because so many complaints came in about her. Jon remembers: “The teacher was a very nasty lady, kinda like the principal from the movie ‘Uncle Buck’. I guess you could say mom played the part of John Candy pretty well.”

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