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What My Sister Remembered

What My Sister Remembered by Marilyn Sachs
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Molly and her sister were raised by different families after their parents died in a car crash. After eight years apart, Beth comes to visit and claims to have a secret memory about their past. Instead of the pleasure Molly expected from Beth’s arrival, Molly finds herself angry at Beth’s mysterious rudeness and hostility. And she’s fearful of her sister’s “secret.” Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction by Marilyn Sachs; originally published by Dutton Juvenile

Belgrave House; June 1992
ISBN 9781610846943
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Title: What My Sister Remembered
Author: Marilyn Sachs

“Your sister is coming,” my mother cried, putting down the phone, “and there’s nothing in the house to eat.”

I stopped chewing my cheese-and-baloney sandwich. “Beth?” I said. “Beth is coming here?”

“And her mother, Mrs. Fancy Pants Lattimore,” my mother cried. “Just like her—. 'Don’t go to any trouble', she says. 'We’re at the airport, and we thought we’d just drop in for a little while. We’re going to be staying at ...' I forget—some fancy schmancy hotel in the city.”

“But, Mom, how come they’re not staying with us?”

My mother waved her hand impatiently, “Wait! Let me think for a minute. They’re at the airport, so it should take them at least an hour before they get their stuff, rent a car.... You’d think she could have let me known in advance, but that’s the way she is ... very mysterious ... the great lady.”

“Is Beth that way too?” I asked.

“Of course not,” said my mother bitterly. It’s her mother. And you can be sure she’ll expect lunch. You can be sure of that. What should I do? And the place is a mess. And your father’s still sleeping?”

“I’ll wake him up,” I cried, “and he can go shopping. You’ll tell him what to buy. Oh, it’s so exciting.” I knew my mother was upset. She was always upset when people dropped in without giving her notice. But I was thrilled. Beth, my sister, Beth, whom I hadn’t seen for eight years, was coming to my house. Beth, my big sister, who was five years old the last time I’d seen her. Beth, whom I hardly remembered at all.

My mother was clutching her hands and moaning, “What should I give them for lunch? They’re used to fancy cooking. What should I do?”

“I’ll wake Daddy up. Maybe he’ll have an idea.”

“Oh him!” my mother cried, but I hurried off down the long, dark hall, shouting out the news before I reached my parents’ bedroom.

“Beth’s coming. Get up, Daddy. Hurry! Beth’s coming with her mother. Hurry up! Get up!”

* * * *

My father gulped down a cup of black coffee and tried to wake up. He drives a van for an airport shuttle company that services the downtown hotels, and he works the night shift. He doesn’t get home until six in the morning, and usually sleeps until two o’clock in the afternoon. Now it was only a little past noon, and he wasn’t fully awake yet. But he was still trying to be helpful.

“You could make lasagna, ‘ he said sleepily. “You make the best lasagna.”

“Are you crazy, Walter?” my mother snapped. “They’ll be here in an hour. I don’t have the time to make lasagna. It’s got to be something quick but fancy.”

“Oh!” My father took a few more gulps of his coffee. “Oh!”

“Pizza,” I suggested. “We can get a few frozen pizzas at the market. I like the one with pepperoni. We could get one with pepperoni and one with salami and ... another one. I don’t care as long as it doesn’t have anchovies. Yuk! I hate anchovies.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” my mother cried. “We can’t serve people like them frozen pizzas. They eat gourmet food—fancy things like artichokes and watercress.”

“Chicken is always nice,” my father suggested. “I can go to the deli and buy a barbecued chicken.”

“And some macaroni salad,” I suggested. “I love their macaroni salad.”

“I don’t know.” My mother hesitated. “Do you think Mrs. Lattimore and Beth would eat macaroni salad?”

“I bet they’d like mushrooms,” my dad said. “Don’t rich people always like mushrooms?”

“That’s right,” my mother agreed. “Marinated mushrooms, and maybe some of that smoked fish that costs twenty dollars a pound. I bet they’d like that.”

“Let’s just stick with the chicken,” said my dad. “We don’t have to turn the whole place upside down just because they’re coming for lunch.”

* * * *

My father dressed quickly and hurried off with a long shopping list. While he was gone, my mother rushed through the apartment straightening up.

“Fresh flowers,” my mother said. “I should have told him to buy some fresh flowers.” She looked at the plants in front of the window in the living room and shook her head. “I don’t know why we even bother with plants. There’s just not enough light in this apartment.”

“And you never remember to water them anyway.”

“Well, I work a forty-hour week at Macy’s, standing on my feet all day long, and come home and do all the cooking and cleaning ...”

I made a face. I hated it when Mom started going on and on about how hard she worked as a saleswoman. It didn’t happen too often, but it was boring whenever it did.

“Okay! Okay!” My mother stopped suddenly and turned to smile at me. One of her lower teeth had broken the day before yesterday while she was eating a piece of French bread, and she hadn’t been able to get to the dentist. It gave her a funny smile. “Okay, Molly, don’t mind me. I’m just a little flustered.” She pulled me over, kissed my head, murmured that I was her pussycat girl, and I nuzzled her neck for a second before she started in again. “Okay, now I’ve got to get moving. I’ll just get that plant out of the way.” She pointed to a sick-looking rubber plant with a long skinny stem and a few yellowed speckled leaves on top.

“Where are you going to put it?”

“In my bedroom. They’ll never go in there. I’ll close the door.”

It was a big, heavy plant, and she staggered as she carried it down the hall, shoved it into her bedroom, and slammed the door. When we came back into the living room, there was a big, ugly stain where the plant had stood, so then she had to move a bunch of other plants around before she was able to cover it.

“Beth’s house has lots and lots of rooms,” I told my mother.

She was busy pounding the cushions on the couch, trying to make them fluff up. They all had hollows in the center. “Next year,” she muttered, “next year, we’re going to get new furniture.”

“They like old furniture, the Lattimores,” I said. “Mrs. Lattimore wrote me at Christmas that they found some antiques for Beth’s room. I think she said they were French or Italian. And they got an old marble washbasin for her bathroom. Beth has her own bathroom.”

“Bathroom!” my mother yelled. “There’s hair in the bathtub.”

“There’s always hair in the bathtub,” I said, trailing after her. She began scrubbing out the tub, and I leaned against the door, watching her. After she finished with the tub, she began cleaning the sink and then the toilet. She changed the towels, the bathmat, and straightened up the toothbrushes.

“How come they’re so rich?” I asked my mother. “Beth has her own bathroom, and her parents have their own bathroom, and I think Mrs. Lattimore said there are three more bathrooms in the house.”

My mother was shaking her head up at the ceiling where some of the paint was cracking and curling. “We’ve got to get this place painted,” she cried. “I just said to your father that as soon as I get a little money I’m going to get this place painted.”

“But, Mom, how come they’re so rich, and ... and ...” I didn’t want to say we’re so poor because I knew it would hurt my mother’s feelings. But Beth and her parents lived in a house with five bathrooms and twelve other rooms while we lived in a house with five rooms and one bathroom. I was also pretty sure that Beth’s family didn’t have to wait until they had some extra money before they could paint their bathroom ceilings. I couldn’t help feeling jealous of Beth.

“Lots of things aren’t fair,” my mother said. “Both of the Lattimores come from rich families. That’s the way it is—some have it and some don’t.” Then she looked down at her watch and let out a yip. “We’ve got to get dressed. Hurry up!”

She followed me into my bedroom and stood with me in front of my closet.

“Should I wear a dress?” I asked. “Maybe the one I wore for Alex’s wedding?”

“I don’t know,'' my mother said doubtfully. “I think it’s too hot today for that dress, and besides, I don’t know if you should wear a dress. It’s not like you’re going to a party.”

“Well, I haven’t seen them for eight years.”

“No!” My mother shut the closet door. “No dress! Casual. That’s the best way. Just dress the way you always dress. People like them wouldn’t be dressed up on an airplane anyway. I bet they’re not worrying about what they’re wearing.”

“So what should I wear?”

“How about that cute little pair of red overalls you wear over your striped T-shirt?”

“No, it’s too hot for that.”

“Well, how about your white shorts and that little blue tank top I bought you last week?”

“The shorts are dirty.”

It took a while, but finally, after trying on different combinations, I ended up wearing a pale pink tank top and a pair of lavender shorts.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking at myself in the mirror. “I don’t know if the pink goes with the lavender.

My mother was smiling at me in the mirror. “Whatever you wear,” she said in her mother voice, “you look cute.”

“You always say that.” I leaned back against her.

“But it’s true,” my mother said, smoothing my hair. “I’m not saying anything that’s not so.”

“I bet everybody’s mother says the same thing about her own kid,” I said. “Don’t you think Mrs. Lattimore says the same thing about Beth?”

“Oh her!” my mother said scornfully.

My mother is always saying nasty things about Beth’s mother. I don’t know why because Mrs. Lattimore always writes nice letters to me and sends me great presents for Christmas and on my birthday. My father never says anything bad about her—only my mother does. I don’t understand why.

For a long time, I couldn’t understand why my sister Beth had one set of parents and I had another. It took me years to figure it out, but now that I’m eleven, I understand. It’s not really complicated if you start at the beginning. Which is that Beth and I are sisters, and we had a different set of parents to begin with. I don’t remember them at all. Beth told me in one of her letters that she does remember them, and that they were ugly. My mother says they weren’t ugly. Sometimes she cries when she talks about them. She says Beth and I both look like our real mother, who was her younger sister, but I look especially like her.

I’d better start over again. Beth and I had the same parents, but one day when I was nearly three and Beth was five, we were all driving somewhere in our car, and a truck hit us, My mother and father were killed. Beth was hurt very badly, and I was crying when they got me out of the car, but I wasn’t hurt. Sometimes I think I remember a loud, terrible crash, and somebody screaming and screaming and screaming, but usually it’s just me screaming in the middle of the night. And then my mother rushes in and grabs me and rocks me and tells me it’s all right and I’m her pussycat girl ... and I go back to sleep.

So my mother, my present mother, isn’t my real mother. She really is my aunt, my mother’s older sister, my Aunt Karen and Beth’s Aunt Karen. But she adopted me after the accident, and she says I began to call her Mommy and Uncle Walter Daddy, and she figured it would all work out for the best if I just went on calling them that.

My mother always talks about things working out for the best. She says that because Beth was hurt so badly, she had to spend a long time in the hospital, and needed a lot of special care. Mrs. Lattimore was a nurse in that hospital, and, according to my mother, she just went crazy over Beth because she had to spend so much time taking care of her, and, naturally, says my mother, Beth grew very attached to her. I know my mother must have been heartbroken over what finally happened, but she doesn’t let on, and she just keeps saying that she guesses it all worked out for the best. She and my dad adopted me, and the Lattimores adopted Beth. Whatever she says, I’m pretty sure that she’s never forgiven Mrs. Lattimore for taking Beth away. That’s why she keeps saying nasty things about her.

I like to daydream sometimes about what would have happened if I had also been hurt in the accident and had to spend time in the hospital too. Would Mrs. Lattimore have wanted to adopt both of us? And what would it feel like to live in a house with twelve rooms and five bathrooms and be rich?

But for a long time I couldn’t get it all straight. My father and mother tried, and my two brothers,

Jeff and Alex (who are also my cousins and Beth’s cousins), tried, and finally, one day, Alex said he had a riddle for me. If I could figure out the riddle, he said, then I could figure out anything. This is the riddle:


Brothers and sisters I have none,

but that man’s father is my father’s son.


At first he wouldn’t tell me the answer even though I cried, and Mom yelled at him, and Dad told him to shape up. He just laughed and said they should stop spoiling me and let me stand on my own two feet for a change.

My mom and dad would have told me the answer if they could have figured it out, but they couldn’t either. Finally Alex did tell me, and I told my parents. Only it still took me a while to work out my own riddle. Most of my friends can’t figure out Alex’s riddle. Maybe I’ll try it out on Beth. I bet she won’t know the answer either.

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