A visitor from out of town…

Published 12:36 am Sunday, October 2, 2011

It’s a good thing I have occasional company from far away. Otherwise, I don’t think this place would ever get a scrubbing.
My sister is arriving from Denver. I will drive to the Memphis airport and stand at the baggage claim, and watch for a suitcase the size and weight of a bank vault. It will contain my sister’s entire wardrobe, or what she deems appropriate for wearing in Iuka, Miss., and Pine Level, Ala.
I don’t mind handling the suitcase. If the airplane can carry it, so can I. Whenever and wherever JoAnne travels, it is not lightly. And she’s the only person who never touches the tremendous bag. She has the ability to appear helpless, which I’ve never mastered. I tend to look sturdy.
But I don’t get to see JoAnne often enough, so I’m more than glad to pull a freight locomotive behind me for three miles in 100-degree heat. She’s worth it.
I’ve always envied those who live near at least one sibling, though I suspect such proximity might get old. It could end up in fistfights, like J.R. and Bobby Ewing had over daily cocktails on “Dallas.” I’ll never forget Sue Ellen’s caustic remark to Pam when Bobby first delivered his new bride to Southfork. J.R. and Bobby were rolling about the floor, swapping punches, generally tending to business. “Welcome to the Ewing family,” Sue Ellen drawled, smiling a sarcastic smile at Pam.This way — the long-distance familial way — a visit is more exciting and a little more peaceful. After all, I don’t look out the window every afternoon, see JoAnne walking up the drive and think: “Wonder what she needs this time? Sugar or coffee?” Or, more akin to the Ewing style, “Is she here to cheat me out of an oil lease?”
To that end, I sweep leaves off the front steps and move muddy gum boots off the guesthouse porch. I eat weeds around the greenhouse and stuff old magazines under a bed. If I find time, I’ll dust. I don’t worry so much about that. My good friend Martha Hammond once wrote that too much dusting wears out the furniture.
Most of the visit will be by candlelight, anyhow. JoAnne has a bit of the Blanche DuBois personality. She likes to dress for dinner. She likes flowers on the table and tapers burning. I try to oblige, though usually I have to scrounge for fresh flowers in my neglected yard. And Fred’s has moved its candle department, which confuses me.
JoAnne was born elegant. When she was a toddler, our Georgia hometown named her Little Miss Colquitt. If you don’t think that was a big deal, you’ve never lived in a small town.
When I was a little girl, JoAnne was my hero. It didn’t change when we started school. She made straight A’s, looked like a model and had a distinct style.
She is more than just a pretty face, too. Always just a step ahead of me and most other females, by example she taught me that college sororities were a waste of time and money, and that women should work on their job skills as well as their nails. When she graduated from medical school, I was there to watch.
There’s a photograph from that day. My family is lined up like a bunch of outlaws about to face the firing squad. Except for JoAnne. The recent graduate has her legs in the position most flattering in photos, her shoulders thrown back and her megawatt smile beaming.
She has arrived.
(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.)

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