I’ve written about my mother a lot but one of the biggest impacts on my life was my sister Joanne or Joni as we called her. She was 15 when I was born and she was my second mother. I loved my sister, she was smart and had a strong voice with which she articulated every word clearly. She was so smart that there was one question she asked me in Massachusetts that will explain why we laughed all the way to Maine.
My sister-in-law Sara had a family camp in Maine on Great Pond in Belgrade. My sister Joni was friends with Sara long before she married into our family and she and her family would join Sara in Maine for a week of vacation. When my son Dominic was 2 until he was about 14, we’d also join them for vacation at camp.
Part of the fun of the vacation was the ride from Connecticut. You’d think it would be tiresome, but we had fun together. First, there was the mixed tape. Yes, it was the 1990s, we still did cassettes and made mixtapes. The one for our car ride was a mixture of soul and rock and roll. Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, INXS, the one and only Aretha, Steve Winwood, and Cyndi Lauper to name a few, were on that tape.
We would listen to that and we’d collect license plates to see how many states and Canadian Provinces we could get on the way up and then do another list on the way home to see which had the most. We might even play some trivia because Joni always had a trivia book or five with her. It was one of our favorite late-night games at camp.
But one year, as we crossed the border from Connecticut into Massachusetts and got onto the Mass Pike, my sister stunned me with one of the questions that she asked. It was so stunning, that I had to ask, “What?”
As we got onto the Turnpike, Joni looked at the sign and my brilliant sister asked, “I wonder why they use Leprechaun hats as the symbol for the highway?” Yes, she really asked that! And when I responded weakly with, “What?” She explained that she knew that a lot of Massachusetts, especially the Boston area had Irish immigrants in the late 1800s so maybe that was the reason why they used the Leprechaun hat.
I looked at her for a moment to gauge if she was being serious. She was. That’s when I said. “Joni, those aren’t Leprechaun hats, they’re Pilgrim Hats.”
And that’s why we laughed all the way to the Maine border. Tears were involved at some point.