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A tribute to my big sister

March was a bad month. My family unexpectedly lost an important link in the chain – my sister, Brenda Phillips – to an illness I had heard of, but new nothing about.

Vasculitis took only a little more than a month to claim her life despite the fact she had otherwise enjoyed good health over her nearly 62 years. To be perfectly honest, and selfish, I never expected to have to deal with her death because my health has become so poor that I expected to go before her.

Anyone who knows me knows I do all I can to avoid speaking before groups of people. I have had a terrible fear of doing so since having a bad experience in my freshman English class at Virginia Tech.

In honor of my sister, I put aside those fears at her funeral and shared some insight into the lighter side of the big sister who is now watching out for her little sister from above. I wish to pay tribute to Brenda by sharing this perspective with those who were not fortunate enough to know her:

If you saw the electronic photos displayed during the visitation you probably noticed a common theme – food plays a prominent role in our family.

So, if there was ever a time you didn’t want Brenda around it was when mom was frying chicken. She could put the colonel to shame.

You see, mom used bacon grease for frying so it was some of the crispiest, best tasting chicken you’d ever eat … Well, it was if you got to it before Brenda picked all the crispy coating off of it. Let’s just say there were occasionally a few naked spots on chicken legs by the time they made it to the table. 

Of course, Gary (my brother) and I never did anything like that. We were perfect angels.

Brenda was also a big fan of icing, especially mom’s homemade chocolate icing. We liked it so much we told mom she needed to cut the cake recipe in half and double the icing.

I liked to eat all of the cake first and keep the best part – the icing – for last. But that was a dangerous move if Brenda was around; you had to keep a close watch over your icing because Brenda’s antics never changed with age.

It wasn’t too many years ago I took the last bite of my cake and was getting ready to enjoy a nice big clump of icing I had been saving, when much to my chagrin, Brenda stabbed her fork into it and gulped it down before I had time to blink. She just smiled and let out a big laugh.

If they have icing and mom’s fried chicken in Heaven, you’re all on warning!

Some of my best memories with Brenda are when she used to take me cruising with her and her friends in that beautiful limited edition candy apple red 1968 Mustang. 

Even though I was 10 years younger than she – and never ceased to remind her of that – she never complained about having me tag along; at least as far as I know she didn’t.

It was fun cruising the streets of Pulaski – they were a lot more active back then – listening to the Beach Boys, Beatles, Association, Rascals, Herman’s Hermits, The Monkees, The Mamas and the Papas, and all those great bands I still love to listen to today and with whom I’m sure many of you grew up.

And I can’t speak about that beautiful red Mustang without recalling that it met its fate with the sideswipe of a utility pole on Route 99. I loved that car. It was beautiful.

Mom woke me up that night to tell me Brenda had a wreck and the first words out of my mouth were “did it hurt the car?” Now, you all know I was worried about Brenda, too. Right?

Unfortunately, that beautiful red Mustang was replaced with a Mach I that was an odd shade of green. Well, at least Brenda thought it was pretty.

Of course, like all siblings, there were times when Brenda liked to torture me. She loved Christmas and Christmas shopping so she had a tradition of giving me hints on my gifts, sometimes months in advance. 

Every time I thought I had one figured out, I found out I was wrong. I never once figured out a gift before I opened it. She was a master at unsolvable hints. Yet, as soon as I would open each present, I immediately knew which hint went with it.

I could go on forever with stories about my big sister, who once thought I was going to be six-foot-three because I surpassed her five-foot-two stature. Guess she should have stuck with hints. 

But I know you all have places to go and I’m sure Brenda’s getting anxious to have some of mom’s Heavenly chicken and find some poor soul who’s been saving a nice big clump of icing for dessert.

I love and miss you, Brenda; and should have spent more time with you when I had the chance. Save some icing and chicken for me.

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