Friday, August 19, 2011

Sisters, Different as Night and Day by Janet Oberholtzer

Janet is, without a doubt, my biggest running inspiration. That she is a gifted writer is just icing on the cake. I am so glad to have met her and I absolutely cannot wait to read her book this fall. She is an amazing woman and I encourage you to head over to her blog and check it out. But not until you've finished reading this wonderful post.


I have four sisters ... three older and one younger.* As kids and as adults, we’ve had some great times together. Other times, I’ve wondered if there’s a big secret I’ll uncover someday about who my family truly is because I have so little in common with my sisters. (Obviously they are each individuals and have unique personalities, but for the sake of this post, I’m treating them as a unit.)
I grew up in a strict Mennonite home, where a popular pastime for most little girls is playing with dolls. My sisters enjoyed that ... I did not. I wanted to be out riding bike or doing cart wheels in the yard. (Having to wear a dress did not stop me) 

We each had a doll or two dressed in Mennonite clothes made by our mom. My sisters still talk fondly of their dolls (I think one or two still has theirs) but I don’t even remember what mine looked like. I’d help my sisters build ‘houses’ with chairs and blankets, but then I had no interest in cooking pretend meals or playing mommy. My sister would get annoyed and chant “we’ll never make a lady out of Janey.” 

As we grew up, learning how to cook and clean was a top priority. I failed miserably at both ... mostly because I knew when to disappear or I bribed one of my sisters into doing my jobs. Plus, the cooking disasters that happened when I was around rendered me useless in the kitchen. How was I to know that if I stood too close to the mixer one of my braided pigtails would get caught in the beaters as it whipped mashed potatoes? (After a little cleanup, both my hair and the potatoes survived. Yes, the potatoes were served, because it was mealtime and the menfolk were hungry — what they didn’t know, didn’t hurt them)

During my teen years, I rebelled against the boxes of my family’s religion while my sisters embraced it. I snuck ‘forbidden’ music and books into my room, which were confiscated by a sister more than once. In my 20’s, I chose a non-Mennonite path in life, doing things that disappointed them, like cutting my hair, wearing pants and buying a TV ... all strictly forbidden in their world. 

Traditional Mennonites look almost like Amish in their dress, but they don’t follow all the same teachings. Mennonites don’t have a policy of shunning, so even though my sisters have stayed in that world, I’m still invited to family events and dinners. We’ve talked about are religious differences at times, but for the most part, we’ve settled on a “live and let live” policy with each other. I don’t try to change them and they don’t (often) try to change me.

Religious isn’t the only area we’re different, there’s numerous other areas. 

 - They sit and quilt, I prefer to go for a run.
 - They sew almost all their own clothes, I don’t own a sewing machine.
 - They are excited about new pastry or cake recipes, I’m excited about new salad recipes.
 - They spend days growing/canning/freezing produce every summer, I spend days at the beach.
 - They have the entire family (about 50 people) over for a family style dinner at least twice a year. I’ve done that twice in the past ten years. 

Over the years, we’ve spent a few weekends together at a cabin with our families, but most times, we connect via a family meal followed by a few hours of visiting. Occasionally, we spend a day at our mom’s house just hanging out, playing games, laughing over old pictures or they work on a quilt, while I take pictures. 

Inspite of our differences, we make an effort to stay connected ... because sisters are sisters and always will be. 

*My younger sister Rosene was born with Cerebral Palsy and in October 2008 at age 39, she died from complications related to Cerebral Palsy and a surgery. I miss her, but I’m happy that she’s not suffering anymore. 

Some portions of this post are taken from my memoir Because I Can which will be released this fall

How do you interact with your family? Are you similar to most of your family or different?


Janet has been asking why since she was born and continues to do so today as she learns to fully live life again after almost losing her leg and her life in an accident. She is a speaker and a writer with her first book Because I Can being released this fall. She blogs at And you can connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.


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