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A letter of gratitude to my favorite sister on being a hero.

By John Oliver SmithPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 11 min read

Dear Linda,

You may or may not know it, but you are my hero. You are the only remaining person on the planet that I have known for my entire life. That alone, constitutes a basis for being my hero. But I am not the only one in our family, or otherwise, who perceives you as a hero. You also have friends, neighbours, students and pets who justifiably worship you in that way.

Linda - you were my hero on my first day of school.

I cannot vividly conjure up many life memories from things that happened before I started school. So, even though I have known you for my entire life, I cannot consciously remember doing a lot with you before that fateful day when I first stepped into a Grade-school classroom. You and I posed (and I have a picture to prove it), in front of the old green Chevrolet while Mom snapped a photo with the little black box-camera, and Lyle no-doubt, looked on in shock as another one of his siblings was whisked away to a world which he yet knew nothing about. Because my entire school day was spent in and around a little cottage school across the street from your red-brick-castle of a school and your classroom somewhere inside of it, the only time I got to see you, was on the school bus on the way to, and on the way home from, school. I always looked on in great admiration and little-brotherly pride, as you conversed so gracefully and easily with the Gordie Joneses and the David Pottses at the back of the bus. I saw a side of you that I never saw at home. I couldn’t believe it was actually you. You made the whole affair of going to school look relatively easy. If it had not been for your casual and matter-of-fact approach to life on the bus, my stress levels could have easily exceeded a point where Mom would have had to chauffeur me, via car, to school every day. Since my entire school career was punctuated with bouts of high-state anxiety, you were definitely one of the reasons I ever made it through from start to finish.

When I got to Grade Two, I was able to move from the little cottage school on one side of the street, to the little cottage school on the other side of the street – the side of the street where you went to school. During my year in grade one, my regular classroom, at the stroke of Twelve o’clock, high noon, was magically transformed from a place of learning to the clatter of metal lunch boxes and thermos bottles and the smell of peanut butter sandwiches and over-ripe apples. My world was small in grade one. I never ventured further from my desk, during the whole day, than the wire fence outside, which served to help us reconsider any thoughts of bolting for freedom. In grade two however, our lunch breaks required us to line up in pairs and, carrying our lunch kits with us, march to the big red-brick school, which I had only ever seen from the outside, and then up the steps and down a long hallway, to what would later become my grade-six classroom, to eat or lunches. When I got to the threshold of the room, I gazed in to the sights and sounds of what seemed like hundreds of much older and wiser and cooler students, also eating their lunches. I panicked, and contemplated momentarily of running – where, I wasn’t sure. And then, I spotted YOU, Linda. My sister, sitting amongst her own school mates. Yours was the only familiar face in the room. And, as I bee-lined, with great haste, directly to your desk and sided my way into the desk-chair beside you, I could see that the contents of your lunch-kit were almost the same as mine. For the first time in that school-day, I felt safe, sitting there beside you. I didn’t even care that your friends laughed about me sharing your seat with you – a grade six kid. I didn’t even care that, after your red face and your embarrassment subsided, you continued your conversations with your girlfriends and not with me. It didn’t matter. I was safe. You made it easy for me because you were there. I remember though, that before you packed up your lunch-kit and left for the playground, you asked me if I wanted you to stay until I was done eating, which was a noble and courageous offer on your part, considering that I was the slowest eater of all our relatives, outside of maybe Uncle Harry. You eventually left and I finished up my lunch, alone in the room, with Mr. Metropolit behind the teacher’s desk, and with Tony Neufeld sweeping up bread crusts and apple cores from under the desks. Although almost 33 million moments have passed by in my life since those few moments sitting beside you in that desk, in that lunch room, they are still some of the most vivid and memorable in my life.

Many other moments during our school years left me feeling proud of what you did. I think I was given a lot of breaks from teachers because I was your brother. You were such an amazing student, that teachers automatically assumed that I would be the same. They were patient with my shortcomings because, it was bound to be only a matter of time until I “came around” and showed my full potential. Again, the work and effort that you put into school, made my life so much easier. I remember watching you during public speaking events and how wonderfully you spoke. I wanted to be like you. I wanted to be able to speak in public like that. I didn’t want to be shy anymore. I wanted to be like how I imagined you were. I wanted to win those little bronze medals as well.

A role model for all of us

When I was graduating from grade eight into High School, I got sick and missed the first month of my freshman year. You had just graduated from High School and had to worry about starting University. That didn’t stop you from talking to my teachers (who had, of course been your teachers), and getting them to hand over books and lessons for me to catch up with my work. You also eased my transition into high school by letting the seniors in school know about me and my situation. I have always been grateful to you for that. Again, school was always stressful for me. I maybe never showed that but it was and, I am forever thankful for the part you played, here and there, along the way to make it so much less so.

In my first year of University, I enrolled in an English course, in which I had to analyze a poem by Leonard Cohen. The poem, of course, was “Suzanne” and I was quite familiar with it because it had been recorded as a song just before that, and had received quite a bit of air-play on the radio. Even though I knew all the words and was able to sing along with it, I had no idea what the poem was about. I remember how you explained it all to me one weekend, when I was home from university and you were back from teaching in Strasbourg. I not only 'got' your analysis and explanation, but I was able to repeat it a few days later in my university class, to impress my class-mates and my instructor with my new-found knowledge of it.

Lyle, John & Linda

I recall our times at home, living in that little house across the road from the main farmyard. I remember coming out of our bedroom on the morning that our dad had died. You were sitting on the red step-stool by the archway into the living room and you were trying to be so brave and trying not to cry – trying to be there for mom when she had to break the bad news to Lyle and I. You have no idea how much our family needed you and looked to you for some sense of calm and normalcy in our lives at that time.

You had an RCA Victor record player in your bedroom. You were the epitome of ‘cool’ in my mind. We listened to Johnny Cash sing “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” and Elvis Presley’s “Teddy Bear” a million times at least and the records that you bought and played for Mom and Lyle and I, and for the Murdock kids and the Penrose kids, influenced our love of music forever. I think that listening to music has gotten me through some of the worst (and best) moments of my life to this point. I owe my start in that direction to you Linda. Without hearing a steady diet of Presley, Cash, Pat Boone and Sal Mineo, I don’t think I would have learned to love music the way I do today.

You were always such a brilliant and immaculate home-maker. I am sure that you would credit Mom and Auntie Hazel and maybe Auntie Jean for having a lot to do with that, but you took what they knew and did, far above and beyond their levels of expertise. I remember watching you do 4-H Homecraft Club presentations in the Odd Fellow’s Hall at Achievement Days and under the Exhibition Grandstand at the Fair. You were my hero for the way you were able to explain how to pattern a skirt or prepare a meal. I was so proud of you, the way you captured an audience with what you knew how to do. I always wanted to be an expert on something because of you. Then you went to work for Auntie Hazel and Uncle Ben, cleaning and cooking. You made getting a job seem manageable. I have had a lot of different jobs in my life and I have always been confident that it is easy to get one, mostly because of how natural you made it seem.

Over the years, you have saved me by lending me things, like your car (Tina the Cortina) or your money. I wasn’t ever as good at planning ahead as you have been, and I often got myself into situations which found me short of the resources I needed to maintain the life-style to which I had become accustomed. You were always there to bail me out, without any questions asked or without batting an eye. I remember coming home late one morning, after having used the Chrysler (with the light-gold fabric seats) to go on a date. One of the passengers in the car had way too much to drink (red wine I think) and they threw up in the back seat. I was beside myself with the fear of thinking that I would never again be allowed to use the family car and that I would be relegated to a lifetime of cleaning barns and feeding pigs. When I got home, I knocked on your bedroom door and woke you up and told you the whole story. The sun wasn’t up yet and it was only just getting light out. You came outside in your pyjamas and looked at the mess. You remained calm and suggested that I change into my barn clothes and go immediately out and feed the pigs and clean out the barn before Mom and Uncle Harry got up. I always admired your brilliance in the idea-department so I went into the house and changed clothes. When I came back out, you had already started to clean the seats in the car. When I came back in from the barn a couple of hours later, you had finished the job and there was no trace that anything had ever happened, and, you were already back in bed, sleeping, until noon, so that no one would suspect anything. You were like an angel, sent from heaven to save me. You were like Harvey Keitel in “Pulp Fiction”. You knew just what to do and you did it with so much matter-of-factness that it all stuck in my head forever. In fact, from that time on, I would keep a set of barn clothes in the trunk of the car or up in the loft of the barn, so that I could change quickly and do the chores before anyone was up, on the mornings I came home very, very late. I also owe that life-saving practice idea to you. You taught me well, oh sister of mine.

Teacher of children!!!

You, of course, became a 'teacher of children'. I have always been proud of you for that. You made it look easy and you always seemed so joyful and happy about doing it. Your students loved you and you got a chance to make a difference in your school and your community through being in the classroom and through coaching and being a supporter of kids and adults. You will forever be an important chapter in the life of William Derby and of Strasbourg. All of your treatment of, and responses to, the teaching business, swayed my thinking to return to school and become a teacher myself. You made it look like fun – I wanted to do that. You were my hero. I wanted to be like you. Your life seemed good and complete. You found Larry, who has been as much a part of our family as anyone ever has and you guys have always been happy. You built a new house. You had a cottage and a boat and you seemed to be making some money. You have always had a knack of making life look good and because of the way you approach things, you give everyone around you, immense feelings of hope and inspiration. That is what you have always done for me.

Patti, John, Linda & Larry

The only regrets I have ever had regarding our brother-sister relationship, is that I sort of lost touch with you when I moved away from Saskatchewan, and that’s on me. I feel bad that I wasn’t there when you were going through your fight with cancer and I am truly sorry that I wasn’t there with you (and Lyle) when mom passed away. I always wanted to talk to you afterward, about how all of those things made you feel. I think I maybe know how you are though. You sort of put things away and you are able to hide your feelings about things so as to protect everyone else around you. I didn’t want to reopen any wounds for you about either your illness or about Mom. So, I never brought them up the way I should have. Regardless of all that, I just want to make sure you know how much you mean to me and how much I love you. I know that everyone else in the family feels the same as I do. The situations I mention in this letter are only a few of the countless examples of the reasons why I feel this way. . With all of the people you have touched in your life, you no doubt have hundreds and hundreds of others who share these feelings with us. Thanks for doing what you have done and for doing what you do and for being who you are. You are truly a hero and a guiding light for all of us. (A++)

Lots and lots of love,

Brother John


About the Creator

John Oliver Smith

Baby, son, brother, child, student, collector, farmer, photographer, player, uncle, coach, husband, student, writer, teacher, father, science guy, fan, coach, grandfather, comedian, traveler, chef, story-teller, driver, regular guy!!

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