Snow White and Rose Red

There is an old Grimm Brothers fairy tale about two sisters- Snow White and Rose Red.  When my older sister Martha-Jean and I were young, my mother told us that we were like the sisters in the story.  Martha-Jean was long, lean and willowy, with darker skin and dark curly hair.  I was shorter and curvy, with fair skin and straight blond hair.  She was brave, competitive and athletic.  She climbed trees, skimmed over the ice in boys’ hockey skates, and could hit a softball out of the field across the street.  I got dizzy when I looked down from a tree’s lowest limb, tripped over my figure skates’ toe picks, and got nauseated when it was my time at bat. 

Martha-Jean was my security.  I followed her lead and trusted her to watch out for me, and wanted to be just like her.  When she was in fourth grade and I in first, she hid me in the “big girls” section of St. Anne’s playground because I cried without her.   When we did the dishes, she washed and I dried.  When we cooked dinner for the family, she made the entrée.  I made dessert.  When we played Tarzan down by the river, she was Tarzan.  I was Jane.  

I wanted to be like my big sister so badly that I once ate a handful of dirt from the front yard in order to prove to her that I was worthy to join the neighborhood club “Cowboys of America”.   I choked down the acid soil and then wondered why the older girls were not impressed that I had sworn my allegiance to them.  Still, I idolized Martha-Jean.  One evening when were setting the table for dinner, I noticed her budding breasts underneath her sweater.  I ran to our bedroom and stuffed tissues into my shirt, sure my disguise would fool everyone into thinking I had miraculously matured in a matter of hours.  I got a scornful look from my mother and my sister, mortified, told me in no uncertain terms that she was not stuffing her shirt and to please get away from her.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that Martha-Jean had her own path to follow and so did I.  I stopped trying to imitate her and found my own footing.   As adults, our differences are no less obvious than when we were kids.  She has a huge family- I have three kids.  She lives in a large country farmhouse and I have an apartment in the city.   She grows amazing flowers and plants.  I have one peace lily that I regularly bring to the brink of death by forgetting to water it.   She is still tall and willowy.  I am still not. 

I’m okay with the differences, but old habits die hard and in my heart of hearts, I still longed for her approval.  A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting her house and she showed me a portable hard drive she uses to add storage to her computer.  She suggested I use one for my writing and I agreed it would be a good idea as a back- up, but the budget did not allow for it right now.  We went on with our visit and I didn’t give it another thought until a week later, a package arrived in the mail.  In it was a hard drive like the one she showed me and a card.  The card read:

“Write, baby , write!  I’m so proud of you.”

My eyes filled with tears.  My older sister is proud of me. 

Me.  The one who got into trouble when we visited the little girl who lived across the street because I was too loud and boisterous.  The one who couldn’t run as fast, or keep up on her bike, or gracefully dance with our father.  The one who cried too easily and got too nervous to try out for the high school basketball team, and needed her big sister pulled out of the fourth grade because I wouldn’t stop crying.    She’s proud of me.

Snow White and Rose Red weren’t jealous of each other. They didn’t try to be like each other. They knew that differences between people add balance and symmetry to life.  They protected each other. They helped each other.  They served each other.  Most of all, they loved each other.

Perhaps it is time to reread the story. 

  • The beautiful illustration on this post is by Ruth Sanderson, a childhood friend who also lived in our neighborhood and was one of the founders of “Cowboys of America.”
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