March 23

Happy Birthday, Cindy


I've been accused by my wife of "oversharing" on this blog from time to time. I'm sensitive to the concept, but just for the record I don't agree it's been done. What people are self-conscious about versus what they couldn't care less who knows - that's the puzzling part for me.

Well, I think I'm safe today - from my wife's point of view, at least - for two reasons. First: I'm not talking about my wife. Second: everyone seems to think birthdays are important. Everyone, that is, except me - and, possibly, Cindy herself.

Cindy is my sister and today is, indeed, her birthday. Talking about her is like a voyage for me. She was my best friend when we were growing up. During our twenties, a long-standing family feud exploded - not between Cindy and me, but we ended up on opposite sides. As a result, we didn't talk for years.

Nowadays, we are on speaking terms. We hardly ever see each other, though: she lives in a distant city. Canada is a big country.

Cindy is younger than I by a couple of years. In school, she outshone me. She was always more popular than I was (hard not to be, of course). In high school, I recall being referred to as "Cindy's brother".

Her last two years in high school - after I'd gotten out - Cindy soared. I think she got 100% in an entire course in grade 12 - and it was no lightweight course, either. She went off to university in the most auspicious circumstances. Of course she made more friends there.

My mother always liked Cindy, and she always liked Cindy's friends. Her obvious preference for Cindy became impossible to ignore during those university years.

Cindy got a BA with honours, or with distinction, or whatever the highest commendation was in the context. Her senior level professors all liked her (one more contrast between our university experiences). She deserved their esteem: she appreciated the subjects they taught, and contributed incisively.

Cindy went off far away to take her Master's. She had a tough time there: I don't know much about it, but I know her problems weren't academic. She still managed to pull off her Master's in a year, I think, but it was a dark time in her life to be sure. I gained a lot of respect for Cindy as a result of what she faced then.

As you've probably divined, Master's just wasn't enough for Cindy. In a rare telephone conversation with my mother around that time, my mother explained that Cindy would be "half-baked" if she didn't get a Ph.D. She has a unique way with words, my mother does.

Of course, Cindy did get her Ph.D., but it was a long road. From what I understand (and I'll be happy to be corrected), the reasons were more administrative than anything else. I think it took her four years to become Cindy, Ph.D. (I've got a B.Sc., just to give some perspective.)

Here I need to do some explaining. The biggest vulnerability of an academic can be "what comes next". After I got out of university, I never did find a job. I started a business, which workerd out okay. For many university graduates, however, finding a place in the "outside" world can be hard.

Cindy did a stint in the US as an editor. She even taught English in Korea for about a year (I think it turned out to be longer). Much more adventurous than I, Cindy was. Eventually she settled down to a teaching position at a college. She may not know, but I'm proud of her when I say "she never left school". Nowadays, there's no job tougher than teaching, since so many students resent doing much on their own. I know Cindy has her tough days, but I suspect - as the Beatles said long ago - "it's getting better all the time."

Cindy and I have lived apart for about twenty years now. Nevertheless, I know she's had times when only guts got her through. From one academic to another, I know how things can be, and I know "what it takes" sometimes.

Of all the paper holders on our side of the family, Cindy stands out. Her approach to life is unique. Although she was in the arts, Cindy never wrote anything just to get a mark. She doesn't believe in "telling someone what they want to hear", no matter who they are. (Trust me on that count.) She seems beyond influence to me.

I still can't believe the little girl I grew up with went off to those faraway places and got those pieces of paper. I remember her speaking pig Latin when she was eight - years later, she'd learn the real thing. Even that's been many years since. (For the record, Cindy, Paul and James speak pig Latin now - but a different dialect:))

Happy birthday, Cindy, from your big brother. You done good.

By the way: this drawing is from memory. I don't have a photograph of Cindy (as a family, we're not like that).

One more thing: I sleep with that stuffed cow you gave to the kids.

Cindy Back