Marian, My Sister

We had plans for an evening out to listen to live music. My son was going to pick her up because she still wasn’t driving after her shoulder surgery in January. The three of us and other friends bought tickets weeks and weeks ago to see John Cowan in this small “listening room” venue in LaGrange.

My phone rang on Saturday morning. I knew she had not been feeling well this past week. I had tried to call and check on her a few times, but she wasn’t answering and wasn’t returning my messages. I didn’t think anything about it because she is one to turn off her phone for days and pick it up only when she wants to use it. There was nothing unusual about not hearing back from her.

So, the phone rang, and the caller ID said it was her. I answered.

“Well, it’s about time I heard back from you.”

The voice on the other end said, “This is Paul (my brother-in-law) and I’ve got bad news.”

My sister, Marian, passed away the night before.

No one is ever ready for that phone call. I think we live with a certain sense of what bad news means. We kind of know that at any time the phone could ring, and it could be something we’re not ready for; some piece of news for which there was no sense of expectation. We don’t live in fear of that call, but we always know in the back of our mind that one day, we’re going to answer our phone and it will knock our feet out from under us.

I’ve been the one who had to make that call on several occasions. I knew how hard this was for my brother-in-law. I called my wife when her younger sister died twenty years ago. I had to call my kids when Beth died. I got the call and had to tell my wife when her mother died. I had to call my sister when Dad died. There’s really nothing that prepares you for that moment regardless on which side of the call you’re on.

Marian was my big sister. It’s so strange to say “was.” We were three and a half years apart, close enough to grow up together, but far enough apart that we didn’t share many of the same growing up experiences. I was constantly outdoors playing in the barn or in the creeks or riding my bike down dirt roads. She stayed in her room reading books and listening to music. If she ever went down to the lake, it was to sit on the big rock and read. I honestly don’t know that she ever got any real gooey creek mud between her toes.

She read Little Women and Treasure Island and the Nancy Drew series. I rubbed lightning bugs on my face in front of the bathroom mirror to see if my face would glow in the dark like Indian war paint.

She kept a Blue Horse spiral note pad tucked in with the books on her shelf. It was full of numbers. I would sneak into her room and look at it, so I know this is true. She was keeping track of her money. Dollars and pennies she earned. Allowances. Birthday money from our grandparents. There were figures and dollar signs and plus signs and minus signs like a ledger, if I had known then what a ledger was.

Dad would sometimes say to me, “You could learn a thing or two from your sister. She knows where every penny goes.”

And this was true. I had no idea about keeping up with money. If Uncle Robert gave me a quarter for sweeping out the school bus, the next time I rode my bike by Eastside Grocery, that quarter was gone. I got an orange sherbet push up and a 6oz Co-Cola. I didn’t see any point in keeping track of numbers, and that was mainly because I had no numbers that needed to be tracked. If I had a penny left over, it usually fell out of my pocket and found a quiet life of its own under my bed.

One thing we did together, we listened to music. She got a Zenith Hi-Fi portable stereo for Christmas one year. We sat on the floor in her bedroom and played Creedence and Three Dog Night. I’m pretty sure we invented karaoke singing right there.

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.
Two can be as bad as one,
it’s the loneliest number since the number one. Ahhh.”

I always looked up to my sister. I don’t guess I ever told her that. When she went away to college down in Cochran, I went down to visit one weekend. She showed me around and introduced me to her cool college friends. I was just a peon high school sophomore. Skinny and with a bad case of acne.

Then she transferred to Georgia State. She had her own apartment. She had a real job. And I dreamed of being like her one day.

Mom was worried sick about her being in Atlanta. Walking around those buildings at night by herself. Going all over the city alone. Dark parking lots. But my sister wasn’t afraid of anything. Even from a distance, I could tell she had the tiger by the tail and wasn’t letting go.

At one point during her career with IBM she lived in Birmingham. Dad always bragged about how well she had done for herself.

I went to see her one weekend. It was then that I discovered how deeply ingrained she was into music. Her shelves were loaded with cassettes and albums by people I’d never heard of before. These artists were not on the pop radio stations.

“Who are all these people?” I asked.

“They play the blues,” she said. “It’s the best music ever”

“You don’t like Credence anymore?”

“It’s okay. But these songs are different. You should try it out.”

Marian was not just an average fan. She wasn’t just a lover of the music. She embraced the entire music scene and got to know a lot of the local artists. She knew them well enough to have some of them play at her birthday parties. She invited young aspiring artists to her home to play to small crowds of friends for tips. She wanted to see them get recognized. And for the last 15 years, she worked as a volunteer DJ at WRFG where she interviewed them and played their music to help them be heard.

Of course, the real love of her life was Paul. They met in Birmingham, and he followed her to Atlanta when IBM transferred her back to Georgia. They married late in life at 40, but for nearly 30 years they were the perfect match for each other. They didn’t have kids of their own, but they loved on their nieces and nephews as if they were their own.

I have been with Paul the last three days. I know he is broken. I recognize the eyes and the voice of sorrow.

“I need you to come,” he said “because I’ve never done this before and I have no idea what to do.”

The sense of loss is deep for both of us. Marian, his wife and my sister; her absence leaves a huge hole in our lives. She was an incredible lady. Big of heart. Generous to no end. Devoted to her family. Beautiful inside and out.

I still look up to her and I will always be her little brother.

Godspeed big sister.

15 thoughts on “Marian, My Sister

  1. Paul, that’s a beautiful tribute to Marian. I know it was hard to write, mostly because she was so much more than you could ever condense to fit into your blog. I know there’s so much more you could share, and I hope one day, you can. Sending love….


  2. As I sit here reading this tribute I am still in shock. Marian was one of my best friends in high school, my maid of honor at my 1st wedding. We stayed in touch through the years even though our lives kept us far apart physically. She was the bravest, smartest, kindest woman I have ever met. We had been trying to get together since December but something always got in the way, Christmas plans, trips, her surgery. I chatted online with her a little over a week ago but had no inkling that she was very ill. Deepest sympathy to all the family, we have lost a very special person.


  3. Thank you, Paul. Marian was one of my closest friends. We listened to so much live music together for decades as well. I enjoyed reading about your childhood relationship and her history with music. It just won’t be the same without her at the table or seated next to me while we enjoy our favorites or check out someone new. I am going to miss her terribly. MaryT

    Mary Trauner



  4. Dear sweet friend,I am heart broken for you After reading this I was so inspired ! This is a beautiful testimony for your sister. You can see the love for her in your writings. Sending many prayers and lots of hug your way.I love you dear friend and your’s whole family! Bless you always.❤️🙏❤️🙏❤️🙏❤️🙏


  5. Paul, what a great tribute to your “big” sister!! I know you miss her already. Praying for you and family. I know you know this…one day you will see her again as ya’ll walk down streets of Gold!!


  6. Paul I am so sorry. I saw on Facebook she had died in her sleep. You are never prepared for that phone call, I know. May you and your brother in law find peace in the grieving.


  7. Paul, I saw the post about Mirian from Jeanette Mobley Steiner. I did know Mirian through Jeannette and of course we were in school together although a year ahead. Your description of her is beautiful and filled with wonderful sibling love. My deepest sympathy to you, your family and especially to Paul, Mirian’s husband. Such sadness for all. Martha Self Burpitt


  8. I remember Marian, from when I was a young kid at Berea Christian Church. I always thought she was so pretty, and remember her big smile. You wrote such a beautiful tribute to her. I’m keeping you, her husband and all of her loved ones in my thoughts and prayers.


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