Monday, April 11, 2011
A Tribute to a Big Sister I Barely Knew
My sister, Istra (Istra May), had several problems. As the oldest child, everything she did broke a mold, created discomfort, threatened the safety and honor of the family, added to Dad’s angst. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Her real problem was that she was good . . . and couldn’t believe that others weren’t. Even when she found that they weren’t good, she refused to accept the fact, believing that she could help them be so, or at least, to be better. It was a trait she retained through all her eighty-one years of life.
That is not to say that she had no “spirit.” I remember the “spirited discussions” she had with Dad as she was seeking the freedom all children eventually seek. The fact that she was nine years older than I meant that there is much about her that I don’t remember – and wish I did. Sadly, when I was old enough to begin collecting memories of her she was already in high school and soon would be leaving for college. Dad knew the hazards that awaited her and saw the naïveté with which she approached the world. She saw a world of friends who were all good people and wanted to spend more time with them. How, and when, that struggle was resolved, I don’t know. I do know that it was resolved; that they came to respect and love each other deeply, and that Istra became Dad’s most faithful and caring support in his final years.
It is ironic, since I can only think of Istra as a gentle soul, that my strongest childhood memories of Istra involve fighting, first those arguments with Dad, and then a friendly “fight” in which she took on both Donald and me in a tussle over something now forgotten. Her long arms gave her the advantage. Try as we might we could not penetrate the defense and win the battle. I’m glad that my only remembered conflict with her was a friendly fight, and that she won it.
The other incident was more serious. A disturbed young man – later sent to prison for life for raping, robbing, and killing an eighty year-old woman – had chased Donald and me because he didn’t like “the way we looked at him.” It was obvious that we were about to become victims of his violence when Istra appeared. She put herself between our attacker and us, letting him know he would have to go through her to get to us. He probably could have done so, but, for some reason, chose not to, and went on his way.
As I think about it now, Istra devoted most of her life to “fighting” for those she believed were “good”, or could made “better,” with her help. She, with her husband Don Baker, never turned away a soul (or critter) in need of help. They would not agree with this assertion, of course, but in my view, they never had a “beautiful” pet – dog, cat, bird, squirrel, etc – only wounded ones they sought to restore to the beauty of life and health. And it was so with all the human souls they touched as well.
Istra is gone and Don struggles now with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease. But I’m sure his focus is not so much on himself, but on those he is still able to help and heal.