Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Sister

Most people are content to shuffle along through life barely emitting a whisper, let alone a shout. A minority charge through life as if standing on top of a fire truck with all the bells, whistles and sirens going shouting "I'm here! Let's do something fun!"

My sister, Lisa, known to those who love her as The Wignet, is in the latter group, except she would be wearing the fire chief's hat.

My sister is very modest and would never brag about her accomplishments. A lot of outstanding people are that way. She probably doesn't even know how remarkable she is. Therefore, I am going to shamelessly brag on my sister, who will probably be embarrassed by this piece.

Lisa has been married to her childhood sweetheart for 35 years. She is the mother of 5 children all of whom are, shall we say, unique? The family home has always been on Winona Lake. In this day and age, just these three things are remarkable. But there is so much more.

Since she graduated from college, Lisa has always worked as a nurse. She is now a licensed nurse practitioner, holding both bachelor and master degrees in nursing. She has completed countless postgraduate hours in nursing. She has taught nursing at the college and graduate levels. She has written textbooks for nursing students. She has worked in the ER, OB, Med-Surg, Psych, and Orthopedic departments. She has turned down Director of Nursing jobs, because she likes the patient contact. So far as nursing goes, she is a pro.

She is one of those nurses you want taking care of you. She has seen it all, isn't going to panic, and isn't going to screw up. Over time, most people in Winona Lake, particularly those of modest means and/or no health insurance, know that they can stop in a Lisa's house and receive care, within limits. Cut yourself with a chainsaw? She will clean you up, stitch you up and tell you to see a Dr. Think you might have broken your arm? She will check it out and drive you to the ER, calling in advance, so they will be ready. Break your neck mountain biking, like I did? She will make a house call and insist you get into the car to go to the ER. Young, unmarried and pregnant? She offers midwife advice, calm assurance and a private ear. Having trouble with your child who won't behave? Maybe a referral to the Bowen Center. Think you may have picked up an STD? Maybe a scrip and some friendly advice. People simply trust her. And she can keep her mouth shut.

My sister figured out about ten years ago that she needed to learn Spanish so she could better communicate with her Mexican patients. She went to the library and the local high school and got first year textbooks and tapes. She began by teaching herself. The problem was she thought she wasn't learning it fast enough to suit her. How to fix it? She adopted Juan and Esmerelda and their family, who agreed to help her learn Spanish, if she would help them learn English. Shortly thereafter, she was asked to teach the English classes for Mexican immigrants in citizenship classes. She is now completely fluent in Spanish. A kind of impromptu cultural exchange arose between the two families. Lisa goes to Mexican church Sunday evenings. Juan has learned that you should not park your truck in the yard and why white folk refer to Mexicans as "beaners." Lisa has learned why we are called "gringos," and worse. She has also made the acquaintance of Corona beer, margaritas, mariachi music, and she's learned how to swear like a Mexican cowboy.

A few years ago, Juan's brother got married in Mexico. Juan said his family would be honored if Lisa would attend. She agreed to go. She flew to Mexico City, took a dilapidated bus crammed full of people 200 miles south and was dropped at an unmarked crossroad in the middle of nowhere. She sat for about an hour before Juan's brother picked her up in a rattle trap pickup and drove her another 75 miles into the mountains where people still lived in adobe houses and cooked tortillas on stones heated with a campfire. She loved it.

The next morning she was awakened by a line of people, patiently standing outside her door, waiting for Nurse Lisa to tend to the old, sick and frail. Fortunately, she had brought some of her medical tools and supplies. She said the wedding was great fun and the trip was unforgettable. Would you do that? My sister did.

My sister is the master of making something out of nothing. Lisa and her husband own about 25 acres of woods a few miles from Winona Lake. About two years ago Lisa wanted a small "getaway" cabin built in the woods. Rather than buy the materials at the local lumber store, Lisa started cruising the alleys and construction sites in Winona Lake, looking for junk construction material. She found stray 2 by 4s, doors and the like in alleys and came back to get them in her truck. She would stop by a construction site and ask the foreman if she could have that single roll of insulation or roofing. More often than not he would say yes. She would scoop it up, throw it in her truck, and haul it home. Once word got around what she was doing, some foremen started saving her stuff and calling her to come and get it. Her three boys helped build the cabin. Here it is. Not bad for salvaged material, huh?

Lisa's brain never stops. She is always learning something new, even if what she is learning is a bit off the beaten track. About a year ago I stopped at her house to find Lisa sitting on her living room couch in from of the wood stove with an 8 foot piece of rope in her hands. I asked what she was doing with the rope and she told me she was learning to tie knots. Beside her were 3 or 4 books about KNOTS from the library. I asked her why and she told me that knots had always interested her and "You just never know when you might need a good knot for a special purpose." She then said, "Check this out." She quickly tied a knot and proudly displayed it. "What is it?" I asked. She said, "It is for carrying a bottle. See how the knot tightens around the neck of the bottle when you put weight on it? Is that cool, or what?" Like I said, off the beaten track a little.

A few weeks later she called me to tell me that she had something to show me. When I arrived, she had a rope tied between two of the main vertical support beams in the living room. It looked like a clothes line to me, which is exactly what is was. Proudly she said, "Check this out." She then loaded about 20 hangered shirts on to the line, which began to droop with the weight. With a single flick of the wrist she tugged on one end of the line and the rope pulled taut. She then took off the clothes and with a single flick of the wrist, both ends of the rope came undone and the whole thing dropped into a tangle-free pile on the floor. "Pretty cool, huh?" she said. Can you do that? My sister can.

My sister takes the position that there is almost nothing she can't do, learn to do, or be taught. She has been in the rental business for years. She has learned to hang a door, fix a broken window, fix a screen door, run a hot and cold water line, set a toilet, replace a sewage line, replace a lock, plumb a shower, bathtub or sink, build a partition wall and wallboard it, and a hundred other small tasks. There isn't anything she won't try.

When she and her husband were building their lake front home, it came time to roof it. Lisa told Jim she could do it even though she had never roofed before. Jim showed her how to lay the shingles, load the nail gun and how to operate the air compressor. Away she went. She laid 50 squares of roofing in her spare time after work. A single square of roofing weighs 240 pounds. 50 squares weigh 12000 pounds, not including the underlayment, which is about the same. She hauled it up onto the roof herself. Can you do that? My sister can.

My sister has a soft spot for wounded animals. The neighborhood knows that if you run across an injured animal, Lisa will try to fix it. She also feels strongly about trees. She isn't a greenie or a tree hugger, but believes that trees, like people, should be left alone until they die of natural causes. I have known her to leave her house, so she would not hear a chain saw cutting down a healthy tree. I have known her to stop her car in the middle of the road to move a carcass off to the side, so cars do not continue to run over it. "It is not right. People should show a little respect," is what she says.

A few years ago, the Park Department in Winona Lake decided that a healthy tree near my sister's backyard needed to come down. Lisa was upset and took a drive. After the tree had been felled, cut up and hauled away, a neighbor noticed something moving in the grass where the tree used to be. It turned out to be a baby squirrel with its head torn open, exposing the brain. Of course, the neighbor brought it to Lisa, hoping she could fix it. Lisa took the squirrel and made a nest for it in a stocking cap, putting the squirrel next to a reading lamp to stay warm. She began a routine of feeding the squirrel every two hours with warm milk in an eye dropper. Surprisingly, the squirrel, now named Rocky, did not die. In fact, she saw the squirrel try to turn over in the cap. She rigged up some kind of tiny bandage and helped it turn over. After a few days, she noticed that the squirrel was trying to sit up, but kept falling over. Permanent brain damage, she guessed. But then Rocky began sitting up longer and not falling over as frequently. Rocky got bigger. Soon, Rocky then began to crawl around a little, still falling over occasionally. Rocky could then sit up without falling over. Then he could crawl around his cage and began trying to climb the walls, but still fell over. But, finally, he could crawl around the cage and climb the walls just like a regular squirrel. After about three months, Rocky was released into her backyard, apparently as normal as the next squirrel. For weeks afterward, Lisa and Rocky would chatter at each other, speaking a strange language known only to squirrel-patient and pseudo-nurse veterinarian.

Last year, while walking in her woods, Lisa came upon a baby dove that had fallen from its nest. She put it in her pocket, took it home and reactivated the stocking cap/squirrel cage. The every-two-hour feeding schedule started. Wouldn't you know it? The dove, now known as Squab, flourished. It learned to fly in Lisa's bedroom and would land on her shoulder.

Lisa did some research on the life expectancy of doves. Eighteen months is all they get. She released Squab at the woods in the early fall not expecting Squab to survive the winter. In the spring she was in the woods for a walk when she saw Squab, who flew down and landed on her shoulder. Squab had survived the winter and started a family. Is that cool, or what?

I could go on about my sister, but this is enough. I think she is one of the most remarkable people I know. She makes life interesting and fun. She cares about other people, animals and trees. And if they are sick or wounded, she tries to heal them. That's what nurses do.
Mike out.


  1. A fitting tribute to a fine sister!

  2. So thankful I checked the blog today! I have the pleasure of knowing Lisa yet knew little of what you shared. I'm not surprised.....just inspired. She is close tot he heart of God because she cares about the "least of these." I'm refreshed! Thanks for sharing Mike! Love, Kris

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  4. Lisa is my cousin, and I couldn't agree more about her remarkableness. So glad to discover this blogpost via a roundabout Facebook circuit!

    You can see her here:

  5. What a sister! What insight by the writer! You missed your calling. I'm glad I read this. I'm going to read more.

  6. This lady makes me want to better myself. What a special woman. And a lovely brother to praise her so.

  7. What a wonderful post; I always have a great deal of respect for anyone willing to help critters others would rather pass by. I have also raised squirrels and wild birds, the feeling one gets from caring for them and the love they give back is incredible.