The I have four sisters — all younger — Cissy, Vicki, Marylee, Lizanne. We’ve remained close and see each other fairly regularly. We’re from the same root but despite similarities, our unique personalities and interests seem to predominate. This October, I visited sister number 3, Marylee, in Olympia, WA. She is seven years younger than me. So when I was graduating college in 1969, she was beginning high school. Although I know her uniqueness, there were surprises.
It’s not my first trip to visit Marylee. While the rest of us live within an hour of the family hometown, Bristol, PA, Marylee has lived in Arizona, West Virginia and Washington. Who could have predicted our wanderer. She was a quiet kid, growing up in the shadows of two older sisters.
But there were little explosions of adventure, even daring. In her junior year of high school she signed up with her best friend, Maureen Mulhern, for a 6 week language program in Aix en Provence, France.
In her Senior year she was eligible to take language courses at Bucks County Community College. This was an “A” student expanding her horizons. The local priest at Bishop Conwell didn’t see education but drugs and sex. Our mother (and Mrs Mulhern) said, “OK, I’m withdrawing her from Conwell.” Marylee took classes at Bucks Community College and graduated from Bristol High School. I have always been proud of Cis for standing up for her daughter and education.
In 1974 Marylee participated in a Service Civil International program in Vandoncourt, France. She made international friends and continued to expand her outlook. To my amazement, here was little Marylee headed to France again. Her wanderlust continued to grow. The following year she did a “work camp” outside Copenhagen with Hanne, a friend she had met in 1975. It would be 1976 before I made my first trip across the Atlantic.
Marylee’s college nursing program at Holy Family (then College) in Northeast Philadelphia was pretty provincial, back to Bristol. In the 1990s I taught education courses at HF. When we discussed controversial issues (that led to long classroom debates at LaSalle) the HF (University now) girls reached consensus in minutes. Marylee was a diligent HF student. I recall her sitting on her bed in our family apartment, on Mill Street, textbook in hand, rocking slowly, back and forth. Nothing less than “A” grades would do.
She eventually married a West Virginian, Norval Goe. They both got jobs with Indian services in Arizona. I saw pictures of the Navajo Reservation, Chinle, and Canyon de Chelly. But I never visited. Where was my head? My little sister was living there.
If my chronological memory is correct, they moved to West Virginia for several years. The extended family visited their home on the Potomoc and later a log cabin in Shepherdstown.
Then they were back in the Northwest, coastal Washington State, working on the Quinault Indian Reservation. Wake up call, for me. Little sister is doing some neat things. I visited, twice. Both trips, I believe were with my parents. The Pacific coast was not the Jersey shore. Cars drove on hard packed sand beaches. Silvery drift wood piled up on the black volcanic sand beaches. It rained a lot. The Olympic National forest was miles deep. Weyerhaeuser owned a lot of land; acres were clear cut; miles of stumps and blackened brush. The reservation was poor. We bought small baskets from wrinkled women, arthritic fingers, but tourist prices. Etched in my memony is an early morning drive north to Neah Bay with Norval. As we walked the beach, an American Eagle flew overhead, sea stacks emerged from the mist, is this real? Tidal pools were filled with star fish, small crabs, anomoe. It was beautiful. Another world. A world my little sister lived in.
Briefly they lived outside of Seattle. I visited once. The final move for them was to Boston Harbor, 10 miles outside of Olympia. I believe the trip this October was my third visit there. The only public attraction is the Boston Harbor Marina-some groceries, fresh seafood, salmon, postcards, and a few tourist gifts. The current owner is attempting to introduce craft beer on tap.
Her house is delightful. Mission style oak antiques, Art Deco touches, gas fireplace. The garden areas were so manicured, Diane thought there had to be a gardener. For better or worse, due to a recent separation, it’s all Marylee. Norval now lives nearby in Olympia.
My first observation: Marylee is very fastidious, organized, maybe a perfectionist. Everything in the house has a Felix Unger feel — it’s in the right place. There were some feathers on the edge of the living room couch. I though part of a display. No, I realized they were cat toys.
Marylee is a good cook. Delicious homemade squash soup the night we arrived. Grilled fresh salmon and salad night two. She Delayed buying the salmon in Boston Harbor until she was assured it was fresh caught. Diane commented on the pre-dinner blocks of local cheese, crackers, and smoked salmon. Delicious.
In the two weeks we spent with number 3, I learned so much about her. Since living on the west coast, Marylee has been an ocean kayaker. She invited members of her kayak club to dinner one night. Becky, Albin and Glee. All were interesting, independent souls with interesting stories. I got the feeling that since her separation from Norval, these friends were her lifeline.
Several months ago she sent me photographs — she was wearing a mask, with a welding blow torch in hand. She was making a front gate with sun, flowers, leaves, even a cat. I’m not kidding. This is my little sister. Seems Albin had encouraged and guided the project. The gate now hangs in front of the house and Marylee is planning other welding projects. Footnote: I have a welding mask from my father’s tools, can I get it to Olympia?
Although she didn’t participate in the construction, I’ve been amazed at the wooden kayaks Marylee has called her own. Currently there are two in the garage and at least one previously sold. On Whidby Island, we visited Redfish Kayacks, where one of hers was constructed. Thin strips of chamfered cedar are glued together making the hull shape. Beautiful craftsmanship. How our father would have loved seeing, doing, making a kayak.
I’m currently reading, “The Oregon Trail: a new American journey,” by Rinker Buck. He is traveling in a historic mule teamed wagon following the trail to Oregon. A great story — with many threads. Early in the trip, Buck introduces us to Narcissa Whitman, who was the first white woman to complete the trip, in a wagon, on horseback, walking from Missouri to Oregon. She wrote letters back East, raising awareness, yes, you can cross the rivers, climb the mountains, interact with the native tribes. You can follow the trail to Oregon. You can, like her, even do it while pregnant. Narcissa and her husband Marcus Whitman were in part driven by a missionary spirit. But there was more. They helped to pioneer the path West for “average” Americans. It’s with some hesitation that I use the word “average” but then there were thousands and thousands who made the trip. Maybe average then was really exceptional.
Somehow my little sister, Marylee, reminds me of Narcissa. Libby Paglione (now Vedder) who moved from the family home in Michigan to Wyoming also comes to mind. When we traveled in Washington, Diane frequently mentioned the number of interesting, independent women we encountered. Although Marylee and Libby didn’t quite travel West in a wagon like Narcissa, they made the trip. They left behind home security and pioneered. They hike in the mountains and kayak in the Pacific.
My mother always said, “it’s the small things.” Spending two weeks with Marylee, I noticed small things. How she waded into the very chilly waters of Boston Harbor to launch Albin’s boat, jumping out of the car to take a photograph with her cell phone, even in 40 mph winds in Port Townsend. We stopped at a yard filled with scrap metal, there are welding projects in the planning.
Marylee is deliberate, organized, planning is a strong suit. For every trip she laid out drinks and snacks. But then she has a sense of try it, explore. A few years back she broke bones flipping an off road vehicle she was riding on farm. Cautious and carefree. How similar but how differentbwe are.