My mother was fifteen years older than my sister, Esther, whose husband nicknamed her Terrie so long ago most family members no longer remember her given name. I am sixteen years younger than Terrie.
As similar as my brother and I are in appearance, Terrie and I are different: I am tall, big-boned and built like an Amazon; Terrie is very short and has a delicate frame; my sister’s coloring was that of a classic Spanish beauty: jet-black, straight hair, dark brown eyes and very pale, ivory skin color, akin to fine porcelain. On the contrary, my very unruly, curly, golden-blonde hair darkened during late childhood to a dark golden brown that in the summer tarnished into a deep, rusty auburn color; my eyes were a dark, hazel green and my skin color a medium, sallow beige. I say we were those colorings because as we grew older most everything changed. Terrie became a platinum blonde and my hair faded to light, reddish brown—through the courtesy of modern, cosmetic chemistry—in other words, hair dye. Both of us are alike in that we are too vain to allow gray hair into our lives. As odd as this may sound, as we grew older our eye color changed, too, but this change was entirely natural and unassisted. Terrie’s eyes now are a much lighter brown, my brother’s eyes are bright green like our parents, but my eyes have retained their ability to change color almost at will—like a chameleon. Rarely, my eyes are light brown; most times they are green; once in a while friends will insist my eyes are blue, but when I am excited, upset or when my eyes are full of tears, they turn aqua. Lastly everyone in the family says that when I am angry, my eyes appear red, but I think that is a huge exaggeration. On the other hand, I did inherit my father’s famous temper; his eyes certainly flashed red when angry, which is what alerted us kids to run. It is difficult hiding my emotional state from people who know me well; so, I rarely try.
For years, actually for as long as I can remember, family, friends and relatives often remarked on the physical differences, between my mother’s oldest daughter and her two younger children; indeed, some of those remarks were pointed, unveiled, blatant hints, but they stopped short of divulging my mother’s secret. Those who thought they were tantalizing us with their coy insinuations were wasting their time. As it turned out Terrie knew everything and guardedly maintained secrets of her own. On the other hand, Ralphy and I were too busy navigating the wild currents of childhood and adolescence to care about hints, subtle or otherwise that might divulge mysteries we didn’t believe existed. Getting to the bottom of those secrets had to wait almost forty-five years.