Sisterhood is So Many Things

August 1, 2010

Sisters, 1992

A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit,
a golden thread to the meaning of life.
—Isadora James

Happy Sister’s Day!

Yes, today is Sister’s Day. And today, I say thanks for three gifts from God—my sisters.

The quote above says it all. Yet, sisterhood is easily one of the most complex of human relationships. Playmates, rivals, best friends, critics, compatriots in crime—it’s a bond forced upon siblings yet one we cherish throughout our lives. Small wonder the Mars gender rolls its eyes and fears the hormonal Venus side of the family.

Ruth, my grandmother, and her sister Charlotte, shared this love-hate relationship. Friends as long as they lived, they exchanged weekly long-distance phone calls, love and support. And, like all sisters, they sometimes were each other’s greatest antagonists.

“When I was 12-years old, I had a half-sister Charlotte,” says Ruth in her 1990 video, of the daughter born to her mother Emma and her step-father Rudolph Arendt. Emma married Rudolph in 1918, a year after her first husband died.

“She was quite a crybaby,” Ruth laughs of Charlotte. “My mother used to go to choir practice on Wednesday nights and my brother Carl and I had to take care of Charlotte.

“We had a (high?) Victrola that played one record and you had to wind it each time. Carl would play the Victrola and I would walk with Charlotte. And then I would take care of the Victrola and Carl would walk with her.”

And because, later in life, Charlotte passed along stories of Ruth’s side of the family, it’s only fitting that Ruth did the same of Charlotte’s. In the video, Ruth shares a few interesting tidbits of the Arendt family in the midst of Chicago’s prohibition days.

“My step-dad’s younger brother, Ed Arendt—he got into the bootlegging business. Once Uncle Carl (Ruth’s brother), well, he was young and I don’t know if he was married or not. Eddy Arndt had him deliver some home brew and he (Carl) got caught.

“Well, I guess he was going to offer the policeman some money, maybe he had a $20, and they said ‘oh, you’re just small stuff, we don’t want you,’ and they let him go.”

According to Ruth, her mother was very upset that Eddy Arndt involved Carl in his dirty work. (Eddy Arendt—doesn’t the name alone sound gangster-ish?) Anyway, it seems his visits caused conflicts.

“Eddy used to come to the house and he’d bring his pals,” tells Ruth in the video. “Grandpa Arendt (Ruth’s step-father) worked in the stockyards and he used to bring our butter and meat home. This was on a Saturday that Eddy came over and brought a friend. When they were gone, some butter was missing. They had taken it.”

Butter-schmutter. Apparently, Eddy was dealing with more than dairy delights.

“Eddy Arendt—he was pretty much in the gang, I guess,” tells Ruth. “Because he was shot and killed on his sister’s front porch. They drove by in a car and shot him.

“At his wake, this fella came and they (the Arendts) felt he had something to do with it. Eddy’s four brothers stood around the casket and just kept watching him because they were afraid he might do something.”

I ask Ruth how old she was when these things happened.

“Oh, I don’t think I was married then,” she answers. “I might have been 18, or something like that.”

And Charlotte would have been six.

Sisters Judith and Carol, September 1943

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any pictures of Ruth and Charlotte in their younger days. However, here we have Ruth’s daughters, Carol and Judith, as flower girls in Charlotte’s wedding. These hats certainly vie for attention in the Easter Bonnet posting, don’t you think?

Carol and Judith

Matching dresses are a rite of passage for sisters. I wonder if someone made them—isn’t the smocking beautiful?

Two Generations of Sisters, 1990

Many decades later, on a hot summer day in Wisconsin: sisters Carol and Judith standing behind their mother Ruth (left) and her sister Charlotte.

Judith's daughters: Ruth and Rachel

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