By Narcissa Lyons
Leslie Jennifer Hale George died 20 years ago this month, a.k.a. one of my older sisters. I was hoping to publish on her actual day of departure but since she was infamously late all the time, I think she’ll forgive me. She was and is precious to me and the rest of my siblings, and I did not get the opportunity to say any words or openly express the gratitude I felt towards what she contributed to my life. She died when she was 39 to the nothingness and insidiousness that is cancer–the amoral, the fuckless, luckless, relentless the heedless–and that’s all I’ll say about that.
Leslie was seven years older than I so I did not see that much of her growing up. Hers was a tumultuous childhood, partly I believe because her mother was my father’s first wife and my mostly sane mother, her step mother, was still a jealous woman. Doesn’t always lend itself to harmony, particularly entering the teen years. She was sent to boarding school in Canada and I saw even less of her, but she was a mystery I waited for and eagerly listened to when she was home. She was a rebel from everything I observed and learned, and a spirit with whom not to reckon. She ran away from boarding school and lived for a while with an older man she had met and proved for a while that she could not be conveniently caged. She had very dark, thick hair, expressive brows and deep brown eyes that were set against her delicately featured face, all on a petite but feisty frame.
She had a silly giggle. So infectious, so gleeful, so conspiratorial when need be. Sometimes I can still hear it when I do certain things or say certain things to her, and what a lovely thing that ridiculous tee-hee. She used to work at my parents’ one-time company and many a day we’d share stories in her office. Used to be that I was on the receiving end listening, duly amazed and wide-eyed at some of her experiences. Then she got a serious boyfriend and we switched places. She would stare wide-eyed at some of my youthful anecdotes, giggling or choking on a bite of a sandwich, depending.
She got me high for the first time. And the second and third and fourth. We’d take walks near-by our house in Connecticut and I’d tell her about how the highs were getting better and just being about as deep as a 15 year old stoner can be and she would not stop giggling. This also leads to the credit she gets for introducing me to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, in particular “The Chain”. We’d sit in her room and listen to that in a calm and happy fog. In other smoking news she taught me how to do the “French inhale” with cigarettes which is just a deeper, nastier way to smoke, but it looks pretty cool. In French news she was with me at a bar where I got my first real kiss at 16, and she let us stay a little longer even though these were drinks after the funeral of one of her best friends, or maybe that’s why we stayed. For that matter, she took me to my first bar, her workplace, where we danced and laughed all night and she showed me off like I was just the best thing when clearly she was the best thing. Of course all these firsts she’d later partly regret since she then had to assist in taming the demon she had helped to create.
She let me drive from the passenger seat, or steer the wheel anyway. This does not sound like that big a deal, but to me, 14 or 15, it felt incredibly grand and illicit. Even on the wide turns she trusted me, and never wavered her resolution to let me go on and on. She taught me to begin to like cooking. This was no small feat since my mother did a pretty good job of botching me up in that area, well-meaning though she might have been. To this day I cannot cut parsley without thinking of Leslie. This is an herb I detest and while together preparing it one day I admitted this, and she nearly fell she was laughing so hard since she found it absurd. She taught me how to make what we call “Leslie Spaghetti” although I think she called it French spaghetti. The only difference between it and regular meat sauce is the addition of cinnamon. Try it sometime—it’s worth it.
Leslie was profoundly important to many of us while she was on this planet, and I still miss her even while I feel her presence. I wish so much my children could have met her, and she them. Leslie had a son, Christopher, and her raising him showed me another side to her, a side at the time I didn’t fully understand and that I know I sometimes gave her flack for. But then I had my own, and on several occasions I FELT her give me that knowing look and say “See”? She was right again, and always would be since she got to experience the large basics ahead of me. She taught me a lot, loved me more, and I am so grateful to her. Thank you Leslie for the part you played, and the joy you gave me over the years. You are monumental and you are a part of my beating heart.