In addition to Rollie and Victoria, about whom I have blogged earlier, I enjoy a bonded relationship with a total of seven siblings although only two are still in or near our rural Maine town. Katrina used to address her letters to Ma Bernard and her 8 pups, and the postman in our tiny farm community knew where to deliver them. Alternatively, Rollie called us the 8-pack.
I was the oldest. Victoria was the baby, and Rollie was child #5. We differ sp distinctly one from another in our interests and life paths that one would think we came from different families. Yet, even today, we remain an 8-pack. Survival of brutal daily abuse cemented that bond in blood and tears, literally. Just as our lives took different paths, so did the ways in which we escaped what my brother-in-law called "The Burning House." (I posted his poem about the burning house here on Mahlou Musings.)
Katrina, in birth order next oldest to me, reflected, as far as Ma was concerned, all the good characteristics that I lacked. Katrina was obedient; I was rebellious. She was polite; I was saucy. She worked hard for her A grades; I got them by merely breathing -- academics were to me just commonsense: once I had read something, I knew it (and often, by comparison, analysis, or deduction, I knew more than what I had actually studied). Katrina seemed to be born compassionate; it took me years to learn compassion.
Likewise, while I expected to live into adulthood and had quite a sheaf of plans for my life, Katrina had no plans at all, fully expecting to die in childhood at the hands of our parents. When she found herself still alive upon her 18th birthday, having graduated from high school and legally able to move from home, she felt astonished and confused.
When Ohio State University offered her a financial aid package (Dad made only $5K for a household of ten, and Ma did not work), she accepted with relief and gratitude and left the burning house bewildered as to a path to take through life. At OSU, working with the career guidance service, she found her niche: career guidance. So, she took a degree in counseling, wanting to help other students who encountered bewilderment when presented with the array of possible career choices. Then, she stayed on at OSU and earned a master's in counseling.
Continuing to be my polar opposite, unlike me (the gadfly, the gypsy, the world traveler, the job hopper always enticed by a new challenge), Katrina settled down as a counselor at a small college's career guidance center, where she has helped students for 30 years and going strong. Over time, she became director of the center, and at one point served as the president of the state's association of career counselors.
Katrina, like Donnie and I earlier, rescued Rollie, who, after his stint with us in Montana, return to Maine to rescue Sharon and Victoria from cousin Billy's sexual abuse, and subsequent ejection from the farm into the woods by Ma, ended up at Katrina's apartment in Ohio, where she was by then attending graduate school at OSU. She found him a job -- he was 18 by then -- and through his job, he found a wife who bore him three sons. Rollie has remained in Ohio to this day. By the time Katina finished school and left for her current job, we all knew that Rollie had become self-sufficient.
Sharon, though, had fallen into trouble right about then, a story that will be told in a later post. Fleeing Ma's anger, she found a welcome at Katrina's new house at essentially the same time that Victoria moved in with Donnie and me. There Sharon finished high school, married, and received a full scholarship to Michigan State University, where she studied nuclear physics.
So, once again, Katrina's house was empty. She had her students, though. Katrina never married but she always had family around her: Rollie, Victoria, her students -- always her students -- and then, suprise, my daughter, Lizzie.
In recent years, Lizzie accepted a 2-year visiting professorship at a near-by college. Lizzie, like Katrina, loves stability. (Lord knows, she did not have much stability as a child, having attended nine different schools and lived in eight different states and one foreign country.) Aunt and niece clicked like two magnets drawing near each other and spent many weekends and vacations together.
Katrina could retire now if she were to want to, having spent so many years in one institution, but she is still young and still has many students to help. Helping students, I believe, is her way of thanking God for helping her to escape the burning house.