My sister, Patty, was five years younger than I. I say “was” because Patty died in March 2010. She never got to see the stories in The Home for the Friendless published along with the family photographs and the glossary called Betty’s History Lessons. I had printed all the pieces that included her and had them bound so she could read them while she was still well enough to do so. Without the help of my brother, Bob, and my sister, Patty, there would be no book.
I had placed a long distance call to my sister in June, 2007, so we could discuss the details of her favorite story. It was about a trick that Bobby and I had played on her, but not to be mean; to make her feel better. I’m not sure she ever believed that, but it was the truth. On the day of the phone conversation, Patty was trying to give me the real details of this event that had made her cry her eyes out when she was only ten. While telling the story from her point of view, she coughed so frequently that she couldn’t finish a sentence. I urged to her to stop and we’d continue another time, but she wouldn’t give up. Finally, I insisted that she get her husband on the phone and she did. He said that they had an appointment with the doctor to see why she couldn’t get over that stubborn cough.
The stubborn cough turned out to be throat cancer and her larynx had to be removed.
For the next three years Patty wrote notes as fast as she used to talk. Her husband bought 9×6 lined yellow tablets by the package. When she was really excited, she tried to mouth the words as she gestured wildly, fingers pointing and hands flailing the air. It was truly funny and it made us all laugh hard including Patty though we couldn’t hear her. We were a close family and one of our own was in bad shape, so we got used to dark humor.
When Patty was in the hospital she had to learn to communicate with note-writing. She once wrote this note to me: “I should learn sign language because no matter WHAT I need help with, I have to write it down.” I wrote back that everyone else would need to learn it, too, but she was laughing silently again, and I didn’t get the joke. So she wrote me this note: “Stop writing. YOU CAN TALK.” So I created a card just for her. She loved it and so did the nurses. Thank goodness I made a copy because the nurses liked it so much that she gave them the original. The card is here.
You might notice that I drew the cartoon of my sister then cut it out and pasted it on top of a picture from a catalogue for down comforters. I also added a few lines on top of parts of the magazine image to tie the whole thing together. You can’t read the note on her tablet, but she could. Since my sis couldn’t talk after turning on her call light for a nurse, she got used to writing, “I have to pee.”
In memory of Patricia Ann Reffel 1935 – 2010