“My Bossy Big Sister,” Oct. 8, 2019

Once a week or so I call my sister and we talk for an hour. We live 3,000 miles and three time zones apart, and don’t get to see each other often. Not nearly often enough. But we stay in touch as best we can.

If I wait too long to call, she’ll leave me a message: “Sissy, where are you? I hope you’re OK. Call me back soon.”

When I get that message, I call her as soon as possible. If I don’t, I’ll get another message within an hour: “OK, now I’m really worried. Call me, dang it.”

Why are Big Sisters so bossy? Are they born that way or do they just pick it up with age? She is five years my elder, and some of my earliest memories are of her telling me what to do, what to think, what to wear and most of all, how to do my hair.

When I was 7, the night before my first day of second grade, she put her hands on her hips and said, “You cannot go to school looking like that!”

I didn’t know what “that” meant, but I could tell by her tone it wasn’t good. I looked the same as I did every day: Short auburn hair chopped off below my ears; brown eyes that could turn green; and a hand-me-down dress that used to be hers and had seen much better days.

“What’s wrong with me?”

She rolled her eyes. “We have to do something with your hair.”

She stuck my head in the sink, washed it, rinsed it and wrapped it in a towel. Then she combed out the tangles and twisted little sections into pin curls that she fastened to my scalp with our mother’s bobby pins.

My sister’s name is Barbara, but I always call her Bobbie. I thought those hair pins were named for her. To this day, when I see one, I picture her. After she pinned the last curl, she counted them: 52, exactly.

“Can I go play now?”

“No! We have to dry it!”

She stuck my head in her prized bouffant hair dryer and made me suffer for an hour. And if that wasn’t enough, she made me sleep on those pins all night. The next morning, she pulled out the pins, one by one, and tried to comb out the curls. But each time she stretched one out, it would spring right back to my scalp.

I looked like a sheep. One that had stuck its hoof in an electrical outlet.

She felt bad, I could tell. But she still refused to sit with me on the bus. I don’t remember much about school that day. But thanks to my sister, I’m certain I made a lasting impression.

I could tell you a hundred stories about her, besides all the ones I’ve already told. She’d be glad to tell you a few about me, but she’d be making them up.

These days, when I call, she doesn’t ask about my hair. We compare aches and pains and medications and the weather and what we ate for supper.

We talk about our blind brother, who lives near her, how he’s feeling, what he’s up to. She asks about my family and I ask about hers. Not much changes in a week, so we repeat a lot. But we’re forgetful, so it seems new.

I listen to what she says, and to what she doesn’t say, and I pay close attention to her tone. Sometimes the way we say something speaks more clearly than the words we use.

I try to make her laugh at least once before we hang up. She does that for me without even trying.

She often asks, “When are you coming home for a visit?”

My answer is usually, “Soon as I can, but not real soon.”

Every call ends the same way. We both say, “Love you, Sissy.”

We come from a long line of storytellers, so our calls often include stories like the pin curl tale. Or how she lost her wig in the bumper cars. Or the time she tried to shoot me because I poured a Pepsi down her pants.

I haven’t reminded her of the pin curl tale in ages. Maybe I’ll call while she’s asleep and leave a message: “Remember when you put 52 pin curls in my hair? It’s still frizzy. Call me, dang it.”


  1. Wendi Walters says

    I wish i had known your sister, she sounds wonderful. Loving, caring and truly looks out for the people in her life that mean so much to her.

  2. Carol Baker says

    I’m a big sister to 1 of my younger sisters passed away about 20 years ago and I live in California I was able to get a week off to fly to Rochester NY for her funeral. Then to most unexpected thing happened and before I flew home my Dad passed away so I ended up staying for another week. I was so lucky to have the best boss ever. I still have 2 sisters my older and my younger wish we were closer.

  3. Sharon McDaniel says

    I’m the older sister by almost five years and my little sister is the bossy one. In fact, “Bossy” is one of my brother’s nicknames for her. She insists she’s not bossy — she just has better ideas 😂

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    “Why are Big Sisters so bossy? Are they born that way or do they just pick it up with age?”

    Now that is a GREAT question!!!! I’m a big sister and a baby sister…. and let me tell you…. my oldest sister — oh the stories I could tell. Let’s just suffice to say that it all came to a head some twenty years ago or so – I don’t recall why exactly she was bossing me around… we were forty-something and fifty-something…. but she was. And I blew up screaming “You were ALWAYS the nun and I was ALWAYS the kid… you were ALWAYS in charge of the backyard plays and I NEVER got the part I wanted!” And it sort of went downhill from there…. but after it was over and we both settled down it was all good. We still laugh about that night 😀

    Of course, as a big sister to the baby sister six years my junior I was always perfectly kind and reasonable… just ask her…. on second thought…. maybe don’t 😉

  5. Bobbye Bower says

    I am the big sister in my family, and interestingly enough, my name is Barbara also, but have always been called Bobbye (except it’s Barbara on my DL and legal papers). When I turned 65 I had a real identity crisis and wasn’t sure just who I was, but I was always Lu’s big sister. She’s 11 years younger than I and I love her with the love I first felt when my mom brought her home from the hospital. We don’t talk nearly enough, although we stay in touch on FB. Soon, she will retire from her job, and she and her husband are going to move to Florida near me. I can’t wait.

  6. Donita Cooper says

    Sharon my husband and I both look forward to our Thursday paper and reading every thing you write🤗 Thanks for sharing your life with all of us!! We live in Indiana… my parents and grandparents were from Tennessee… so I can relate to some of your stories 😊😊 Keep writing… we love everything you say😊🤗🤗 Danny Ann Donita Cooper

  7. Naomi Humphrey says

    I am the big sister but l lost my little sister several years ago. Miss her so much. She was a light to all and never met a stranger. I was the shy one. I enjoy your articles.

  8. Sharon, I look forward to your column and stories. Makes me feel that we know one another. Have a good week.

  9. That’s hilarious! Nothing like a bossy big sister! 😁

    I happen to be the old bossy one in my family. And we are one time zone away…just enough distance that we don’t see each other often enough. I was 15 1/2 when my baby sister came along. For the longest time I felt like her aunt. She was my not quite 3 year old flower girl in my wedding. She loved to spend her Saturday mornings at my house watching cartoons. Then we moved over 500 miles away & she would come spend a couple of weeks with me in the summer. Time passed & I was the “old” bridesmaid at her wedding. Three babies came her way & I fell in love with all of them. A few years later & our mother went through the agony of pancreatic cancer…my sister living nearby became the one who saw that doctors appointments & treatments happened. Daily phone calls kept me informed, along with monthly trips. Mom passed & soon Dad was also gone…just like the Hospice nurse had told us would happen. Life went on a few short years & in an instant my sister became a widow at the age of 52. After the funeral I stayed as long as I could & then we went through the grief together with multiple phone calls each day. After three years have passed the grief is still there, just not quite as bold as it was, and she is learning to live her new life day by day. Now she calls me each morning on her way to work & once in the while in the stillness of the night. And now I feel more like a mom to her than a big bossy sister. Just being there for her is what I want to do for now as we both have to learn that life goes on.

  10. Jeannette Buck says

    Oh my goodness! I am the Big Sister in our family! I can’t stop laughing.

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