“Things We Do for Love,” July 25, 2023

NOTE: Last week I posted the eulogy I wrote for my sister, who recently passed away. This column recalls one of my all-time favorite memories of her. It’s from 1999.

COLUMBUS, N.C. _ It’s midnight and I look bad _ in a T-shirt and cutoffs that are covered in cookie dough, my hair wet from the pool _ and I’m going to the hospital to see my sister in Intensive Care.

I shouldn’t have answered that phone. When it rings this late at night, it is never somebody calling to give me good news or money.

But it was ringing off the hook a few minutes ago when I came in from the pool, and the sound of a phone ringing off the hook is not something most of us can ignore.

I’d been floating in the pool for an hour, maybe, looking up at a pale Carolina moon and feeling pretty darn lucky. Working vacations don’t get better than this. Especially if they happen to be mine.

I left California two months ago to spend some time in the South, writing columns and visiting family and old friends. I rented a house with a pool near Columbus, where my mother and about half of all my relatives are buried, and a few miles from Landrum, S.C, where most of the other half _ my sister and two brothers, my nieces and nephews and my stepfather _ still live.

They leave me alone, usually, to let me write by day, unless they want to use the pool. But when it gets dark, they get restless. Restless and dangerously hungry.

Then we all have to decide where we want to eat, my place or theirs, or which restaurant. I’ve eaten more in the last two months than I did in my 27 months of pregnancies.

But tonight was different. My sister had to work. My brother was out of town. And I, for once, wasn’t hungry. We all agreed that going our separate ways for one night wouldn’t kill us.

So I decided, instead of the traditional Southern fare I’ve porked on lately, to try something a bit less fried _ a salad with fat-free dressing and a baked potato with cottage cheese. It wasn’t good, but it made me feel smug. Until it got dark. And I got hungry.

So I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, ate half the dough raw and baked the rest. Then I ate half the ones that didn’t burn, left the other half to cool, stuffed myself in a swimsuit and headed for the pool. That’s when my sister called from the hospital sounding half dead, begging me to come see her in ICU, as if I had nothing better to do.

What? No, she’s not a patient. She’s a nurse. How did she know I was baking cookies?

‘’Bring me some!’’ she begged.

‘’Not a chance,’’ I said.

‘’But I’m starving,’’ she whined.

‘’Nice try,’’ I snorted.

‘’I would do it for you.’’

‘’Would not!’’

‘’Would, too!’’

‘’OK, but I’m not coming in. You have to come out to the car.’’

She meets me in the parking lot, grabs the cookies, asks about my day. Then I spot the hydrangea (my grandmother called hers a snowball bush) abloom on the hospital lawn.

‘’Would you get fired if I got caught picking some of those snowballs?’’ I said.

‘’Probably,’’ she said, ‘’and you could get snake bit in that bush.’’

She thinks a snake warning will stop me. She’s right. It does.

‘’Oh, all right,’’ she says finally, glancing around the parking lot, ‘’you wait here. I’ll go pick ‘em for you. But if I get fired for this, I’m moving in with you!’’

And suddenly, there she goes doing what she does best, being my bossy, stubborn, one of a kind big sister, sneaking up on a bush under cover of darkness, risking her job and snake bites and getting mud on her white shoes to bring me snowballs in July.

The very sight of her _all hunched over in her uniform, snapping stems and swearing at me under her breath _ fills my heart so full it aches. I wish you could see her _ the way she makes me laugh, how she always shines brighter than a Carolina moon.

And that, I swear, is the only reason (though she’ll deny it) that I turned on my headlights, lit her up like Christmas, and honked the horn really loud.

I wanted the whole world to see my big sister, in all her glory.

If she gets fired, she can come live with me.


  1. connie Skeels says

    I love your stories and miss hearing about the kids and grandkids. I feel like you were all part of my family. Sending hugs.

  2. CHope Hall says

    Thanks for sharing this great memory. I always wanted siblings & to have parents who loved each other. Your beautiful stories always make me feel like I am a part of your special family. God bless & keep safe.

  3. Carol McGlothlin says

    Sister Love! I would do the same to mine!

  4. Dick Daniel says

    Love it! Great memory.

  5. Sylvia Short says

    That was awesome! I could see the whole story! Thank you!

  6. NORRIS barnes says

    I too have a sparring partner, my brother Tank. Opposite political polls make for burnt cookies, or equivalent.
    Speaking of eulogies, almost wrote one for him recently but he crawled out of ICU to go fishin’ at Atlantic Beach one mo’ time. Aneurysm.
    Heart-strings are ‘twanged’ in strange ways aren’t they? He resides in another small Columbus-type town down-east, Elm City (pop. 900). The count has remained the same for decades, reason being that everytime a baby is born, a man leaves.

    Write-on grandma.


  7. Katie Musgrave says

    Oh, you sisters! How funny! Love this memory! Thanks for sharing your life…the good & bad of it.

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