Alice Through My Lens

Blue eyes.  That was one thing that made her unique among 4 sisters.  She had our father’s eyes.   She was the shortest among us; I believe I grew to have at least a half an inch over her.  But that took a while.  Since she was 3 years older, I trailed behind her most of my life.  I definitely didn’t mind following in her footsteps.  I adored her.  She was the sweet sister, the kind one, the one who loved children and animals and had friends.  She somehow spanned the gap between being a nerd and being popular.  Not that she wasn’t picked on early in grade school.  We all were, and she was very sensitive to it.  When she was 10, she ran away from a boy who was chasing her down the sidewalk.  He caught up to her and managed to grab the back of her coat hood. He yanked her down hard, and she fell backwards onto the sidewalk, hitting her head and fracturing her skull.  The boy was sent to military school, and Alice recovered amid cards and gifts and angels surrounding her bed. 

She started dating first among us, though she wasn’t the oldest.  I wanted to learn how this “boyfriend” business worked, so I watched her very closely, sometimes through the living room drapery while she was on the porch kissing her date goodnight.  She modeled how to be affectionate in the midst of a distinctly cerebral family, shy about demonstrating emotion.  She gave me my first pet name: Golden Girl or Goldie, and then the one that stuck in my family, PG or sometimes Peej.  By the time I was 16, we were very close friends as well as sisters.  She invited me to spend Spring Break with her at college, and enjoyed “showing me off”.  She told me that the boys were noticing me and that she’d need to protect me.  I was thrilled!

Alice and Mike in Los Gatos, summer 1979

We spent that summer at home together in CaliforniaI introduced her to my new boyfriend, who eventually became my husband.   She begged our parents to allow me to be her passenger on a road trip back to campus at the end of the summer.  She had just bought a car, and although I couldn’t drive, I could keep her company, sing with her along the way, and be her companion.  The road trip was a travel adventure flavored with freedom, sisterly love, and the sense of confidence and brand new responsibility.  We flopped the first night in a fleabag motel in the same bed.  She woke earlier than I and told me as I roused and stretched how sweet I looked cuddling the stuffed bunny my boyfriend had bought me.  Then we stayed with her friends in Colorado.  Our next day’s journey was to go through the heartland of the country and hopefully, if we made good time, get to Chicago for the night.  We never made it.

Nebraska is flat and boring.  We’d been driving for 6 hours.  I was reclined and dozing when we began to drift off the fast lane, going 80 mph.  Alice over-corrected, and we flipped.  She had disconnected her shoulder strap, and flopped around, hitting her head on pavement through the open windowHer fragile, gentle head, with two blue eyes.  She was dead by the time we came to rest in the ditch.

Life is an experience, a journey of unexpected and unimagined happening, a verb in motion, not a noun.  Alice was in motion, at 20, and may be even now…somewhere, in some form.  I still taste her sweetness floating near me from time to time. 

Three of four sisters, Christmas 1978

23 thoughts on “Alice Through My Lens

  1. Life as a verb in motion.. indeed it is Scilla. What a terrible experience for you and such a loss to you and your family.. were you physically hurt in the accident? How do you think this loss shaped who you are?

    • I was not physically hurt save for a few cuts on my feet from broken glass and a small bump on the head. As to how this shaped my life, it was definitely a Pivotal Experience…and to unpack that would take a few more posts!

  2. The photo of Alice & Mike is beautiful. The familiarity and intimacy is obvious regardless of the relationship. I’m so sorry the world didn’t have her as an example of the beauty of acceptance across all lines for longer. For 1978 she was wise beyond her years, you were exceptionally lucky to have her.

    • Indeed I was lucky to have her…and to have parents who recognized a good man when they saw one. Mike remains unmarried to this day, and he is godfather to my middle daughter, blue-eyed as Alice.

  3. wow, mom, i can’t even remember being shown a picture of Alice. I never realized how much you looked alike, it IS almost other-worldly; kind of reminds me of mine and becca’s supposed similarities. oh, and here’s to your angel. love you

    • Seriously?! Her photo was on the wall in our living room forever, right next to all our studio portraits. Her photo album is in GranneLouise’s office. Next time you visit, you should go through it. And whatever kept me alive to produce you is definitely a powerful positive!

  4. I still remember hearing this news and how much if affected everyone in my family. I believe that was the first time I saw true, deep grief in my dad’s eyes, I’m sure from imagining that it could have just as easily been one of his daughters. My heart has always gone out to you and your family.

    • Typically, accidents are easy to dismiss, until one day you realize we’re never more than a breath away from one. It’s a great human common denominator, mortality is. It has the power to bring us all closer together, if we let it.

  5. Reblogged this on scillagrace and commented:

    Alice would be celebrating her 56th birthday today. Thinking of her as I awoke, I found this post. I’m reblogging it in her memory. This weekend, I’ll be gathering with family at our brother’s wedding and holding all of those present and those absent in my heart. I’m sure it’ll burst at some point.

  6. It’s hard for me to click on the “like” button because I am sorry that you had to lose such a wonderful sister many years ago. Alice was a sweet soul and good sister to you. I hope you will remember your sister with fondness of heart, as you did in this post. Your heart should only burst with happiness as I bet that’s how Alice would want it to be.

    • Thank you for your kind words. My heart will be full of a complex array of emotions, I imagine, and I truly appreciate them all. Their interplay and dynamic qualities make life full, I believe.

  7. Oh Priscilla, this was so touching. I can see how this memory is so deeply etched in your soul–and well it should be. Experiences such as this form who we are to become, don’t you think. I remember you having written of Alice before. Her spirit travels closely with you–in your daily meanderings, no doubt. Loving thoughts…

  8. Sweet and poignant memoir/homage, Priscilla. Especially touching to me. I lost my elder sister too. She was twenty-four and I was thirteen. We never forget. Somehow that keeps them alive in a way.

    • It does indeed. Had a wonderful moment with my oldest sister this weekend at our brother’s wedding when she told me what it was like for her when her daughter, my niece, received her college diploma from the college that Alice was headed to for senior year when we crashed. Like a ripple in a pond that ricocheted off one more surface. The pond is still active. 🙂

  9. Recently came a cross this lovely remembrance of your sister, Alice, who I knew at OPRF High School. I recall my sadness when I learned of her death many, many years ago. I knew your sister, Sarah, better and considered her a friend. Please pass on my regards to Sarah. All the best, Karen Heffernan Hill

    • Hello, Karen! I do remember your name and met you at Sarah’s graduation party. Thank you for your wishes. I will indeed pass those on to Sarah, whose birthday was yesterday. Thanks!

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