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Cheryl Hughes: My Career As a Woman

New Teacher: I forget that my sister, Marsha, prays for me until I’m in one of those tight spots where it’s going to take more than my conversations with God to get me through.  It’s not that I think God doesn’t listen to me when I call on him.  He does.  But Marsha has His cell number, and things start to happen when she calls.

Marsha is seven years older than I am, and I’ve depended on her a lot throughout my life.  When my parents divorced, and we were forced to live with my dad and stepmom, Marsha stepped in to take on the role of mother to her three younger sisters.

It was Marsha who tied my sash on Sunday mornings, who taught me my ABCs, who gave me baths—who was the one giving me the bath on the fateful night when my left foot slipped from the edge of the tub and was sliced in-two on a rimless can beneath the sink, where it had been placed to catch dirty water from a dripping pipe.  It was Marsha who ran to the neighbor’s for help, because my dad was gone in the only car we owned.

Running was something that seemed to define her life.  She had been the one to run to the sawmill to get my dad as my grandfather lay dying under the shade tree on the farm where my grandmother watched over us before the divorce.

Growing up, she played softball on a church team.  I would stand behind the fence and watch her run the bases, in awe at the athletic ability I never had.  In her thirties, Marsha ran in marathons.  I can still see her crossing the finish line in the Wendy’s 10K Classic in 1985.  She has always had too much energy to remain still for very long.  She is currently 63 years old, and running has given way to brisk walks, which she takes every morning.

It’s almost strange for me to think of my sister as a runner.  She has always been so stationary in my life—a fixed point by which to navigate.  My memories are of Marsha bringing me boxes of paperback classics; encouraging me to keep at my music; and taking me to get my license when my parents refused to do so.  She was a surrogate and I owe her.

There were times in my past when I was so overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising my own children that it was everything I could do not to get in my car and just drive away.  I didn’t.  I always told myself it was because my own mom ran out on me, and I would not do that to my kids, but maybe that wasn’t it at all.  Maybe it was because Marsha stuck around for us.  It says in the Bible that the student is not above the teacher.  I think I rejected the ways of my parents and embraced the attributes of my sister.  I simply got myself a new teacher.

Marsha told me once that when she was twelve years old, she walked out onto the porch where we were living at the time, looked up at the sky, and told God, “I will not be responsible anymore!”  Lucky for me, she didn’t keep her word.

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