By Marion Sionko
She wouldn’t want me to tell her story, but an older sister can veto an objection if it’s the right thing to do. We were known as “the girls” growing up by family and friends. As often happens in younger years, four years makes a huge difference in activities, interests and attitudes.
As we became young wives and mothers during our 20s, there was no age gap at all. Our children were raised more as siblings than cousins. We were always together. What fun!
With two of our children in school, and two too young to attend school, my sister came up with the idea of opening a preschool. In the ’70s, preschool was still a new idea. This was not to be structured as day care.
With $100, and two agreeable and hardworking husbands, we rented, remodeled and furnished a building. We were entrepreneurs. Excited and motivated, we advertised and held an open house. We actually had a pretty nice turnout. Best of all, parents signed their children into our program curriculum, which had been approved by the state.
It was a wonderful and rewarding five-year experience for both of us. When we ended up selling the preschool, we had filled five morning and afternoon sessions.
This adventure brought us even closer together. It also helped us pay for graduate school. We worked, studied, laughed and cried together. We really were “the girls.” We were very proud and rightly so.
Throughout this experience, I gained a new respect and admiration for this younger sister of mine. She not only was an educator but an excellent businesswoman. We paid our bills and eventually made a profit. But it was the working together and sharing ideas that fueled our dreams at the end.
As our children grew older, with families of their own, our family activities lessened but our closeness was strengthened by our shared profession of teaching. Every Wednesday after school would find us at the Walden Galleria eating at Jack Astor’s. We were so predictable that often our entrées were waiting when we got there.
The sales clerks in the mall knew us by name and made sure we were aware of the current bargains. “Shop till you drop” was our motto.
I retired earlier than she did and our weekly excursions happened less and less. In 2003, after complaining of abdominal pain, there came a diagnosis of cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To her, it was just a “bump in the road.” No complaints or “why me?” ever. Even after enduring painful bone marrow biopsies and chemo treatments, we would head to the Galleria to relive happier times.
Our shopping trips often consisted of her trying on wigs and laughing as she tested styles she had always dreamed of having. She braved this “bump in the road” as a single woman with a strength I can only imagine. Cancer-free until 2008, she found happiness again, along with love and support from a great second husband, when sadly the cancer returned.
For the next eight years she endured various chemotherapies until 2016 when the last alternative was a bone marrow transplant. Again, she embarked down this road with courage and a “we’ll beat this” attitude.
But on July 23, 2016, my sister lost her fight, with her loved ones at her side. I held her hand when her last heartbeat took her away from the pain and suffering.
She excelled in everything she did but always avoided the spotlight. She was bright, creative and ever hopeful. Enjoying so many wonderful relationships, she was my younger sister – Eleanor Fulmines Guido – and she remains my hero.