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My sister Gwen broke her arm, her finger, and my life

November 18, 2017


Did you ever see the little girl name Dolly in the  comic strip “Family Circus”?  That was my sister Gwen.  She held the reins on the household brood with her childhood bossiness and know-it-all way that somehow put the brakes on our craziness.  She was a clone of Mom, and in Mom’s absence, Gwen ruled the roost.  The little half-dozen clutch of urchins known as the Zockoll kids were like a Russian nuclear facility,  running somewhat steadily but holding the potential to create disaster at any moment.  On one hand, we kiddies would angelically sing together at church Christmas cantatas.  On the other hand, we would be found guilty of completely wrecking a relative’s flimsy tree house.

Or conning the neighbor kids into unleashing the neighborhood dogs from their leash.

Or starting a free-for-all fight in a neighborhood Wiffle Ball game.

Yes, we were all elementary age and had the child-monster capability for mass community destruction.  Except that Gwen would hold us in check.

I haven’t been able to introduce you to my sister Gwen.  She was the kind of middle-school age girl who would play backyard mother hen, barking out orders while twirling her baton.

(May I add that she would attempt to throw and catch the spinning baton which inevitably would hit pre-schooler Brock in the head and send him into a fetal position, squalling and inert at second base in the middle of our kickball game.)

Gwen especially led the troops during our Volkswagen Bus Incarceration.  This was during the sixties, when kids were supposed to stay in the car while Mom shopped.  Gwen would lead us in singing “Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again” until we could get responses from passers-by, and amazingly, some of them were smiles and an occasional thumbs-up.  Even brother Bruce’s sarcastic remarks didn’t dissuade her; she was on a mission.  Once, when Dad went into the hospital’s maternity ward to see Mom and left us for over an hour in the Bus, Gwen led us in a litany of Christmas songs from the front to back of a paperback Yuletide Carol book she found wedged in the crack of the back seat.

In the back seat of our annual Thanksgiving road trip to Pittsburgh, she had Brent and I believing she could sleep with her eyes open, and set about to prove it.   While we poked and prodded her, she sat wide-eyed and gazing out the window, “snoring”.  You had to admire the theatrics.

When Dad would take us over to his school and work on some Saturday paperwork in his band director’s office, Gwen would march us into the huge band room and direct us as to which instrument to play.  We spend delightful hours honking away on french horns, slamming bass drums and bellowing into tubas while she swung her arms to the racket, directing a band that sounded like a trash truck that just ran over a herd of cats.  Once, some of the other teacher’s children wandered in and she commandeered them to play on the trombone and snare drums section.  I can’t begin to describe the noise but I do believe a janitor quit that day.

She was active in self-taught gymnastics, which resulted in her breaking her arm when she  cartwheeled over Lorianne Hersey in the back yard.

She broke her index finger when she caught it in the whirling blades of a blender while trying to make a Christmas cake for the holidays.

Our childhood melted into the adventurous and way-too-fast years of adolescence, and I truly was sad to see her leave for college.   At Christmastime she arrived back home to hugs and laughs and stories.

But there was something different about her.

She was… well, changed.  Not that she needed a transformation, nor was it a stunning reversal.  It was subtle … but in a big way to me.

Even as a teenager I was an early riser, and on one Saturday morning I padded down the front stairs to head to the kitchen.  I went by the television room and looked past the bookshelf and saw Gwen at the far couch.  On her knees with a Bible in front of her.  In deep prayer.

Alone and praying.

It made an impact on me.  I had recently made a decision to become a Christian, but it was more of a one-time get-things-right decision to cleanse my sins with the Savior and have a good standing with Him.   I really honestly didn’t understand a relationship with Jesus.

But seeing Gwen’s private communication with Christ opened the door to a new horizon of comprehension of what walking with the Son of God could really be.   It broke the stereotypical mold of social Christianity I had seen around me.

Gwen doesn’t know I am writing this.  She is now sixty years old, as consistent a Christian to this day as she was on that day on a quiet Saturday morning.

I continue to spend my quiet Saturday mornings – before anyone gets up – having a one-on-one reading of the Bible and a continual  exercise of this great, powerful, mysterious activity called prayer.  I had heard preachers exhort me to do so.  I had heard broadcasts of speakers explain its benefits.  I had heard onstage testimonies of people who encouraged its practice.

But it took an observation of a sincere and devoted sister to let me see how meaningful and wonderful it could be.   My quiet time with Jesus is undoubtedly my favorite time of the week.

And we don’t need anyone with a bass drum or tuba to emphasize it.


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